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Hernando County budget news gets millions worse

BROOKSVILLE — With housing starts a fraction of what they were three years ago, one in 10 Hernando residents jobless, and property values plummeting, Hernando County is hurting financially.

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County commissioners heard more grim news on Tuesday when budget officials confirmed that tax revenue for the 2009 general fund budget is expected to be $1.6-million shy of projections.

Commissioners should also expect $1.7-million less in impact fees, a $1.9-million hit in income from solid waste and recycling services and a nearly $1-million drop in fees from development services. That department on Monday announced it was laying off six more workers.

And the outlook for 2010 is even worse.

The county will likely have to make spending cuts equal to about $6-million to $7-million to balance next year's revenue shortfall, according to Budget And Management Director George Zoettlein. The shortfalls are due to falling property values and falling sales tax receipts and revenue sharing dollars from the state, he said.

This year, the county pledged to take $2-million from reserves to help with the crunch and county officials have pledged not to dip into the reserves in 2010.

Zoettlein had yet another warning. He learned Monday that state officials are talking about cutting another $100-million from state programs, cuts that typically trickle down to counties.

In response, commissioners voted unanimously to form a standing budget committee. Its first priority will be to address ways to balance the budget, said County Administrator David Hamilton.

Dave Russell, who was appointed chairman of the County Commission on Tuesday, recommended that the new vice chairwoman, Rose Rocco, chair the budget committee.

Another committee, one on economic development, was also discussed and Russell recommended that John Druzbick, the newly appointed second vice chairman for the County Commission, chair that group.

Facing such major funding shortfalls, Zoettlein said that he is preparing a memo to department heads and constitutional officers telling them they needed to begin to look hard at their spending plans for this year and next.

"What you're saying is that we really have our work cut out for us,'' Russell said.

Zoettlein agreed.

County Administrator David Hamilton told commissioners that he would be bringing forward regular reports now on the county's "fiscal health.''

Druzbick noted that the county leaders have many important tasks on their plate in the coming weeks including the proposed reorganization of government and he encouraged county staff to think hard about how they can make their operation more efficient.

"We really have to start thinking differently than the way we have in the past,'' he said.

Several other times during Tuesday's regular commission meeting, the specter of the looming funding shortfall prompted commissioners to turn down some big-ticket items in an effort to find some other way to get by for now.

In one case, the commission rejected a $191,000 bid for a new fuel island construction project at the landfill asking instead that it be delayed because it wasn't a critical, immediate need.

And in another, they delayed awarding a bid to renovate an abandoned home at the Cypress Lakes Reserve, which was to be used as a security station there. The price tag on that project was nearly $89,000.

Commissioners instead asked for the staff to bring back other options for the old building and to provide needed security on the property.

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

Hernando County budget news gets millions worse 01/06/09 [Last modified: Thursday, January 8, 2009 11:26pm]
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