BROOKSVILLE — In January, Hernando County voters overwhelmingly supported the property tax-slicing measure known as Amendment 1. Now, County Administrator David Hamilton wants residents to help choose which county services they will trade off for a lower tax bill.
On Tuesday, Hamilton will ask the County Commission to approve a survey of residents, plus a half-dozen town hall meetings in May, as the budget process gets cranked up.
The meetings would feature an overview of the budget along with an explanation of the impacts of Amendment 1 and other state-mandated property tax reduction measures. County officials will also explain the services the county offers and have residents rank those services in terms of importance.
"Each workshop will be conducted in an open environment that encourages an exchange of ideas and opinions from the public that choose to attend,'' Hamilton told commissioners in a memo.
After the meetings, staffers would summarize the results. Commissioners could also conduct their own workshop and Hamilton is suggesting they do that at the end of one of their regular meetings in June.
Hamilton's proposal also includes a two-page survey asking residents to rank county departments based on their importance to the public.
Respondents will be asked if they have had to contact the county for services in the past year and how county employees responded. They would also be asked if they were satisfied with the response, how long it took for them to get to the right person, and how they access information about county services.
The survey might also be available online if approved by the board, according to Brenda Frazier, community relations coordinator.
"It's important that we have the community buy in for what we're doing,'' said County Commissioner Dave Russell. "I think it's a good way to take the community's pulse.''
Commissioners have already seen early details about the 2008-09 budget, with staff determining that revenues would fall $15.9-million short of expected expenses. Some adjusting and cutting has already been done but the county still needs to find another $2.6-million to slash in spending.
Last year, Russell said cuts in the 2007-08 budget focused on the "low-hanging fruit,'' reductions that didn't get to the heart of making the government structure more efficient.
Now, Russell said, Hamilton's efforts to put together an understandable county organizational chart and now invite the public to the table should begin that needed streamlining process.
"It's a fresh approach,'' Russell said of Hamilton's efforts. "Frankly, that's something this county could use more of.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at email@example.com or (352) 848-1434.