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Hernando's revenue woes eased as Cemex loses bid to cut taxes

BROOKSVILLE — While Hernando County's property tax revenue shortfall is worse than officials had feared, it is not quite as bad as it could have been.

That's because of a vote of the Value Adjustment Board on Wednesday that did not reduce the value of concrete giant Cemex's properties in Hernando.

Had the board approved Cemex's petitions, it would have wiped $172 million in property value off the books and cost the county about $900,000 in tax revenue. Cemex is expected to file suit over the decision, meaning that the county can't count on keeping those funds, officials said.

County officials had been basing their 2012 budget on a 5 percent reduction in property values and an anticipated $5.2 million budget shortfall. Property Appraiser Alvin Mazourek told them Tuesday that the drop in value was even higher than that and that it would top 10 percent if the petitions were approved at the VAB.

With the Cemex petitions denied, the actual property value drop stands at 8.4 percent.

Mazourek on Tuesday indicated the county would face an additional $2.4 million in cuts needed to balance the budget because of the larger drop in property values. But county budget manager George Zoettlein analyzed the figures and determined that shortfall would rise only to $5.65 million.

Cemex officials have argued this year and in previous years that the slowing of the economy has idled down their business, reducing the value of their tangible personal property, which in this case are the cement plants they operate. Mazourek has countered with requests for specific information about the cement production that were not fulfilled, Mazourek said.

An attorney for Cemex argued to the VAB that the recommendations of the special magistrate to approve the values Cemex had requested should be followed, but by a three to two vote, the board rejected that recommendation.

School Board member James Yant and county commissioners John Druzbick and Jim Adkins — who all serve on the VAB — voted yes to deny the petitions. Citizen board members Tom Beisacher and David Shrader voted no.

The VAB on Wednesday did vote to approve most of the value reduction recommendations made by a special magistrate, all of which were dwarfed by the Cemex case.

Overall, the county has lost approximately $709 million in property value from 2009 to 2010. Lost value equates to lower property tax revenue to the governments that operate off those taxes.

Mazourek noted that, while the vote Wednesday means the county won't be scrambling to find even more areas to cut immediately, in the end there was no way to "count on'' the extra tax revenue from Cemex because of the expected lawsuit. Cemex file a similar suit last year.

Druzbick said that Cemex had proposed "such a drastic drop'' in value without documentation that he couldn't support it. But he also noted that it is a sign that the county needs to be conservative in its budget decisions.

"I'm going to say we're not ultimately going to win this one,'' he said.

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

Fast fact

>> The county has lost approximately $709 million in property value from 2009 to 2010.

By the numbers

5 percent reduction in property values would have meant $5.2 million budget shortfall.

8.4 percent actual property value drop would require the county to make an additional $2.4 million in cuts to balance the budget.

Hernando's revenue woes eased as Cemex loses bid to cut taxes 05/04/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 4, 2011 7:42pm]
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