TAMPA — The financial forecast is getting bleaker for Hillsborough County government and its employees.
As recently as February, county budget officials said they would need to trim up to $70-million from their spending plan for next year. Wednesday, they put the cuts needed to balance the budget at $116.7-million.
"You've got two things hitting us from different directions," said Eric Johnson, Hillsborough's management and budget director. "You have Amendment 1, which is the imposition by taxpayers of a lower tax base, and the impact of economic forces on both the property tax base and sales taxes."
Commissioners last year set aside $30-million to cushion the blow of anticipated property tax rollbacks. But that means they still need to find another $86.7-million to cut from their already approved spending plan.
County Administrator Pat Bean and her staff shared some of the numbers with commissioners during a workshop Wednesday. She said she was not prepared to offer suggestions for making up the difference since the state Legislature is still meeting and could muddy the picture.
"What we know at this point is still not concrete," Bean said, adding that, one way or another, further county layoffs are likely.
Commissioners gave Bean little direction. She asked for their guidance on a range of options aimed at avoiding large-scale layoffs, from forgoing some road building to passing on future subsidies to lure high-tech business.
The board was not interested in those. Commissioner Kevin White suggested more closely monitoring use of county cars to trim fuel costs.
Meanwhile, commissioner Brian Blair noted that the budget for next year assumes the county will be paying for more than 400 frozen vacant positions. Eliminating those jobs for good could save $40-million, he asserted, based on an analysis by the county's internal performance auditor.
Bean said that analysis of savings likely doesn't factor in what the county is paying temporary workers to fill some of the jobs, or the cost of paying overtime to others who have assumed those duties.
Blair then asked for a report on how much overtime the county has been paying during the past year.
Bill Varian can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3387.