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Brooksville's proposed budget jumps 3 percent

BROOKSVILLE — It took some haggling, but the Brooksville City Council has adopted a tentative 2012-13 budget that will combine a first-time $400,000 fire assessment with a property tax rate of 6.6 mils.

If adopted, the proposal means that city taxpayers will see about a 3 percent tax increase next year, not including the fire fee.

The millage rate to support the city's 2011-12 budget was 6.37 mils.

The proposed budget, approved on a 4-1 vote after a public hearing Wednesday night, maintains austerity measures that have had the city operating at bare-bones levels for several years. City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha said the budget includes no general fund capital improvements, no pay raises and no increases in existing services.

All told, the new fire assessment revenue will fund about $1,049,000 of the Fire Department's $1,239,366 budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The remaining $190,000 will come from the city's vehicle replacement reserve.

Council members were not initially in agreement on how much of the Fire Department's budget to cover with the new assessments.

Vice Mayor Lara Bradburn's pitch to set the amount at the $600,000 limit allowed by an ordinance the council passed earlier this year — along with a rollback millage rate of 6.583 mils — drew no takers. She argued that setting a lower amount for the assessments would likely force the city to use some of its reserve funds.

Council member Frankie Burnett's proposal to combine a $500,000 assessment with the 6.583 rollback rate also failed to gain a second.

None of the proposals impressed council member Joe Bernardini, who opposed the fire assessments on the grounds that they unfairly burden low-income residents.

In June, the council approved a two-tiered fire assessment in an effort to more equitably spread the cost of fire service to all taxpayers. Every lot owner will pay a flat fee, plus an additional amount based the taxable value of the home or business on the land. Council members chose to allow for an annual review for the assessments, with a limit up to $600,000 each year.

Under that scenario, property owners would have paid a $106 flat fee, plus .78 cents per $1,000 of improvements. That means a parcel with $100,000 worth of improvements would be assessed $78 for its improved value, and a $106 flat fee, for a total of $184.

Assistant city finance director Jim Delach said that while the $400,000 assessment is roughly two-thirds of the original proposal, he wasn't sure how the new fee structure will ultimately be calculated.

"The flat fee could be lowered separately, or not, to come up with the $400,000," Delach said. "Ultimately, it will be up to the council members to decide what they want."

Meanwhile, council members directed Norman-Vacha to look into any additional budget savings she might be able to find before the council's final budget hearing.

In addition, council members want to consider proposals to bring back fee waivers for special events in the city and placing 90 percent of the revenue from the city's red-light camera program into a fund to maintain city streets.

The final public hearing on the budget is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 26 at City Hall.

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@tampabay.com.

Brooksville's proposed budget jumps 3 percent 09/13/12 [Last modified: Thursday, September 13, 2012 8:16pm]
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