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Hernando County chips away at shortfall

BROOKSVILLE — The county's budget committee on Tuesday recommended more than a half-million dollars in cuts to the County Commission but left the hard choices to the elected board members.

Those tough decisions include whether to raise fees for the use of Pine Island and which employees to cut to drop more than $400,000 from parks and facilities services.

Their recommendations also include a slightly scaled-back Government Broadcasting crew and $75,000 sliced out of funding for mental health services.

Saved for one year, so far, was the staff position that coordinates Hernando County's guardian ad litem volunteers, who represent children in court-related activities.

The county began with a $10 million shortfall; it's now down to less than $1 million.

After four hours of discussions, the committee members were still more than $200,000 away from reaching the more than $700,000 they were asked to cut. The final calls will be up to commissioners later this month.

Committee members were not eager to chop enough from Government Broadcasting to cut the $115,000 in expenses suggested by county administration and instead cut $45,398.

Brenda Frazier, community relations coordinator, outlined three options that would trim positions from the video production crew that records, broadcasts and video streams county government meetings and other locally produced shows.

One position was recommended cut in earlier discussions, and another position was suggested Tuesday.

The committee's recommendation leaves Frazier and two other video staffers to broadcast and produce much of what they do now, including outside programs, which generate money. The group would no longer be able to cover the government center switchboard or produce directories of service or the annual report.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins voted against the recommendation, asking why none of the options included eliminating Frazier's job. He repeated that question when other departments were discussed Tuesday, saying he didn't want to see the budget balanced on the backs of the county's in-the-trench workers.

That theme was repeated when the division directors for Land Services and Transportation Services brought forward their ideas for more than $400,000 in cuts.

In Parks and Recreation, where $300,000 was the administration's suggested reduction, the proposal included cutting four to six staffers and cutting back on mowing, maintenance and operating costs.

In Facilities Maintenance, where $100,000 more was to be sliced, county engineer Charles Mixson detailed transfers and reallocations of costs and positions when several departments came together under Transportation Services. Along with lease cost reductions and position reductions, the total cuts requested were accomplished.

In each of those divisions, the committee agreed to the recommend amounts to be cut but did not address the individual positions to be eliminated.

Commissioners will also have to decide what to do with costs at Pine Island, where the staff recommended increasing the daytime parking fee during the February through November season from $2 to $3. The committee was unable to reach a majority decision and sent the lengthy discussion points to the commissioners.

Still on the table is the possibility of an automated system to collect fees, charging fees for visits after 5 p.m. and charging fees year-round.

The committee also recommended that the budget for various mental health services through the Harbor be trimmed by $75,000 over the opposition of a local representative of the National Alliance on Mental Illness who argued that the county has great need of such services.

The circuit director for the local guardian ad litem program, Karla Grimsley, delivered a letter to County Administrator David Hamilton promising to find other funding for the subsequent budget year for the one position that has been paid for by the county if the funding could be saved this year.

Hamilton asked if the committee was willing to accept that, and it was, which won cheers from the dozen representatives of the program who had waited to plead for the funding.

The committee also agreed to recommend to commissioners that they go along with Commissioner Jim Adkins' suggestion that all expenditures from now until the end of the fiscal year be reviewed by the commissioners.

At Hamilton's urging, though, it recommended that the policy be followed only for expenses over $10,000, which would amount to about 150 per month. He said reviewing the hundreds of purchases below that amount every month would hamper county business.

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

Hernando County chips away at shortfall 08/04/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 4, 2009 7:12pm]
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