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Hernando budget chief George Zoettlein to stay in job

BROOKSVILLE — Earlier this month, the County Commission sent a strong message to County Administrator David Hamilton that they wanted him to keep their 10-year budget director George Zoettlein.

Knowing the county is facing more budget challenges in the coming year, the board wanted some continuity and rejected Hamilton's plan to restructure Hernando's financial oversight.

This week, commissioners formally approved a new job description for Zoettlein, one that adds duties and slightly drops the pay range for the position. That does not affect Zoettlein's current salary, however.

Zoettlein already had put in for the county's early leave plan, even though he hoped he could stay with the county.

After detailing the new job description, Hamilton told commissioners he is working every day with Zoettlein, who is now part of Hamilton's leadership team, on next year's budget.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins, for one, was happy to hear that. "I thought that Mr. Hamilton would find Mr. Zoettlein cuddly if he got to know him,'' he said.

Zoettlein shared some of that early budget work with commissioners Tuesday in what Hamilton noted was likely the earliest look at spending plans they had ever received.

The news, as they suspected, was not good.

With the expected drop in property tax revenues and considering the amount of reserve, grant and other dollars that have gone to balance this year's budget, the county already is facing an $11.6 million shortage for the budget year that begins Oct. 1, 2010.

Hamilton also noted that two-thirds of this year's budget shortfall was absorbed by using one-time-only funds such as reserves and grants rather than making deeper cuts in actual operating costs. That will just compound the challenge of finding additional dollars in the next budget year, he told commissioners.

Zoettlein outlined where officials are looking to offset some of that, including spending down another $3 million in reserves. That is the amount used to help balance this year's spending plan, and the plan was to use $3 million a year for three years for that purpose.

The county is also anticipating spending another $1.5 million in library grants to operate the library system during the 2010-11 fiscal year. Zoettlein told commissioners that the county should be able to continue to spend those grant dollars for another year after that, provided the grants are still available.

Another $1.75 million could help offset the shortfall if the county legal staff determines that the commission can take that sum out of impact fees to put in the general fund.

Several years ago, the board bought land from the Utilities Department for Anderson Snow Park even though there was enough money in the parks impact fee fund to pay for the purchase, Zoettlein explained.

The hope is that those dollars can be replaced in the next budget year.

That would leave the county's shortfall at a minimum of $5.35 million, he said.

"We've got our work cut out for us,'' said Commission Chairman Dave Russell.

Stabins asked Zoettlein to bring to the commissioners the final detailed expenditure reports from the elected constitutional offices now that the 2008-09 budget year was done and he asked for monthly expenditure reports from county operations.

"We've got to start early and pay attention to spending,'' he said noting that if any departments start to get out of line in that regard, the commission needs to "nip it in the bud.''

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

Hernando budget chief George Zoettlein to stay in job 10/28/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 28, 2009 8:29pm]
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