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Hernando hears budget shortfall may be worse than expected

BROOKSVILLE — The specifics of what a $5.2 million revenue shortfall could bring Hernando County government services created a chilling picture for county commissioners in their first budget workshop on Tuesday.

But the news was even worse.

Property Appraiser Alvin Mazourek also told commissioners that the 5 percent drop in property values the county has planned its budget around is far too optimistic.

His tracking of property values places that drop at more like 8.7 percent and that could grow to more than 10.4 percent if all of this year's property value challenges are successful. If that were to happen, the county would face an additional $2.4 million in cuts that will be needed to balance the budget.

"That's a lot of money,'' Mazourek said.

County Administrator David Hamilton talked to the commission about the fiscal realities of several straight years of falling values. In the past couple of years, the hit to county services was softened by budget reserves but those are not available anymore.

Hamilton explained that, while the focus has been on the general fund's shortfall in recent years, now other county funds are also out of balance. This is the year to cut costs to bring all funds into balance, he said.

The full or partial closure of several parks, eliminating mosquito control, closing the Little Rock Cannery, more waiting for code enforcement or animal services, and more automated machines to take customer messages were some of the cost-cutting proposals commissioners heard from their department heads.

Environmental Services Director Joe Stapf spoke about the need for the commission to either fund mosquito control so it is effective or end the program.

"I don't think the program is sustainable, not the way it is funded,'' Stapf said.

His suggestion was to fund the cost through a tax of a tenth of a mill, which would amount to approximately $7.20 per year per property, the cost of two cans of mosquito repellent, he said.

Commissioner Dave Russell suggested that the county take half the money earned from the sensitive lands fund tax to pay for mosquito control services. Many of the lands bought by that fund contribute to the mosquito population because they are swampy and have standing water where mosquitoes thrive, he said.

Interested in the idea, the commissioners agreed to hear a more detailed proposal at their regular meeting next week.

Land Services Director Ron Pianta listed out parks proposed for closing. Those included Hill 'n Dale Community Park, Stewy's Skate Park, Nobleton, Istachatta and Lake Townsen Regional parks, the athletic fields at Ernie Wever Youth Park and much of Linda Pedersen Park except for special events, the boat ramp and fishing pier.

The Little Rock Cannery was proposed for closing by Jean Rags, director of Community Development Services. The cannery has been on the chopping block for the last two years but an anonymous donor has stepped forward to pay the bill to save it. Commissioners said they wanted to leave the door open to a community group to come forward and take over the operation.

The target for staff reductions from the commission-controlled departments was 38 fewer positions from both general fund and other fund departments.

The county leadership team divided the revenue shortfall facing the county into $2.7 million to be recovered from the County Commission and $2.4 million in cuts to be found by the elected constitutional officers. Those elected officials set private meetings to discuss their budgets with individual commissioners but the board members refused to attend and the constitutional officers backed out after the St. Petersburg Times publicized the meetings.

Hamilton, instead, invited them to Tuesday's meeting. Mazourek, Tax Collector Juanita Sikes and the sheriff's chief deputy, Mike Maurer, attended. Clerk of Circuit Court Karen Nicolai, who orchestrated the private meetings, did not attend Tuesday's public workshop.

The elected officials were invited to a future workshop after they submit their formal budgets by June 1.

The commissioners also were slated to talk about employee benefits including health insurance options by the county's broker and a representative of Central States Funds from the Teamsters Union.

Director of Administrative Services Cheryl Marsden said that, at the last minute, the Teamsters pulled the Central States' presentation saying that their proposal was off the table.

Budget discussions will continue through the summer with final budget hearings and approvals in September. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

.Fast facts

Proposed for closing

Hill 'n Dale Community Park, Stewy's Skate Park, Nobleton, Istachatta and Lake Townsen Regional parks, the athletic fields at Ernie Wever Youth Park and much of Linda Pedersen Park except for special events, the boat ramp and fishing pier; and the Little Rock Cannery

Hernando hears budget shortfall may be worse than expected 05/03/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 3, 2011 8:10pm]
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