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Hernando County Sheriff's Office finds budget tough to cut

BROOKSVILLE — Calling it a "starting point,'' Sheriff Richard Nugent late Monday submitted a $33 million spending plan that holds the line on expenses at last year's level.

It does not, however, include the $4.2 million in cuts that the county has requested that he make to help the county bridge a budget shortfall.

The proposed budget includes no pay raises for employees and no additional deputies for the fourth year in a row, despite a 12 percent increase in the crime rate and a growing number of calls for service.

Monday was the deadline for the five elected constitutional officers to submit their 2010 spending plans to the county's budget office.

Several weeks ago, the county administration asked for departments and constitutional officers to scale back spending plans to about the 2006 level because this year's tax revenue is expected to be at about the same level that it was in 2006.

Falling revenues due to falling property values and various tax reforms mean that county commissioners are facing an $11 million shortfall.

Sheriff offers a starting point

Nugent faced the deepest cut and was asked to trim $4.2 million in expenses.

Last week, he appeared before the County Commission seeking their support to form a separate taxing unit to fund his operation, a request they did not grant. He cited a long list of cuts he would need to make to meet the $4.2 million. Gone would be substations, the marine unit, the aviation unit, community policing, gang and drug prevention programs.

"The reason we presented these programs and these positions was to give the commission an idea of what the target number would impact,'' Nugent said. "Where we end up is that it comes down to people.''

The budget he presented is higher than last year's but when the cost of emergency management is subtracted, it is the same as last year. This is the first year the sheriff's takeover of emergency management is reflected in the spending plan.

Nugent said there were places he hoped to trim. Switching from having deputies transport prisoners and run the security checkpoints in the Government Center to hiring Wackenhut, a private security services provider, will save about $230,000.

The nine employees now doing those duties would be absorbed into the 10 current vacancies Nugent has and some of those workers may move over to the private company.

He said he hopes to see lower health insurance costs but was unsure how much his department will need to pay toward state retirement this year. Nugent also noted that he has further trimmed his command staff to just two captains instead of three and one less lieutenant.

The spending plan does not include cost of living or step raises for employees and Nugent said he is working with the union to get agreement on those points.

"Our goal is obviously to preserve as many of these jobs as we can,'' he said.

Property appraiser exceeds needed cuts

Property appraiser Alvin Mazourek was able to bring his budget financed by the general fund to a point $68,360 lower than the budget target presented him by county administration. His budget is divided into operations and also county addressing functions, which his office took over several years ago.

To trim his spending, he said he eliminated a position and was able to cut down some operational expenses because of a staff made smaller when four jobs were combined or eliminated last budget year.

"We understand what things are like so we just pared down,'' Mazourek said.

Falling revenue hurts all departments

Clerk of the Circuit Court Karen Nicolai has said previously that her falling revenue from various sources has required her to look at layoffs, reduced hours and furloughs.

The county's Budget and Finance Committee is set to meet today to discuss various county department budgets and determine what methods of payroll reduction to recommend to the County Commission.

Only Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams returned a budget that topped last year's. County officials were expecting a lower amended budget by the end of business on Monday but did not receive one.

Williams did not return a phone call seeking comment on her spending plan.

Tax collector Juanita Sikes said the revenue situation "is horrible this year'' and she worried that the next budget year will be even worse.

She has been able to get by with some staffers volunteering to go to 32-hour weeks, not filling vacancies and trimming other expenses where possible such as travel and training.

"When it gets down to our budget, people are it,'' Sikes said. "If I don't keep the staff I have, I can't provide the service I must.''

For the last couple of years, when Sikes has returned unused fees to the County Commission, she has warned that they should not expect the return to continue to be what it was and this year the return is expected to drop, according to George Zoettlein, director of the county's budget office.

Still, Sikes said she tries to return as much as she can.

"I try to be conservative,'' she said. "I feel like the constitutionals are going to try to cooperate as well as they can, as well as the board departments have. It's got to be a team effort.''

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

Fast facts

Proposed budgets of constitutional officers

Office: 2009 budget / 2010 request

Property Appraiser: $2,598,876 / $2,528,885

Tax Collector: $2,439,000 / $2,314,000

Clerk of the Circuit Court: $2,006,011 / $1,930,578

Supervisor of Elections: $1,098,625 / $1,812,700

Sheriff: $32,672,740 / $33,005,970

Hernando County Sheriff's Office finds budget tough to cut 06/01/09 [Last modified: Monday, June 1, 2009 10:06pm]

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