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Hernando officials paint gloomy budget picture needing more cuts

BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County commissioners could only listen glumly on Tuesday as their budget director described the onrushing budgetary train wreck.

Any gains Hernando County realized this year as departments struggled to keep spending under budget are about to be wiped out by an expected $8.3 million deficit in next year's general fund budget.

Even if the county were to cancel all spending not mandated by law — cuts that would wipe out libraries, parks and recreation and transportation planning among other services — the deficit would barely be stemmed, said County Administrator David Hamilton.

Commissioner Dave Russell summed it up for all when he said, "There is not an 'easy button' in this budget.''

Hamilton vowed that this nightmare scenario would not be the budget he recommends to commissioners in September. But in order to save what can be saved, more spending cuts will have to start now.

Even though Hamilton has restructured departments and set up a leadership team, he said more streamlining is needed. It is what teams do when "they're out of time and in trouble. And we are,'' he said.

He also will compare the ratio between managers and supervisors to staffers so "we can see if we're top heavy,'' he said.

Budget director George Zoettlein said he thought the elected constitutional officers who receive funding through the county's general fund would keep their spending in the budget year starting Oct. 1 to the same level as this year.

But Hamilton said those budgets will have to be cut and he asked commissioners to provide him guidance on how much. He also said the county might need to consider borrowing from its funds that have been set aside for capital projects.

One of the capital projects Hamilton has sought money for is repairs at the county jail. After a recent tour of the jail, Sheriff Richard Nugent showed numerous photos of maintenance and structural problems ranging from rusted doors and cracked floors to roof leaks.

Hamilton told commissioners he wasn't sure what the costs would be but the staff is working to assess the problem, examine documents about the jail and return to the commission in the weeks ahead with recommendations.

When Zoettlein said he was adding another $400,000 to the budget for a new expense, covering Medicaid costs that ran over budget, Russell erupted.

The state could "stick it,'' he said, and live without the reimbursement, since state officials decided to divert $40 million to Everglades restoration.

Commissioners agreed to write a letter declining to pay the extra cost.

Commission Chairman John Druzbick said he wanted officials to go through the list of items marked "mandated'' to be sure they really were.

Russell agreed. "You all do it or we'll do it for you,'' he told Zoettlein.

In other business:

• Commissioners voted 4 to 1 to increase permitting fees for a variety of remodeling and auxiliary permits, increasing some by $30 and some by $50 over the next two years to help make the Building Department solvent. The Building Department must pay for itself without tax dollars. Commissioners agreed to drop the requirement for a permit for installing a new hot water tank.

• Spring Hill residents whose homes now back up on what will be a widened Elgin Boulevard won their 6-foot-tall vinyl barrier. Residents whose property abutted the line of homes now demolished and moved to make way for the widened road complained that their privacy was destroyed by the project. At first they requested a wall, but Kathy Calabrese, who had led the charge for a buffer of some sort, told commissioners that they supported the fence as well.

• The commission approved an agreement for water and sewer improvements for south Brooksville. The county also agreed to seek a Community Development Block Grant to pay for part of the project.

• The county will meet the Friday deadline set by the state Department of Environmental Protection to submit a permit modification for the Hernando Beach Channel dredging project, interim Public Works Director Susan Goebel told commissioners.

The commission had ordered county staff, the dredge consultant, Halcrow Inc., and the contractor, Orion Dredging Services, to go to the table and work out a system that would finally remove enough suspended solids from the canal water to meet state standards.

The long-awaited dredge has been stalled since early January awaiting a solution to a water turbidity issue.

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

Hernando officials paint gloomy budget picture needing more cuts 04/27/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 27, 2010 9:19pm]

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