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Hernando County prepares to send out layoff notices

BROOKSVILLE — For more than seven hours Tuesday, the County Commission heard vivid details of just what the proposed county budget cuts are going to cost the public in services and facilities.

By the end of the painful session, the board members were still more than $4 million short of a balanced budget.

"We have less than four months to balance the budget and we have multimillion dollars in cuts still to be determined,'' County Administrator David Hamilton said.

Still, he said, he would send out the first round of layoff notices to nine employees giving them six weeks' notice and giving the county time to look for creative ways to save the jobs.

Many residents in Tuesday's audience were angered by the proposed cuts.

Veterans advocates blasted a plan to cut one of the county's two veteran's service officers. Parents urged the commission save Stewy's Skate Park and Ernie Wever Youth Park. Those who use the Little Rock Cannery wanted assurances it would be saved.

Commissioners said they wanted to save Government Broadcasting, which had been proposed for major cuts.

There were some encouraging updates about some of the facilities set for closure as private groups offered to take over part of park and facility operations.

The commission also heard detailed reports from the county's five elected constitutional officers who presented their budgets, which are still nearly $2 million shy of what they were asked to cut.

Commissioners pointedly asked Sheriff Al Nienhuis to dig a little deeper and questioned why Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams needs to increase her budget.

Hours later, after the elected constitutional officers were gone and all the talking was wrapping up, Hamilton told the commission he could not recommend to them the budgets as presented by Nienhuis and Williams.

The sheriff was asked to cut $2.5 million from his spending plan, but Hamilton said Nienhuis only got about halfway there. He said he planned to meet with him and tell him to go back and find more cuts.

Hamilton also planned to meet with Williams to tell her that whatever she thought her budgetary needs might be, the county can't afford to fund them this year. Asked to cut $57,500 from her $951,000 budget, she has instead asked for $1.14 million, citing a presidential election year and duties she must assume because of redistricting.

Tax Collector Juanita Sikes also missed her goal by $462,000, but she explained in detail how her office must assume responsibilities for drivers licensing after Oct. 1, requiring her to hire more staff and conduct extensive training.

Hamilton said the county might be able to tap into a special reserve fund established to cover unusual circumstances. Sikes' situation and the $1.3 million the county will have to return in this year's tax revenues because of decisions by the Value Adjustment Board would qualify.

He explained that the commission could spend money out of a rate stabilization fund that was a part of its reserve account, but the money would have to be paid back. Legal action to recover some of the taxes to be refunded might cover a part of that.

But to protect the county's bond rating, Hamilton also suggested that the money remaining in the judicial center and capital improvement reserve fund be set in the reserves so that the county still meets its requirement to have 18.5 percent of the general fund total in reserves.

Commissioner John Druzbick balked, saying that the county was still spending down reserve money when all the indicators are that next year will be worse as far as the revenue shortfall.

The county's dire circumstances prompted Druzbick to urge his fellow commissioners to consider a tax rate increase that would allow the county to raise the same amount in tax next year that it did this year before the property values fell — a rate known as the roll-back rate.

Commissioner Jeff Stabins was also advocating for a slight tax rate increase. So did Property Appraiser Alvin Mazourek and Sikes.

But Commissioner Dave Russell said he wasn't ready to consider that because as the county works through the budget, there are still places that cuts can be made and efficiencies achieved.

Commissioner Wayne Dukes sided with Russell, while Commissioner Jim Adkins remained silent on the matter.

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

Hernando County prepares to send out layoff notices 06/07/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 7, 2011 8:26pm]
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