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Hernando County avoids judicial reserve to fill budget gap — for now

BROOKSVILLE — Still at least $2 million shy of balancing the county budget for 2012-13, Hernando County commissioners stopped short Tuesday of dipping into the judicial fund reserve.

Commissioner Jim Adkins noted that, when there is a gap between revenue and spending, the only choices are to cut spending, increase the tax rate or borrow from reserves.

"You know, Mr. Chairman,'' said Commissioner Dave Russell. "We've done all three.''

The county abandoned plans for a stand-alone judicial center months ago, transferring the reserve back into general fund reserves, said Commissioner John Druzbick. But he expressed concern about using the reserve to balance the budget because that would just make it more difficult for the commission when it's time to plan for 2013-14.

Russell was poised to make a motion to use some of the $7 million the county has set aside for the judicial project when County Administrator Len Sossamon stopped him, noting that the vote might still be premature.

There are still some other things in play with county spending, Sossamon said.

Several of those were on Tuesday's agenda.

While just a few months ago the county was expecting to get hit with a bill of between $3.4 million and $4.2 million for disputed Medicaid claims, the state has dropped that down to $1.57 million, health and services manager Veda Ramirez told commissioners.

If the county agrees not to challenge the new total, it could pay a discounted amount — about $230,000 less. If the county does mount a challenge, the state could begin taking the full amount from revenue-sharing dollars the county receives.

Commissioners must decide what to do before Sept. 1; Ramirez said she would bring updated information to the board Aug. 28.

Chris Holley, executive director of Florida Association of Counties, told commissioners he anticipated that most counties would not challenge the totals in order to get the discount.

"Most everybody is going to take the bird in the hand rather than the two in the bush,'' Holley said.

In a related action, commissioners voted to rejoin the Florida Association of Counties. Hernando had dropped out several years ago to save the membership fee. But several commissioners said the organization's work on challenging the Medicaid funding and a variety of other issues made it wise to rejoin.

Hernando has been the only county in the state not to renew its membership. The dues run approximately $16,000 a year.

Another savings avenue the county is pursuing is the refinancing of $26 million in capital improvement bonds from 2002 and 2004. Commissioners had the choice of taking advantage of those savings in even increments in the coming years or taking more of the money in the early years.

They opted for the earlier savings at Sossamon's recommendation, in hopes that economic conditions will improve during the later years and the county's revenue picture will brighten.

Over the 16-year life of the bonds, the county will save $2.5 million.

One of the other ways the county is studying to save money is an assessment of its utility services. It has asked for an internal review, as well as one by the Florida Governmental Utilities Authority.

But concerns have been expressed about the amount of staff time the reviews could take. And on Tuesday, Commissioners Jeff Stabins and Adkins expressed concern that FGUA might not be the appropriate agency to conduct a review since it generally deals with much smaller, private utilities.

Ultimately, the commissioners agreed to seek a 60- to 90-day extension for completion of the study.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at or (352) 848-1434.

In other business

The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday:

• Approved a rezoning to allow construction of a Dollar General Store at the northwest corner of Broad Street and Wilson Boulevard in Masaryktown, overturning a recommendation to deny by the Planning and Zoning Commission. Some neighbors objected to the proposal by the Masaryktown Community Center Inc. They expressed concern about traffic and how the commercial use would fit with their community. Darryl Johnston, representing the community center, told commissioners more residents were in favor of the project than opposed.

• Without discussion, voted unanimously to approve the rezoning that will allow the 4,280-acre Quarry Preserve project north of Brooksville to proceed to the next phase. The project, slated to be built in an old rock mine, will include single-family and multifamily homes, and commercial and office space, grouped around a town center.

• Approved the final $22,290 payment to DAB Constructors Inc. to conclude the controversial Elgin Boulevard widening project in Spring Hill. Some residents objected to the improvements because the county had to buy homes on one side of the street to accomplish the work, purchasing the properties when prices were at their peak. Those homes were demolished or relocated.

• Read a resolution honoring fallen Brooksville Army Spc. Clarence Williams III, who was killed by a roadside bomb in Afghanistan last month. Several members of Williams' family were on hand at the commission meeting to accept the resolution.

Hernando County avoids judicial reserve to fill budget gap — for now 08/14/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 14, 2012 8:34pm]
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