BROOKSVILLE — As the Brooksville City Council heads toward its first budget hearing in two weeks, one thing is clear: Taxpayers are going to have to pony up more in order to keep their current level of services.
The continued downward slide in property values and tax revenues, coupled with escalating costs, has made for a bleak picture that City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha warned could no longer effectively be controlled by simply cutting staff.
Earlier this month, the council approved a tentative property tax rate of 7.5 mills, which would allow the city to balance its budget. That rate is 17.7 percent higher than the 6.37 mills residents have paid the past two years.
Tuesday's final budget workshop brought little discussion of changing those plans unless council members choose to enact a fire assessment for property owners. The fee could generate up to $600,000 for fire services.
That measure, currently under a 30-day appeal period in Hernando County Circuit Court, could allow the city to set the tax rate to 6.58 mills — still an increase of .21 mill over last year.
"The reality is that it's costing us more all the time to provide essential services," Vice Mayor Lara Bradburn said. "In the meantime, we're falling behind. We have a backlog of needs, and we haven't found a way to make them happen."
Council members bandied about several short- and long-term options for how the city could further shave expenses. The suggestions ranged from choosing to rent some city vehicles and equipment rather than buying them, to the elimination of the municipality's police, fire and recreation departments.
Council member Kevin Hohn expressed surprise at the depth of the discussion, and quipped that it was "like going for a haircut and receiving a beheading instead."
The council also discussed ways to increase revenues, including having the city adopt its own construction impact fees and collecting them in an escrow fund, adding a $1 surcharge to utility bills and billing mobile home park residents individually for water and sewer services.
Council member Joe Bernardini said that although he didn't favor adding financial burdens to taxpayers, it was clear the city needs to look at every way possible to limit its financial bind.
"We have no way of knowing what's coming next year or beyond," Bernardini said. "Maybe it's time to look at everything differently, even the sacred cows."
Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or [email protected]