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Hernando administrator details deeper budgets cuts

BROOKSVILLE — County commissioners were awash in numbers Tuesday as County Administrator David Hamilton gave them details of his proposed government reshuffling and a laundry list of possible spending cuts.

A $200,000 cut in the subsidy for THE Bus, $300,000 raised through new user fees, 20 more lost jobs, curtailed customer service, cuts to educational and 4-H programs, and fewer county workers doing more work — all of this and much more will be discussed when the board takes a formal look at the 2009 budget on July 15.

The proposed cuts aim to close a $4.5-million gap between expected revenue and expenses over the next two budget years (under the county's biennial budget plan). Hamilton said he will tap county reserves and trim other areas while further shrinking expenses, staff and bureaucracy.

While commissioners mulled all of the sobering figures, they received a rare bit of welcome fiscal news: The county's overall taxable value has come in slightly higher than expected.

Even better: That translates into $1.5-million more in revenue than the $52-million in property taxes they had anticipated.

Hernando County property values dropped last year, just not as far as Property Appraiser Alvin Mazourek had estimated earlier. According to Mazourek's numbers, the total taxable property value in 2008 dropped 10 percent, to $10.2-billion, compared to $11.4-billion last year.

George Zoettlein, director of the Office of Management and Budget, said that number could double next year.

Hamilton is not proposing any raise in the countywide tax rate even though the county's growth would allow a higher rate that, in turn, could increase tax revenue by as much as $4.5-million.

Hamilton said he could not recommend that to the board because of "the economy which has cascaded downward and Amendment 1,'' which voters overwhelmingly approved earlier this year to shrink property tax collections.

His figures showed that tax revenues will have shrunk $18.6-million over a two-year period if the commission adopts his proposal.

While county spending is shrinking, Hamilton pointed out that the constitutional officers, or the county's elected officials such as the sheriff, are seeking $1.25-million more in their budget requests for 2009. He said he is discussing ways that the officials can trim their operations.

Part of his overall reorganization plan is to find ways to combine core administrative functions of the county and the constitutional officers, where possible, to centralize such functions as budgeting, human resources and information technology, jobs now done by 225 people.

Pay increases of up to 2 percent, a new pay grid system, an early retirement option, reductions in overtime, travel and training, a smaller vehicle fleet and reduced energy expenses are also part of the discussion.

The one-time use of reserve funds to help bring the budget into line drew a question from Commissioner Rose Rocco. She asked how the county was set if there was a storm. Zoettlein said the county keeps $3-million in a stabilization fund in case of emergency and another $17-million in reserves.

Commissioner Diane Rowden said she believed cutting money from THE Bus was "taking the wrong direction.'' She pointed out that the U.S. House overwhelmingly supported providing operational money to transit services at this time of rising fuel costs and concerns about fossil fuels.

Commissioner Dave Russell called Hamilton's initial budget presentation "an ambitious but tenable business plan'' and praised his efforts to push for more efficient operations. "It's a good start and we're on the right track,'' he said.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

>>Fast facts

Highlights from proposed county budget

• A $200,000 cut in the subsidy for THE Bus.

• $300,000 would be raised through new user fees.

• 20 more lost jobs and curtailed customer service.

• Cuts to educational and 4-H programs.

• Fewer county workers doing more work.

• $1.5-million more in revenue than the $52-million in property taxes the county had anticipated due to an increase in the county's overall taxable value.

• No raise in the countywide tax rate is proposed.

Hernando administrator details deeper budgets cuts 07/01/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 4, 2008 6:59pm]
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