BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County commissioners sent their budget director back to find another half-million dollars to cut from the 2013-14 budget after Tuesday evening's first public hearing on the spending plan.
The move came after commissioners listened to a handful of public questions about county spending and reserve funds.
One resident, Shirley Miketinac, asked why the county can keep reserves when "we (the citizens) don't have any anymore.''
But the real debate came down to commissioners who late last month asked for County Administrator Len Sossamon to reduce the size of the tax increase he had originally proposed.
Sossamon had first proposed a general fund tax rate of 7.3691 mills, which was a 24.5 percent increase over the current rate.
After a workshop, commissioners asked for that to be trimmed to 7 mills with cuts coming from the board's departments and the elected constitutional officers.
Then last week the county learned that it was going to collect $1.3 million in unexpected back taxes from mining and cement company Cemex over a property value dispute.
Those figures were worked into the adjusted budget of George Zoettlein, assistant administrator for budget and community services, on Tuesday.
Zoettlein explained that with that windfall and releasing a reserve he had built in case Cemex challenged the value again this year, and a cut in what the county owes the state Department of Juvenile Justice, he was able to get the budget where it needed to be without seeking money from the elected constitutionals.
That didn't sit well with several commissioners. Commission Chairman Dave Russell wanted to see more so he suggested a further cut, down to a tax rate of 6.9169 mills, another $554,000 to be cut. A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in appraised taxable property value.
Commissioners said they wanted their own departments to take a $185,000 hit and the sheriff about $369,000.
"It's not that we're sitting back and not cutting,'' said Chief Deputy Michael Maurer. He said other county departments were cutting less than the sheriff and he just wanted to see fairness.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes said that he thought every department and constitutional officer could justify their budget but he still wanted to see everyone participate in the cutting "so we don't put it all on the back of the taxpayer . . . I'm just looking for a little help here.''
In recent years the county has used budget cuts and reserves to make up for falling property tax revenue, but there are no more reserves to spend and officials say they cannot trim staff any further without impacting services.
Commissioners took separate votes on the tax rate and the budget. In each case, the vote was 3-2 with Dukes and Commissioner Nick Nicholson voting no.
After making the adjustments approved by the board, the new proposed general fund budget is $91 million and total budget is $386 million.
The final public hearing on the budget is at 5 p.m. Sept. 24.