Tuesday, August 14, 2018
News Roundup

Financially strapped Brooksville raises tax rate and fire fees

BROOKSVILLE — After conducting an intensive examination of the city's financial position over the past couple of months, the Brooksville City Council has settled on its 2017-18 budget and a tax increase and fire fee increase to help pay for it.

The $46.7 million budget, which includes a general fund budget of $7.2 million, reflects an increase of 6.89 percent in revenue from both a property tax rate increase and rising property values. In addition, the fees to pay for the city's fire service increased from 85 cents to 97 cents per $1,000 of appraised taxable property value, plus an increase in the per-lot charge from $125 to $135.

The fire fee increase will allow the city to add a sixth firefighter to the last work shift without six, allowing a two-engine response to every fire. The increase also will reduce the amount of money that goes to the Fire Department from the city's general fund.

The City Council settled on a property tax rate of 6.9763 mills, a 5 percent increase over the current year's rate. That amounts to $6.98 in tax for city services for every $1,000 of appraised taxable property value.

But to get to a majority vote for the spending plan and tax rate, council members revisited a previous discussion about the controversial idea of a special taxing district for the sheriff. Council member Natalie Kahler has pushed the idea of asking the County Commission if it would be willing to enact a special taxing district, which, if approved, would give the city the option of declining to participate in the district, therefore declining patrols by deputies inside the city limits.

The council agreed to bring up the issue with the commission after Kahler said she could not approve the tax rate increase if she didn't know that all options were on the table as the city goes into the next fiscal year with plans to make significant changes in the level of services it provides to residents. Cuts under consideration will include allowing the county to provide fire service for the city, allowing the county to provide police service for the city, or having only the city police provide patrols within the city.

Council members Joe Bernardini and Betty Erhard voted against the budget and the tax rate increase.

Bernardini said the budget the council approved contained no employee raises and almost no capital expenses.

"The people of the city of Brooksville will have to decide what we want,'' he said. Keeping both the Police Department and the Fire Department, "it's going to cost you. That's just the way it's going to be. There is no free lunch,'' Bernardini said.

He also did not support raising the fire fee.

Council member Bill Kemerer said arriving at a 2017-18 budget was "an extremely long and arduous process'' and that the coming months are going to be important.

"We've bought ourselves a year,'' Kemerer said. "We need to move forward very, very wisely.''

Interim City Manager Lyndon Bonner led numerous council workshops this summer to sort out the city's financial situation. While he worked toward correcting several years where the city spent more than it brought in through revenue, he was not able to convince the council to create a comfortable reserve fund. Much of the council discussion during two public hearings on the budget centered around needing to make difficult decisions soon into the new fiscal year.

Council members have talked about a potential referendum early in 2018, asking city residents whether they would be willing to pay higher taxes to keep all of their existing services.

Also during the budget hearings, the council heard from residents, including several from Southern Hills Plantation Club, who were concerned about the tax increase and how it would affect future growth in the city. They also voiced concern about being taxed twice for both city and county fire and police services.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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