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Hernando budget cuts to get first airing

BROOKSVILLE — More details of the leaner Hernando County government emerged Friday in a series of proposals released by County Administrator David Hamilton.

The budget cutting ideas, which will get their first airing before the County Commission on Tuesday, include slashing the subsidy for THE Bus by nearly a third, eliminating most overtime, offering an early retirement program and dismissing as many as 20 employees.

The cuts could mean reduced hours in the county's libraries, curtailed bus service, a longer wait for county services and increased fees in county parks and facilities.

No change is proposed in the tax rate under Hamilton's plan.

The extensive cuts are needed to offset tax revenue reductions resulting from legislative actions, the passage of Amendment 1, the downturn in the economy and falling property values.

In the latest round of trimming, Hamilton worked to make up a gap of $6.37-million between expected general fund revenue and expenses.

Hamilton proposes to shrink county government over the next two budget years, pulling common services such as human resources and information technology from multiple departments into a central location, reducing the number of departments and department heads and increasing efficiencies throughout the county's structure.

Part of the plan is to allow a one-time infusion of funds from the county's reserves for operations to cushion the blow of the many changes ahead and spread it over the two-year period.

"It's a huge organization to turn on a dime,'' Hamilton said on Friday.

Among the initiatives is the development of a proposed "voluntary leave policy'' which would provide an incentive for senior staff nearing retirement to retire early. While that would cost the county in the short term, the plan would be to eliminate many of those positions from future budgets.

The current idea would target approximately 30 county employees who are older than 56 and earn more than $60,000. Funding for the incentive will likely come from the county's Worker's Compensation Fund, according to Hamilton's memo.

Another part of the proposal would revamp the salary grid for county employees "moderating wage increases while providing more certainty to the long-term well being of our staff,'' Hamilton wrote. The current system with a large number of pay categories, is "unmanageable'' and "confusing to everyone,'' he wrote.

He is suggesting a pay adjustment of 2 percent for the county staff and the employees of constitutional officers, but is also looking at a lower percentage for higher paid managers.

Another part of Hamilton's cost-slicing process has been to ask department heads to make suggested trims in their budgets and then report about the anticipated impact. The resulting list includes dozens of suggestions that Hamilton notes in his memo will bring "some daunting changes to our operation.''

Among the ideas on the table:

• Cut $200,000 from THE Bus subsidy by reducing the hours or days of operation, trimming enhanced services in the Ridge Manor area or cutting the contribution to the door-to-door Transportation Disadvantaged program.

• Save $500,000 by eliminating seven full-time positions in development services including the building official who is also the director. The county would contract with a private provider to fulfill the state requirement to have a building official.

• Reduce operation of the county libraries by 10-14 hours per week, eliminating positions and saving $208,558. Save another $47,533 by reducing and eliminating some publications.

• Raise an additional $125,000 by increasing fees for parking at Pine Island and Rogers parks. Add another $130,000 to county revenue by instituting fees to sports leagues that use parks.

• Bring another $38,500 into county coffers by increasing fees to rent park pavilions and buildings, increasing fees for adult sports leagues and allowing advertising in parks.

• Raise $40,000 by initiating a $5 per visit or $100 per year boat ramp access fee at three main ramps.

• Eliminate a full-time and two intern positions at Animal Services, closing the shelter on Saturdays and decreasing community events and related public education programs. Much of the $27,120 cost savings would actually go to offset another $21,000 in expense for the Sheriff's Office to make emergency responses.

Hamilton also will be presenting the commissioners with "a very ambitious capital improvement plan.'' He said that, even though the trend has been to cut back on capital expenses, "we need to be investing in our county and we need to help kick-start the county by planning projects.''

Tuesday will be just the first chance for commissioners to talk about the cost-trimming ideas. Hamilton will bring the total budget to the commission on July 15 and a series of public budget workshops and hearings are planned up through final budget adoption in September.

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

Hernando budget cuts to get first airing 06/27/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 4, 2008 4:57pm]
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