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Brooksville passes $35.8-million budget

BROOKSVILLE — Brooksville residents will see some tax relief and city employees will be eligible for an annual merit raise of 2 percent as part of the $35.8-million budget approved by the City Council this week.

Council members approved the city's new spending plan for the 2008-09 fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1, at the end of a nearly four-hour budget hearing Wednesday that was notable mostly for a lengthy debate over a proposal to stop adding fluoride to the city's water supply. That proposal ultimately failed.

The Brooksville budget will be based on a tax rate of 6.069 mills, compared with last year's rate of 6.323 mills. A mill produces $1 in tax for every $1,000 of taxable property value.

That means, the owner of a home appraised at $125,000 with a $25,000 homestead exemption would see a tax bill of $606.90, compared to last year's $632.30.

"We've put forward a tight, conservative budget that decreases the millage rate even more," said City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha. "But at the same time, we haven't had to degrade the service level that we provide for our residents."

Other notable items in the budget were the inclusion of a 2 percent merit-based raise for eligible employees; a change in the hierarchy at City Hall, which would place the Administration and Human Resource departments under the direction of the city manager; and a cut of about $266,000 to the city's unallocated reserve fund in an effort to lower the tax rate.

"I think all the departments did a phenomenal job," said fire Chief Tim Mossgrove, who e-mailed some of his firefighters with news of the raise moments after the measure was passed.

"And the employees absolutely needed the raise. Gas prices aren't getting any lower and groceries are going higher. They're going to be thrilled."

However, much of the debate at the budget hearing centered on a relatively smaller piece of the city's budget pie — the $7,000 Brooksville spends annually to add fluoride to its water.

By a 3-2 vote, the council decided to continue the city's nearly 25-year practice of fluoridation over the fierce objections of council members Lara Bradburn and, to a much lesser degree, Joe Bernardini.

Bradburn had pushed the council stop putting fluoride in the water because of studies and analysis she cited that shows most residents get enough of the chemical from their toothpaste and because of a number of potential health risks.

She resumed her argument Wednesday, spending nearly 40 minutes rebutting the testimony of a small group of local public health officials and dentists.

"Too much of a good thing can turn out to be a very, very bad thing," Bradburn said. "And if there's a doubt, you must leave it out."

But council members Richard Lewis, David Pugh and Frankie Burnett were unmoved by Bradburn's evidence, saying they needed more definitive proof that fluoride poses a threat to residents and that most local dentists agreed that fluoridation had gone a long way toward cutting down tooth decay among their patients.

"It would be a sin for us to take it out," Lewis said, riffing off Bradburn's rhyme. "If it's a sin, we must leave it in."

Sean Isaac, fluoridation coordinator with the state Department of Health, said after the vote that state officials had been keeping a close eye on Brooksville's proposal.

"We're very pleased," Isaac said minutes after the measure was defeated. "We want to make sure folks get the benefit of fluoride."

A few hours later, even after the budget hearing had come to an end, Bradburn was still unsettled by the fluoridation vote.

"I predict that fluoride will soon be up there with lead and arsenic and neurotoxins as things that government used to say was safe," Bradburn said.

Joel Anderson can be reached at joelanderson@sptimes.com or (352) 754-6120.

Brooksville passes $35.8-million budget 09/18/08 [Last modified: Friday, September 19, 2008 10:07pm]
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