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Hernando officers' proposed budget cuts aren't enough

BROOKSVILLE — As the county's elected constitutional officers turned in their budget proposals Tuesday, it became clear to George Zoettlein that he would have to sharpen his budget knife again.

Zoettlein, director of the county's Office of Management and Budget, had hoped that the elected officials could cut their total costs by $2.2 million. And while every office turned in a budget smaller than last year, the numbers still showed cuts of only about $1.35 million.

As Zoettlein looked at the numbers he received late Tuesday from Sheriff Richard Nugent, he sighed and said he would have to continue to try to find dollars to make up what is now a $10.4 million deficit that the county faces next year.

Nugent's budget — the largest of the five constitutional officers — was the key factor, coming in at $30,957,607, compared with last year's $31,958,336.

"To accomplish this budget reduction of over a million dollars, we have proposed another year of wage freezes for all employees, the elimination of several civilian and sworn positions, continued focus on controlling overtime and another internal reorganization to further decrease our supervisory positions and increase their span of control," Nugent wrote in his cover letter.

He also reminded the County Commission that this budget comes on the heels of last year's spending plan, which eliminated 17 full-time and nine part-time positions, in addition to reorganizing the command staff, closing substations, eliminating an antidrug program and privatizing courthouse security.

"We want to present a very conservative budget reduction without cutting services," Nugent said in an interview Tuesday afternoon. "The good thing is that people can be assured they're getting the same level of service, and that won't diminish."

Nugent said the Sheriff's Office anticipated eliminating nine positions for the 2010-11 fiscal year — two of them vacancies for sworn officers, the rest nonsworn positions.

A decision hasn't been made about those cuts, but Nugent said that some of the employees could be transferred into nonsworn roles at the county jail, where the sheriff is preparing to take over operations.

But Nugent warned that year after year of position cuts and wage freezes would eventually take a toll on the agency. Over and over again, Nugent said, the county has turned to the Sheriff's Office to handle more responsibilities with fewer resources.

"They look to us because we have a proven track record that we get the job done," Nugent said. "But there's a limit to this."

The sheriff actually delivered two budgets at 5 p.m. This is the first time he also had to submit a budget for operating the Hernando County Jail, which he will take over in August. His jail budget matches the figure he says the private Corrections Corporation of America spent on jail operations this year — $10,897,898.

Zoettlein had a smaller figure for last year's jail budget, at $10,554,684, but said he planned to talk with sheriff's finance officials to find out where there might be an accounting disagreement.

Tax Collector Juanita Sikes submitted a budget $262,000 less than last year's, but she noted that, as the tax rolls decrease, the fee she is paid for collecting taxes decreases accordingly. Still, she said she was always looking for ways to be more frugal and efficient.

At the office of the property appraiser, four senior staff members took an opportunity to take early leave in April, helping create a $166,829 cut in that office's proposed budget, according to John Emerson, Alvin Mazourek's chief deputy.

There were additional budget reductions of $95,692 from Supervisor of Elections Annie Williams and $87,484 from Clerk of the Circuit Court Karen Nicolai.

Neither Williams or Nicolai could be reached for comment.

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

Hernando officers' proposed budget cuts aren't enough 06/01/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 1, 2010 8:19pm]
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