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Hernando County budget approved with no fuss

BROOKSVILLE — The plan for downsized county government spending won approval after the final public hearing on the county budget Thursday evening.

Only a smattering of residents were on hand to see the board approve the spending plan unanimously and in 20 minutes. The hearing was downright subdued compared with last year's tumultuous, hours-long, crowded final budget hearing.

The $465-million total budget is up from last year's $421.9-million, but the figure is somewhat misleading. This year, county staff included in the budget document millions of dollars in funds set aside for major projects that will carry over to the coming year. Last year, the budget did not include those numbers.

Commissioners are still struggling to pay for county services using declining property tax revenues brought on by the passage of Amendment 1, other legislative action and falling property values.

The spending plan approved will be partly funded by a countywide property tax rate to provide county services, which is unchanged from last year at 6.3431 mills.

A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in appraised taxable property value. For the owner of a house appraised at $150,000 who is eligible for the full $50,000 homestead exemption, the tax bill for county services would total $634.31.

For a house appraised at the same value last year, the tax is actually $158.58 less than last year because the homestead exemption doubled as a result of Amendment 1.

Other tax rates charged county property owners for individual services, depending on where they live in the county, also remained the same except for the cost of Hernando County Fire Rescue. That tax rate declined slightly to make up for an increase in ambulance fees this year.

To deal with the lower property tax collection, county officials have cut overtime, travel and other expenses, have left positions unfilled and have cut back on some services such as library hours to make up the difference. Some reserve funds also will be used this year and into the next budget year to complete the downsizing, according to the plan presented by County Administrator David Hamilton.

The second year of work to shrink the county government will include other plans such as a reorganizing of the county's structure to half the number of departments, restructuring of pay scales and benefits and an offer of a voluntary early retirement to top managers and department heads.

The approved budget includes 2 percent pay raises for employees who make less than $65,000 annually and no pay increases for those who make more than that amount. County commissioners will get their state-mandated raise from $59,552 to $60,573 but have said that they will return that increase to the county or charities of their choice.

The county's capital improvement budget also was presented during Thursday's hearing with a $19-million allocation for the county's portion of constructing a new judicial center. County staff members are tweaking a formal request for proposals for the project that is proposed as a public/private partnership.

Other capital expenses include $350,000 for improvements at the animal services facility, a degreasing facility for the county fleet at a cost of $280,000 and $390,000 to provide dust control for limerock roads.

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

Hernando County budget approved with no fuss 09/25/08 [Last modified: Sunday, September 28, 2008 1:32pm]
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