BROOKSVILLE — Still hundreds of thousands of dollars away from a balanced budget, Hernando County commissioners spent hours Tuesday trying to decide what to slash.
By the end of their marathon session, and with few decisions made, Commissioner Jim Adkins warned his colleagues to prepare.
Their next session on July 28, he said, is going to be painful.
Commissioners praised the work of the staff and community and said they have been actively working themselves to find ways to cut costs to make up for a revenue shortfall of more than $10 million for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.
During their discussions Tuesday, commissioners did reach some consensus on unresolved issues.
The Human Resources Department recommended that the county consider implementing 12 unpaid furlough days per year for all employees and allow individual departments to cut hours to meet their budget situations.
Commissioners agreed that they were willing to resort to furloughs and cut hours to save payroll costs and debated whether it was appropriate to have that discussion in public since those ideas must be negotiated with the Teamsters union.
Commissioner John Druzbick said that, by having open discussions about what was under consideration with furloughs and cuts in hours, the county was laying its cards on the table. He noted that the board has a right to meet behind closed doors as it determines what to use as its union contract negotiating points.
"Are we not negotiating right now?'' he asked.
But Deputy County Administrator Larry Jennings said that the staff was just attempting to find out if the board was interested in furloughs, and with an affirmative answer the issue could then be presented at the bargaining table.
Jennings also noted that the preliminary spending plan the staff has developed already assumes a reduction in payroll costs of $500,000. How those cuts are made will have to be worked out between the county and the union negotiating teams.
Human Resources director Cheryl Marsden said the county staff also looked at the idea of offering another round of buyouts to all employees.
Previously, only the county's highest-paid employees qualified for the first round, and only 3 percent of the eligible employees took the offer.
In calculating the cost and benefit of offering the program to all employees, Marsden said she couldn't recommend it. While there would be considerable savings in the future, the county couldn't afford the up-front payoff cost, she said.
But commissioners disagreed. They sent the county staff back to the drawing board to find a way to find the up-front money to fund the buyout in order to save more money in the long run, even if it meant using reserves and building them back when payroll costs are smaller.
A side benefit, commissioners noted, is that if more employees decide to leave, it could lessen the impact of possible furloughs or layoffs in the future.
"How many employees are we going to put off on the street?'' Druzbick asked.
Commissioner Jeff Stabins agreed, saying that it was obvious that spending levels are still not to where they need to be and that more cuts are needed by the county and elected constitutional officers.
"It would be good if our employees make a decision for themselves,'' Stabins said.
The staff promised to bring back a proposal soon.
Commissioners also agreed to drop the idea of having Hernando County Government Broadcasting try to market its services to private entities to try to generate more revenue. Assistant County Attorney Jeff Kirk told the commission that legal issues could arise if government broadcasting produces and airs programs for which it charges.
Instead, commissioners agreed to allow the Community Services staff to continue to look for grants, additional paid work for nonprofit organizations and other ways to increase income without competing with the private sector for video production work.
Jennings told commissioners that there are still several unresolved budget issues, including settling on how to trim the $500,000 in payroll costs and finding another $700,000 in cuts that officials don't want to take from reserves on top of the $3 million already earmarked to help make up the shortfall.
The county has also asked the sheriff to cut $2 million from his budget, and the supervisor of elections has been asked to cut $40,000, but specific cuts have not yet been revealed to the county.
Jennings said constitutional officers will be at the commission meeting on July 28.
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.