BROOKSVILLE — A single "no" vote by Commissioner Wayne Dukes during Tuesday evening's county budget hearing may be the sting that kills Hernando's mosquito control program.
The status of the department is in limbo as county officials scramble to figure out their next step.
On hold for now are any plans to issue layoff notices to the mosquito control employees. Those would have to go out by Friday, as required by the union contract, according to Joe Stapf, director of environmental services.
The vote by Dukes against a proposed tax to fund the roughly $600,000 mosquito control budget was one of a series of divided votes on the county's 2011-12 spending plan and tax rates during the hearing.
As a new taxing unit and under new taxing rules approved by voters several years ago, a unanimous vote was needed to establish the mosquito control tax. With Dukes' vote, the tax idea died.
Commissioner John Druzbick asked Dukes why he had earlier in the day approved sending the mosquito control budget to the Florida Department of Agriculture, then voted down funding. Dukes said he didn't want a tax funding the program.
Instead, he said, he wanted to find a way to fit it back into the general fund, which is the most cash-strapped of the county's funds. And he didn't think the budget needed to be so high.
On Tuesday, commissioners also unanimously approved an ordinance that would allow the county to collect fees from the owners of abandoned homes where county mosquito control staffers have had to provide mosquito abatement. Foreclosed homes with abandoned swimming pools have generated more than 200 phone calls to mosquito control.
Stapf said Wednesday he was unsure that an easy solution to the mosquito control dilemma can be found before the final budget hearing in two weeks.
County Administrator David Hamilton, finance representatives of the constitutional offices and the county attorney's office will meet today to discuss alternatives.
"We're looking at a number of different options,'' Hamilton said
Another complicating twist during the budget hearing was a move made by Commissioner Dave Russell, after the mosquito control tax failed. Russell moved to reinstate the tax levy for the county's environmentally sensitive lands fund. The county had dropped that rate from the current .0844 mills to zero and set the new mosquito control tax at .0844 mills, keeping the overall county tax rate the same.
Under Russell's plan, which the commission approved, the sensitive lands rate once again would be .0844. But because of complex rules about public notice of tax rates, the county has to find a way in the next two weeks to drop taxpayers of the cities of Brooksville and Weeki Wachee out of the sensitive lands fund to make the move legal.
While commissioners haven't favored using that fund to buy more sensitive lands, they did find a way Tuesday to use some of it to save parks set for closing during the 2011-12 fiscal year. Hamilton noted there may also be discussion about how to tap those funds to help pay for mosquito control.
Commissioners approved including Linda Pedersen, Jenkins Creek, Lake Townsen Regional and Nobleton Wayside parks in the sensitive lands program. The designation would allow the county to spend $120,000 from the sensitive lands funds to maintain the parks and another $58,000 to improve the road to the Lake Townsen boat ramp.
All other parks slated for closure also have been saved by partnerships with community groups, land services director Ron Pianta reported.
Commissioners sign on to labor agreement
Also Tuesday, the commission reached consensus on the idea of furloughs and other economic concessions tentatively accepted by Teamsters Local 79 and approved a package for nonunion employees that mirrors the Teamsters deal.
The county will save $351,848 for union and $169,640 for nonunion employees. Plans for a further pay cut of 1.15 percent for employees earning more than $60,000 were dropped. County contributions toward health insurance have also been targeted for reduction.
Commissioners started out millions of dollars short to pay their general fund bills during the coming year. They reached a balanced budget by asking elected constitutional officers to cut nearly $3 million from their budgets, by using up to $1.7 million from the county's budget stabilization reserve and by a small increase in the tax rate to raise $1.3 million.
The commissioners voted 3-2 on the 2011-12 tax rates, including the 5.6279 general fund rate, which calls for $5.63 in tax for every $1,000 of taxable property value. That rate is 3.5 percent higher than the 2010-11 rate.
Dukes and Commission Chairman Jim Adkins voted no, and neither gave an explanation when asked by Druzbick.
The commission voted 4-1 to accept the overall $392 million budget, including the $96 million general fund budget. Dukes was the sole no vote.
The final budget hearing is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sept. 27 in the commission chambers at the Hernando County Government Center in downtown Brooksville.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.