Thursday, December 14, 2017
News Roundup

Hernando budget could be facing a $2.3 million shortfall

BROOKSVILLE — Earlier this month, with a split vote to increase the property tax rate, the Hernando County Commission approved a tentative balanced budget for 2012-13. Everything seemed set.

But as it turns out, the board's work is far from over. Since that vote, a couple of issues have arisen.

The first involves a proposed utilities surcharge. The budget approved by the board on July 10 included the levy, expected to generate about $1.1 million in revenue from Utilities Department customers. But after questions were raised about the fairness of the surcharge, and commissioners began expressing concerns about it, county staffers now are recommending that a public hearing, originally scheduled for Tuesday, be postponed so more analysis can be done.

The recommendation comes with a warning: If the surcharge ultimately dies, staffers will have to recommend increasing the millage rate even more — or the commission will have to make deeper cuts in programs and services — to keep the budget balanced.

That is an unpleasant reality for the commission, which already decided on a 3-2 vote to set the tentative millage rate for the county's general fund at 6.0851 mills — .4572 of a mill higher than last year. That rate is called the rollback rate because, when applied to lower property values, it brings in the same dollar total as last year. The rate would translate to $45.72 in additional tax for $100,000 of appraised taxable property value.

Now, another problem has surfaced: The state Department of Revenue has raised an issue related to the way county officials determined the rollback rate.

The state has notified county officials that they must calculate the rate based on the total taxable value of property for 2011-12 after the Value Adjustment Board voted to accept a challenge by cement giant Cemex. The company had argued that its cement kilns and related equipment had dropped in value by 50 percent due to the poor construction market.

The successful challenge by Cemex and other property owners knocked about $200 million in taxable value from the rolls.

If the previously approved rollback rate is applied to the smaller property value figure, it would bring in $1.2 million less for the general fund, said county budget manager George Zoettlein.

Add to that the hole left if the surchage is defeated, and the budget will have a shortfall of about $2.3 million.

Again, the commission has two choices: increase the millage rate to make up the difference or get out its knife and apply it to the budget.

Zoettlein is recommending that the board set a tentative tax rate of 6.2557 mills. The rate would be advertised on the preliminary notices property owners receive in August before government budgets and tax rates are set in September.

That rate would mean a tax bill of $625.57 for a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption. The same property, with the same assessed value, would have paid $562.79 in taxes last year. Officials have noted, however, that property values once again have declined this year, meaning that most property owners would pay no additional tax.

Once a tentative rate is set, the commission can later decide to approve a lower rate, but not a higher one unless another notice is sent out. And that is costly.

With his recommendation, Zoettlein said, "At least we have the budget balanced, and that gives us a month and a half to work at reducing the budget and reducing the millage rate."

Commissioners are expected to take up the issue during their meeting Tuesday.

The utilities surcharge has not proven popular among commissioners. Only 75 percent of the homes and businesses in Hernando County are connected to the county utilities system, but the general fund affects everyone.

The Department of Revenue's notice about the rollback rate calculation came as a surprise, said assistant property appraiser John Emerson. It is counter to the method the county has used for years to calculate its property tax rate, he said, and his office is seeking a legal opinion on the matter.

Commissioner John Druzbick said Friday he does not favor the utilities surcharge, and he acknowledged the commission faces a tough decision, given the Department of Revenue's stance on the way the county's total property value is calculated.

"That obviously adds a new wrinkle," he said.

Tony Marrrero can be reached at (352) 848-1431 or [email protected]

Comments
Horrified friends watch screaming woman driven to her death in Plant City

Horrified friends watch screaming woman driven to her death in Plant City

PLANT CITY — Jonathon Adams heard a scream, "like a dog getting run over by a car," then saw a minivan come tearing around the corner with a woman he knew dangling out of the passenger side.It was the start of a deadly sequence of events Dec. 8 that ...
Updated: 12 minutes ago

Column: Tax reform is the right path forward for Florida

In Washington, the tax reform process continues to move steadily forward, increasing the likelihood that Floridians will be able to keep more of their own money next year. While it has been the subject of a great deal of criticism (and outright misle...
Updated: 1 hour ago
NFL Power Rankings, Week 15: Carson Wentz's injury drops Eagles out of top five

NFL Power Rankings, Week 15: Carson Wentz's injury drops Eagles out of top five

What follows below is a ranking of all 32 NFL teams. To build this list, we consulted five objective measures of team strength: Pro Football Reference’s Simple Rating System, Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average ratings...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Dade City man turns himself in on warrants for Polk armed robbery

Dade City man turns himself in on warrants for Polk armed robbery

DADE CITY — A 25-year-old man wanted in connection with the attempted robbery of a taxi driver in Lakeland turned himself in late Wednesday night after being prompted by his mother, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.Edner Dely of Dade Ci...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Local widowers say baby powder caused their wives’ cancer

Local widowers say baby powder caused their wives’ cancer

Two Tampa area widowers whose wives died of ovarian cancer are suing Johnson & Johnson, joining nearly 5,000 other plaintiffs across the country who blame their illness on the daily use of the pharmaceutical company’s talcum powder.Bryan Isa’s wife, ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Pinellas judge: U.S. Army major found incompetent to stand trial can leave Florida

Pinellas judge: U.S. Army major found incompetent to stand trial can leave Florida

LARGO — A Pinellas circuit judge ruled this week that Roman Izzo, a U.S. Army major charged with murder but found incompetent to stand trial after he was injured in a motorcycle crash, can move to Kansas with his family.Izzo was released on $1.5 mill...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Lawsuit attempts to end conversion therapy ban in Tampa

Lawsuit attempts to end conversion therapy ban in Tampa

TAMPA — A conservative advocacy group is asking a federal court to overturn Tampa’s ban on conversion therapy for minors.The City Council approved an ordinance in March that bars the controversial practice, which tries to change a person’s sexual ori...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Jabil’s fiscal results top Wall Street expectations

Jabil’s fiscal results top Wall Street expectations

ST. PETERSBURG — Jabil Circuit Inc. beat Wall Street expectations for both profits and revenue Thursday.The St. Petersburg-based contract electronics manufacturer — one of Tampa Bay’s biggest public companies — posted fiscal first-quarter earnings of...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Deputies: Fleeing suspect shoots, injures dog as he runs through yards

DOVER — While fleeing from deputies, a man shot a dog inside a fenced yard Thursday, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said they were attempting to pull over a vehicle that might have been stolen near Milagro Court and Bl...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Amtrak train strikes, kills 60-year-old woman in Lakeland

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is investigating the death of a 60-year-old woman who was hit by an Amtrak train on Thursday.The woman was struck at 12:30 p.m. in the railroad intersection of Highway 92 East and Fairway Avenue in Lakeland, deputies ...
Updated: 2 hours ago