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Cutting fee waivers causes a stir in Brooksville

BROOKSVILLE — Although Brooksville City Council members tentatively have agreed to keep next year's property tax rate the same as this year's, the benefit to taxpayers will come with some sacrifices.

During Wednesday night's budget hearing, council members agreed to a list of cuts recommended by City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha that would reduce a projected $404,000 budget deficit by $275,473 and — with additional cuts — allow the city to maintain its current tax rate of 6.37 mills.

While the greatest savings would come from leasing the Quarry Golf Course, modifying a fee arrangement with the Hogan Law Firm and eliminating two staff positions, one recommendation — the elimination of $7,000 in fee waivers for organizers of special events — caused a stir among council members.

Council member Lara Bradburn said she feared that eliminating the waivers for traffic and crowd control would hamper the city in attracting events such as parades, festivals and street fairs, which she said have a positive impact on the city.

"They bring people in, and that means revenue for our businesses," Bradburn said. "We need that."

However, council member Joe Bernardini, who along with council members Joe Johnston and Kevin Hohn voted to end the waivers, countered that the past couple of years saw the fund quickly depleted because so many organizations got used to requesting fee waivers.

"I'm not against special events," Bernardini said. "But if there's no money for it, they'll know they have to go out and raise it."

Kiwanis Club Christmas Parade committee chairwoman Diana Koontz appealed to the council to keep the fee waivers, saying that without them the club would have to come up with additional $1,900 to pay for the popular event, which draws thousands to the downtown area every December.

"I'm a little disappointed by the decision," said Koontz, who added that the club spends about $6,000 of its own money to host the parade. "Not having that contribution means we'll have less money to give back to all of our projects."

In balancing its 2011-12 budget, the city could get its largest boost from modifying its agreement with the Hogan Law Firm in the city's ongoing case against Westchester Fire Insurance Co. — a case that involves infrastructure work that was not completed at Southern Hills Plantation Club. The law firm would return $82,000 in fees to the city in exchange for an 18 percent contingency fee for any money eventually recovered during an appeal of the case.

The city is also considering a proposal by a private company that wants to lease the Quarry Golf Course. According to Norman-Vacha, leasing the course would decrease the city's costs by $73,388. This year, the golf course ran a deficit of about $147,000.

The council still must identify more than $125,000 in additional cuts in order to balance its budget for the 2011-12 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Council members are expected to resume those discussions at their meeting Monday.

Even though the tax rate would remain the same during the coming year, the cuts are necessary because property values throughout the city fell once again this year, meaning less tax revenue for the city.

The final public hearing on the 2011-12 budget is scheduled for Sept. 28.

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or

Cutting fee waivers causes a stir in Brooksville 09/15/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 15, 2011 8:27pm]
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