BROOKSVILLE — Gone were the packed, standing-room-only crowds of angry taxpayers clamoring for slashed county spending.
Unlike last year's public hearings on the county budget, only a few handful of citizens attended Thursday's first hearing on the county's proposed spending plan and the expenditure cuts mandated by voters and lawmakers within it.
After hearing from 10 citizens during the hourlong session, commissioners gave their tentative approval of the $390.3-million budget, a proposal that is lower than last year's spending plan. They also gave tentative approval of a countywide tax rate unchanged from last year at 6.3431 mills.
That tax rate amounts to $6.34 in property tax to support county services for every $1,000 of appraised taxable property value. For the owner of a house assessed at $150,000 with the $50,000 homestead exemption, the county tax would be $634.31.
Last year the county tax bill for a house with that same value would have been $158.58 higher because homeowners only received a $25,000 homestead exemption. Passage of Amendment 1 in January brought the additional exemption.
Unfilled positions, cuts in the hours of some county functions, reduction in the amount the county pays toward THE Bus, a reduction in the budget for the jail operation and a variety of cuts taken by individual departments are part of government belt-tightening which has been necessary in planning next year's budget.
During the next fiscal year, Hamilton plans additional cost-cutting moves, including slicing the number of county departments in half, restructuring the county's organization and offering voluntary early retirement to department heads and managers.
Other budget decisions are slated for specific votes. During Tuesday's regular meeting, commissioners will conduct a public hearing on increasing fees and adding new fees for parks and facilities. The most controversial of those has been to assess a $20 fee per person for all members of sports leagues that use county fields.
If the fees are not approved by the commission, four employees are to be laid off instead.
Another item commissioners are expected to discuss next week is the approval of a pay raise of two percent for all employees who make less than $65,000 per year. Those who make more than that would not get a raise.
The measure is expected to save the county $72,086. That number would grow to $98,523 if constitutional officers also adopted the same plan, which has been suggested to them by Hamilton.
The final hearing on the budget is slated for 5 p.m. on Sept. 25 in the County Commission chambers of the Hernando County Government Center.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.