Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hernando business leaders give input on county budget woes

BROOKSVILLE — Whether a business builds homes or serves up chicken sandwiches, the bottom line can't be a negative number.

The same is true for county government.

But this year, as Hernando officials continue to spend more than they take in — and bolster their books by burning through reserve funds — it is time to make hard choices and drastically cut spending.

That is the message County Administrator David Hamilton delivered to the community's business leaders Wednesday evening as he met with a liaison committee, composed of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, builders, Realtors and Hernando Progress, a private, nonprofit business group.

The session was the last in a series of community meetings on this year's budget process.

In response to questions from the group, Hamilton defended the way county departments pay for services that are provided by other county departments.

He also stood firm on leaving untouched the $18 million that the county has set aside for a new judicial center, despite the fact that the county has a $10.4 million shortfall in its 2010-11 budget and is considering slicing millions from parks, libraries, social services and public transportation.

Hamilton and George Zoettlein, the county management and budget office director, showed charts and graphs illustrating how the county has survived the last three difficult budget years and how drawing down reserves has been the norm.

Falling property values and tax reforms have driven property tax revenues downward and forced the county to dip into reserves that were built up during the boom years.

But the reserves will run out in 2013.

He said it was important to make that point with county commissioners, who must make the tough political decisions about where cuts will be made. Without drastic cutbacks, the county will be out of money and "we're writing funny checks,'' Hamilton said.

He said he had that happen to him early in his government service career, when he took over a government that had spent down its reserves and had to borrow $3 million to make payroll.

"Being solvent is really popular in the end,'' Hamilton told the group of about two dozen.

He explained how county officials this year categorized services based on whether they were mandated or whether they were considered "quality of life'' services, but he stressed that the cuts will come throughout the county's general fund spending categories.

Questioned about the way the county requires payments between county departments for services, Hamilton said the system has changed to make it more fair.

For example, if the county's Building Department, which operates strictly on the fees it collects, needs help from the Finance Department, finance gets paid.

Now, instead of basing that fee on the cost from two years ago, the county is going to use current information, which is a "dramatic change,'' said Michael McHugh, director of business development. Costs today are well below what they were two years ago because government has shrunk so much.

Hamilton said that if a department were paying a cost allocation for help from his office based on costs two years ago, they'd be paying a fee that would include the salary of Larry Jennings, even though he retired last year and has not been replaced.

One specific area where business leaders questioned the county's costs was its fleet of vehicles and the cost of oil changes, which tops $50 even though the private sector can do them for half the price or less.

Hamilton told the leaders that he is working on that, but getting to the many quirks inside county government has taken a while.

"That's going to go,'' he said.

One area where Hamilton said he isn't looking at hiring a private company is mosquito control. Chamber member and longtime government observer Janey Baldwin said other communities are privatizing the service, and she said she was concerned that the county is spending $622,000 a year.

"There are budget reductions coming'' in that department, Hamilton responded. He said he believes the department is well run.

Even with the dire talk of the need to cut millions from general-fund spending, Hamilton said that "we're a fiscally solvent county, and we want to stay that way. Having money sitting in the judicial center fund "is comfortable for me,'' he said.

But Baldwin questioned why he wouldn't tap into the fund to save county employees' jobs. Fifty or more workers will likely be lost in this year's cuts, officials have said.

Hamilton responded that the county has an obligation to provide courtroom space for the judiciary. The judges have asked for more room for years. He also noted that he didn't know what the future might hold as far as an economic turnaround.

"I think it would be wise for that money to sit on the balance sheet until we see which way this storm goes,'' Hamilton said.

Liaison committee member John Mitten thanked the county administrator for the budget presentation and summed up the group's reaction.

"Sobering,'' he said.

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

Hernando business leaders give input on county budget woes 06/03/10 [Last modified: Thursday, June 3, 2010 7:04pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. Trigaux: For Class of 2016, college debt loads favor Florida graduates

    Banking

    Florida college graduates saddled with student debt: Take heart. The average debt Class of 2016 Florida grads must bear is less than students in most states.

    University of South Florida undergraduates gather at the USF Sun Dome in Tampa for last fall's commencement ceremony. A new survey finds their average student debt upon graduating was $22,276. Statewide, 2016 Florida grads ranked a relatively unencumbered 45th among states, averaging $24,461 in student debt. [Photo Luis Santana | Times]
  2. Romano: One person, one vote is not really accurate when it comes to Florida

    Politics

    Imagine this:

    Your mail-in ballot for the St. Petersburg mayoral election has just arrived. According to the fine print, if you live on the west side of the city, your ballot will count as one vote. Meanwhile, a ballot in St. Pete's northeast section counts for three votes.

    Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections worker Andrea West adds mail ballots to an inserter Sept. 22 at the Pinellas County Supervisor of Elections Service Center in Largo. (SCOTT KEELER   |   Times)
  3. St. Petersburg will hold first budget hearing tonight

    Local Government

    ST. PETERSBURG — The Sunshine City's new property tax rate looks exactly like its current rate. For the second year in a row, Mayor Rick Kriseman does not plan to ask City Council for a tax hike or a tax cut.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman talks about the state of the city on Tuesday, two days after Hiurricane Irma passed through the state. [EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  4. 'We were lucky': Zephyrhills, Dade City get back to normal after Irma

    Hurricanes

    Two weeks after Hurricane Irma struck Florida, residents and city officials in eastern Pasco — hit harder than other areas of the county — are moving forward to regain normalcy.

    Edward F. Wood, 70, tugs at a branch to unload a pile of debris he and his wife picked up in their neighborhood, Lakeview in the Hills in Dade City.
  5. After Hurricane Irma, many ask: How safe are shelters?

    News

    NAPLES — Residents of the Naples Estates mobile home park beamed and cheered when President Donald Trump and Gov. Rick Scott strolled amid piles of shredded aluminum three days after Hurricane Irma to buck up residents and hail the work of emergency responders. But almost nobody had anything good to say about …

    The Islamic Society of Tampa Bay Area opened its doors to anyone seeking temporary shelter during Hurricane Irma. Evacuees were housed in the Istaba multipurpose building and was quickly at capacity housing over 500 people. [Saturday, September 9, 2017] [Photo Luis Santana | Times]