BROOKSVILLE — With property values dropping even lower than anticipated, Hernando County now estimates that its budget deficit for the coming fiscal year will climb another $2.1 million — to $10.4 million.
Property appraiser Alvin Mazourek announced last week that countywide property values dropped by 13.7 percent from 2008 to 2009.
The 2009 value is what local governments will use to determine the property tax revenue they can expect for the coming budget year. The county's 2010-11 fiscal year begins Oct. 1, and budget discussions and public hearings will take place this summer.
The news of the expanding deficit came in a memo to county commissioners as they started a workshop session Tuesday to talk about, among other things, the possibility of cutting more than $600,000 from their public works budget by implementing changes recommended in an audit by David Milliman.
The consultant was tapped by County Administrator David Hamilton to examine past audits and current practices in the Department of Public Works in the wake of the firing of director Charles Mixson and the resignation of assistant county engineer Gregg Sutton.
Milliman's report included recommendations of restructuring; exploring the privatization of mowing, light fleet maintenance and signmaking tasks now done in house; and filling the open positions left by Mixson and Sutton with a strong leader and a civil engineer.
Better leadership and communication and more accountability were all part of the audit recommendations, and Milliman was especially concerned that the department lacked basic project management processes.
He said he was "disappointed'' in the "lack of true oversight'' on major multimillion-dollar projects. "Major improvements need to take place here,'' he said. He recommended creating a new position for a project management coordinator.
Among his recommendations was to bid out the remaining mowing jobs around the county still done by county crews. Commissioner Rose Rocco expressed some concern about that move, noting that the county has had issues with lawn-care companies in the past.
"We don't have the control'' when the job is not done in house, she said.
Commission Chairman John Druzbick said that, while he understood Rocco's concerns, the grim financial picture is forcing the county to look at cost-cutting measures that would cut deeper than ever before.
"We all know the situation we're sitting in. We're going to have to make changes; there's no doubt about it,'' Druzbick said.
Rocco also said she wants to be sure that whatever is brought back to the commission as cost cutting actually does reduce costs. The county has to consider the cost of paying unemployment to workers who are let go and other expenses, she said, and she urged caution on any of the more sweeping changes recommended by Milliman.
Hamilton plans to bring back recommendations from the audit for action by the commission over the next several months. He promised commissioners that he will bring back cost analysis information on the privatization issues so that they will know just what the net gain might be.
Meanwhile, county budget and finance director George Zoettlein was crunching numbers Tuesday afternoon in an attempt to deal with the higher deficit projection. He was receiving the budget proposals of constitutional officers, and he hopes to be able to calculate a new bottom line for building the county's 2010-11 spending plan.
He had a plan for budget cuts and readjustments for the original $8.3 million deficit, plans that included million-dollar cuts to parks and libraries, permanently parking THE Bus and closing the Little Rock Cannery. But he said he now has to go back to the drawing board and find more places to cut.
"We've got another $2 million to find," he said, "but we can do it.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.