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Hernando County budget shortfall to bring more cuts to jobs, services

BROOKSVILLE — With the 2012 budget outlook getting bleaker by the day, Hernando County government leaders continue to slice expenses by killing jobs and slicing deep into services.

On Tuesday, the County Commission will take up the latest proposals to handle a deficit that has grown to $6.7 million.

Making matters worse, the general fund must refund $1.3 million in tax revenues collected this year because of recently approved property value adjustments. That means even less money to carry over into the 2012 fiscal year, said George Zoettlein, budget manager.

Budget cuts already proposed to close parks and trim 10 jobs from county departments must now go even deeper. The total number of positions cut from the board-controlled departments would hit 40, with most of those currently vacant.

County Administrator David Hamilton said the five elected constitutional officers also will have to cut deeper. Their total share is now nearing $3 million.

On the County Commission side, the latest round of proposals calls for the broadcasting operation to go from the current two full-time staffers to just a single part-timer.

That would mean the only videotaping would be of County Commission, Planning & Zoning Commission and Brooksville City Council meetings and the utilities Water Awareness series.

The county's video assistant, a planning secretary, a health and human services specialist and the urban horticulture agent all would lose hours and pay.

Positions now filled that would be cut are the video production manager, a veteran services officer, an administrative secretary in the county extension office, the operator of the Little Rock Cannery (which will be closed), an environmental planner, a recreation specialist, a facilities painter, a horticulture technician and two traffic technicians

The people in those positions could still bump other workers from different positions if they are part of the union bargaining unit.

Hamilton has said that if the commission approves changes, he would like to see them implemented immediately, thus saving more money. The original proposal called for the first round of pink slips to go out before the end of this month.

In addition to the staff reductions, parks such as Hill n' Dale, Stewy's Skate Park, Istachatta, Nobleton and Lake Townsen Regional Park would close. On Friday, the parks office sent out a public notice that the Lake Townsen boat ramp and fishing pier would be closed until further notice.

The athletic fields at Ernie Wever Youth Park would also close, as would most of Linda Pedersen Park, except during special events.

Customers at many county departments will have to wait longer for service. The employees who remain will be taking on more tasks. Some routine maintenance would be deferred on county facilities and they would be cleaned less frequently.

Library patrons would have less new material to check out. Social services ranging from aid for prescriptions to mental health services would be scaled back. And finding a human being answering a phone in a county office will become an even rarer occurrence.

The details of impacts on the constitutional officers' operations are not yet known. Hamilton and the county leadership team have notified them that their share of the revenue shortfall will total $2,954,296.

"We realize that this represents a significant challenge to your offices but wish to assure you that we are working to reduce our portion of the general fund shortfall within the Board of County Commissioner Divisions,'' Hamilton wrote in a memo to the constitutional officers.

Constitutional officers submit their budgets to the county by June 1, which is also when the county receives the first formal estimate of countywide property values. Those values form the basis of the county's spending plan.

Hamilton has asked the elected officials to participate in a planned June 7 budget workshop with the County Commission.

"We look forward to working with you to resolve our outstanding funding shortfall together on behalf of our citizens,'' he wrote.

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

Hernando County budget shortfall to bring more cuts to jobs, services 05/20/11 [Last modified: Friday, May 20, 2011 8:30pm]
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