BROOKSVILLE — A number of local athletes complained to the Hernando County Commission on Tuesday that proposed park fees could price them right out of the game.
Commissioners, grappling with a tough 2010-11 budget, approved a schedule of new and increased park fees, but put off deciding whether to implement hourly costs and other alternatives for use of fields by reservation.
The $10- to $15-per-hour fees for the fields were a real concern to Mel Agotta, treasurer of the Anderson Snow Senior Softball League.
"I speak from the pocketbook,'' Agotta told commissioners, estimating that the fees would cost his league $7,200 a year. "We will have to drop out of softball. For us, this is a great sacrifice.''
Commissioners agreed to wait until Aug. 31 to make a decision on those fees, allowing the staff to meet with league representatives to try to work out some arrangement.
The West Hernando Athletic Club for Seniors has collected and expended its money for the year, its president, Larry Dodson, told commissioners. He said he couldn't fathom finding the $20,000 the new fee schedule would cost.
But he said there might be some way to work with the county, such as a per-player assessment.
Commissioner Jeff Stabins thanked the audience for understanding the county's dire financial situation. He said they needed to realize that, as the people who most enjoyed the parks, they could "chip in and help get us through this crisis.''
The fee increases approved included adding a $5 fee to use the boat ramps at Hernando Beach, Bayport and Jenkins Creek. But after hearing from boaters, commissioners agreed to drop the cost of an annual pass for boat ramps from a proposed $100 to $50.
Other fees approved include: $1 per vehicle to use the Rotary Centennial Dog Park; an increase from $3 to $5 for parking at Pine Island and Rogers Park during the season, and a new $2 charge during the off season and in the evening; and various increases to use buildings and pavilions.
The increases and new fees were originally projected to raise an additional $678,847, but calculations using the changes discussed Tuesday were not available.
Commissioners also voted to use $20,000 from park impact fees to purchase equipment and set up the pay-and-display parking meter at the dog park.
Commissioners also got an update on their request for some additional budget cuts from the elected constitutional officers.
Sheriff Richard Nugent had previously agreed to give back $500,000 in jail funding, but they learned that in a late Monday memo, he agreed to cut $50,000 from his budget because of anticipated savings in health insurance costs.
He also offered to cut another $250,000, although he said that would involve layoffs and he was not anxious to do that.
In addition, the tax collector agreed to give back $100,000 in excess fees, the clerk of the Circuit Court agreed to return $50,000 in excess fees and the property appraiser pointed out that about a month ago he returned $200,000 related to the county's mapping system.
Even with that, the county's budget deficit still sat at $1.7 million, budget office director George Zoettlein told commissioners.
Zoettlein also reported that, with the commission's decision last week not to use money from the sensitive lands fund to help pay for park maintenance, the county would lose the equivalent of 11 employees. Officials had not calculated how that would impact their collection of the new park fees.
As the list of budget cuts continued, Stabins noted "we're facing a major train wreck on the 31st of August.'' That is the last board meeting before the September budget hearings.
Commissioner John Druzbick offered a list of ways to try to bridge the gap. They included cutting the contribution the county makes toward health insurance by $90 per pay period, a move that would save $260,000 from the general fund. But with insurance enrollment under way, officials determined that would have to wait until next year.
Druzbick said he supported a move by the Utilities Department to consolidate its facilities into its operation on Wiscon Road and possibly in the new Health Department building set for Spring Hill, saving rent on offices on Kass Circle and allowing the building used by the utilities department on Cortez Boulevard to be sold. It is appraised at $780,000.
He also suggested the county considering selling another unused building on W Jefferson Street which is appraised at $396,000.
Druzbick's list also included using more inmate labor from the jail to maintain public property once the sheriff takes over the facility and develops a work plan. And he wanted to see a change in the reserve policy, allowing the use of more reserves to offset the revenue shortfall.
Commissioner Rose Rocco voiced some concern about the liability of extensive use of prisoners and she wanted to see more information about the way Nugent was going to spend money at the jail.
Stabins suggested using an independent consultant to determine whether there is a need for more courtroom space. Depending on the outcome, that could free up some of the $13 million the county has set aside to build a judicial center.
Commissioner Dave Russell suggested that the county's Tourist Development Council consider funding the annual cost of the Little Rock Cannery through bed-tax proceeds. The chairwoman of that group, former commissioner Bobbi Mills, agreed to take that issue to the council.
County Administrator David Hamilton shared with commissioners that he has contacted an expert in pay grades who will be working with Human Resources to provide a detailed downsizing in the county's management structure before the final budget hearing in September.
Representatives from the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce suggested a time study of the county attorney's office and possible reduction in the support staff there, changes in the way costs between departments are handled, elimination of the cannery from the general fund budget and cutting Saturday hours at Animal Services.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.