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Hernando has big budget gap to close

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County officials are scrambling to offset a $15.9-million gap between planned spending and expected revenue in 2009.

Much of that shortfall will be resolved by slashing expenses at the Hernando County Jail, a cost that has been specifically cited for driving up the budget in recent years. Other cuts will come from 9 percent trims in general fund budgets, not filling vacant positions and slashing overtime.

When all of those changes are made, the county is still left to find $2.6-million in new revenue or additional cuts to break even, according to George Zoettlein, director of the county's Office of Management and Budget.

Commissioners will get an update on the budget process during their land use meeting Wednesday.

Zoettlein said the county anticipates losing $6.1-million in property tax revenue because of the passage of Amendment 1 and falling property values in the county.

Hernando County does a two-year budget and the much-anticipated jail cost increases were placed into the budget long before the actual expenses were known. Zoettlein said he has been able to trim $3-million out of the current budget and another $5.7-million out of the 2009 budget because expenses haven't grown at the rate the county expected.

In the past several years, the county has seen costs for the jail shoot up quickly, and Zoettlein said that was anticipated again, but that actual expenses in 2008 have risen at a slower rate.

In recent weeks, Zoettlein also has been analyzing the spending habits of the various general fund departments from the last several years. He and the county's budget analysts have worked to trim the budgeted amounts for 2009, finding another $2.67-million to cut.

In addition, the county will save $554,000 by not filling some open positions. The most recent count showed that last year there were 43 jobs left unfilled, and this year there are another 45.

Another $900,000, which had been set aside to pay for any potential litigation that might stem from the contaminated Department of Public Works site in Brooksville, also will be pulled from the budget. Zoettlein said that if litigation ever materializes, the costs could come from reserves since it would be a one-time expense.

County budget officials found another $180,000 that could be trimmed from Mosquito Control because that budget is expected to have a reserve at the end of the year. Lower employee benefit costs also were expected to pull another $120,000 out of expenses. And Zoettlein said another $150,000 — virtually all the money set aside for overtime in the general fund budget — was being slashed.

He said departments such as utilities, which use fees to pay their expenses, will still be able to use overtime. But general fund departments would have to work with flexible schedules to get the job done instead of relying on overtime.

County officials continue to streamline operations and will add new technology to move toward a more paperless and efficient way of doing business, Zoettlein said. They also will continue to look at whether new fees should be put in place to help make up some of the shortfall.

"For the things that we do that are over and beyond (necessary county functions)," he said, "maybe you should pay a fee.''

One factor not yet applied for 2009 is the spending plans of constitutional officers. Zoettlein said no edict had yet been given about whether those departments, such as the Sheriff's Office and the Clerk of the Circuit Court, would have to bring in reduced budgets or hold the line on current expenses.

The budgets of the constitutional officers are due in Zoettlein's office June 1. The county budget is due to the County Commission on July 15. The 2009 fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

$98.3M Expected 2009 expenses

$82.4M Expected 2009 revenues

$15.9M Amount of cuts needed

$13.3M Amount cut so far

$2.6M Amount still to be cut

Source: Hernando County

Hernando has big budget gap to close 04/03/08 [Last modified: Monday, April 7, 2008 5:11pm]
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