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Hillsborough commissioners stave off major cuts to some programs

TAMPA — Going into Thursday's budget workshop, Hillsborough County commissioners had shifted enough money around to have about $3.5 million available to plug some scary holes in the budget.

That helped save most of the investigators in the county's consumer protection office, which had faced elimination.

The Medical Examiner's Office saw the jobs of two doctors and two autopsy technicians restored.

And commissioners restored money to the county's Agricultural Extension Office for things like the 4-H club.

"I think it went very well," said Jo Anne Shaffer, an adult co-leader of the Hooves, Paws, Claws & Saws chapter of the club, which brought three girls in green T-shirts to the meeting.

But the money ran out when it came to the county's aging services budget.

Paying for in-home services for seniors and Alzheimer's day care programs at the same levels both next year and the year after would require another $3.8 million.

"Sharpen your pencils and find something," Commissioner Rose Ferlita told county budget officials. "Our seniors deserve that."

County budget director Eric Johnson said he would try to scrub the budget "to find dollars" for the program.

The changes came as commissioners continued to tweak County Administrator Pat Bean's plan to cut county spending dramatically over the next two years.

In response to falling property values, Bean outlined a plan in June to cut nearly $133 million in spending from the county's $1.7 billion annual operating budget. Bean's original cuts hit virtually every county office and service.

Since then, commissioners and their staff have worked to find every available dollar, create new partnerships and, in some cases, generate more revenue to restore services.

On Wednesday, commissioners voted to raise fees for pet registrations and day care licenses in an effort to preserve animal services and child care programs.

And on Thursday, the county got some key help filling a $1.9 million funding gap for child care licensing and after-school programs over the next two years.

The plan involves combining cash contributions from the Children's Board of Hillsborough County, the Early Learning Coalition of Hillsborough County, the state Department of Children and Families and Hillsborough County and the increased child care licensing fees approved this week.

In addition, the Early Learning Coalition said it can leverage the money from the Children's Board and county and licensing fees to bring in federal matching funds to support the programs in the future.

Hillsborough commissioners are scheduled to hold public hearings on Sept. 8 and 17 before adopting the budget.

Hillsborough commissioners stave off major cuts to some programs 08/20/09 [Last modified: Thursday, August 20, 2009 11:12pm]
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