Hernando County seeks public input on cuts with 'budget road show'

BROOKSVILLE — Closing government offices one day a week; ending the sheriff's marine, aviation and traffic units and substations; new fees for county parks, and shuttering the Little Rock Cannery. That's what it might come to.

And those are just some of the dozens of reductions county officials are considering as they struggle to make up for what could be an $11 million revenue shortfall for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.

Now, officials want to know what county residents think about those ideas — and if they have any other suggestions. So, like last year, they are planning a "budget road show,'' as County Administrator David Hamilton calls it.

Beginning Wednesday, Hamilton and his staff will visit seven sites from Hernando Beach to Istachatta to find out what residents think about the massive budget cutting that must be done over the next three months.

Last year, Hamilton held similar town hall budget meetings, sessions that diffused some of the overwhelming public outcry heard during budget discussions in 2007.

This year, he said, there is even a greater need to take the budget discussion on the road.

"The difference this year vs. any other year is that it's not about ideology or the size of government,'' Hamilton said. "This year, the overriding issue is that the money we once used to run the county has gone away as the economy has evaporated before our eyes.''

He said he hopes that residents, like last year, will get an education on how the county's budget works. This year, Hamilton said, the scenario is far worse.

Not only are residents hurting with job losses and business closings, but county staffers are concerned about their futures. At the same time, the county is negotiating its first contract for workers with the Teamsters union, and those talks will have to include discussion on issues such as furloughs, layoffs and reduced work hours for employees.

As commissioners begin the earnest discussion of where to find the money, Hamilton said, "There's a lot on the line.''

The commission is slated for a budget workshop after Tuesday's regular meeting. While budgets are usually nearing their final form long before the two required public hearings in September, Hamilton predicts that tweaking and adjusting the spending plan this year will likely take the county up to the eleventh hour.

"This is just too big to do it as quickly as we have in the past,'' he said, calling this year's process the "methodical, deliberate, ponderous approach,'' and intentionally so.

"If we act too quickly, it sends a mixed message to the public and it sends a mixed message to our organization — our people who are wondering whether they have a job or not,'' Hamilton said.

He said he hopes to learn the public's wishes and transmit to residents the seriousness of the county's position through the community budget meetings.

"Essentially a lot of the message is grim. It matches the tone of the community,'' Hamilton said. "A lot of people are hurting out there. We need to hear from them.''

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

Community budget meetings

• 2 p.m. Wednesday, Withlacoochee Bicentennial Hall, 16257 Lingle Road, Istachatta

• 6:30 p.m. June 16, VFW Post 10209, 14736 Edward R. Noll Drive, Spring Hill

• 6:30 p.m. June 18, Lorenzo Hamilton Community Center (Kennedy Park), 899 Kennedy Blvd., Brooksville

• 2 p.m. June 24, Ridge Manor Community Center, 34240 Cortez Blvd., Ridge Manor

• 6:30 p.m. June 29, Knights of Columbus Hall, 13485 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill

• 2 p.m. June 30, Coast Guard Auxiliary Building, Shoal Line Boulevard and Calienta Street, Hernando Beach

• 6:30 p.m. July 1, John Law Ayers Room, Room 160, Hernando County Government Center, 20 N Main St., Brooksville. (This meeting will be streamed on the county's Web site and telecast live on Bright House cable Ch. 622. Residents may call in or send e-mail questions that will be answered during the session.)

Hernando County seeks public input on cuts with 'budget road show' 06/07/09 [Last modified: Sunday, June 7, 2009 6:32pm]

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