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Lean Hernando County budget about to get leaner

BROOKSVILLE — Ordinarily bubbly and upbeat, county parks and recreation director Pat Fagan got serious Friday as he talked about his department's expenses.

Just days earlier, he had been told that the 2009-10 budget he felt had already cut to the bone wasn't lean enough.

He was going to have to trim another $300,000.

"We're going to have to look at (cutting) people,'' he said. "It's killing us.''

Fagan and other department heads frequently question how much the public is going to have to give up in services as the county is forced to cut to offset revenue shortfalls.

"We're already having to cut back our levels of service,'' Fagan said. "And all this is at a time when more people are using the parks than ever before with these economic times.''

Gregg Sutton, assistant county engineer, was going through a similar exercise Friday. Facilities maintenance was going to have to lose another $100,000 in expenses, he had been told.

"We need to fine-tune this,'' he said of his budget. "We'll be there Tuesday (at the County Commission meeting) with the answers.''

Brenda Frazier, community relations coordinator, was drawing up scenarios on the impact of losing another $114,000 from her proposed $282,000 spending plan. Gone would be most if not all of the government broadcasting staff, and that function might be farmed out to a private business.

She will present options to the commission Tuesday.

Several weeks ago, commissioners learned that their staff still needed to find $700,000 to trim from budgets. They also learned that several other pending cost-cutting developments could have an impact on the bottom line, such as how much Sheriff Richard Nugent was willing to trim from his budget.

Technology Services also faces additional cuts. And county staffers assume that commissioners on Tuesday will approve a new offer of early leave to county employees, a move they believe will save $103,000 in the budget year that begins Oct. 1.

In addition, the county hopes to see a revenue increase in parking fees at Pine Island totaling $51,000. That assumes commission approval of a $1 increase in those fees.

The new adjustments come as county officials struggle to get the general fund budget in order, all in preparation for a discussion by the County Commission at 1:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Commissioners will be asked to set the tentative property tax rate for the coming year. By law, because property values fell in the past year, the commission could increase the rate to a point that it would still bring in the same revenue it did last year.

But there has been no public discussion by commissioners about increasing the tax rate from the current rate.

The commission also will be asked to set the first public hearing on the budget, which is tentatively scheduled for 5 p.m. Sept. 10. The tentative date of the second and final public hearing is Sept. 24.

Constitutional officers will make presentations on their budgets, and the county's leadership team will explain the details of where cuts have been made in the various departments they oversee.

Here's a sampling of those cuts:

• Utilities: reduced hours of operation at the convenience centers and the landfill; privatization of the recycling program; contracting out the excavation of daily cover for the operating landfill cells.

• Transportation Services: reduced personnel; consolidated services; a lower number of vehicles; reduced operating expenses; reduced or eliminated travel and training; a transfer of items paid for by the general fund to the Transportation Trust.

• Human Resources: elimination of the option of buying back unused leave time; reduced positions; reduced training.

• Land Services: reduced fixed-route service by THE Bus; reduced funding for land acquisition and preserve improvements; elimination of various positions, including chief planner; increasing the director's role in project management and code updates; delayed park improvements; reducing the number of vehicles; eliminating the summertime Camp Funshine; reduced parks staff.

• Development Services: reductions in the number of employees and related expenses; a reduced number of vehicles; reduced operational expenses; leasing excess building space.

• Fire Rescue Services Team: suspending step and longevity pay increases; suspending sick-leave buy-back policy; reduced staff.

• Community Services: reduced operating expenses; elimination of the county contribution toward Meals on Wheels; reduction or elimination of contributions to fund various boards and councils; reduction in positions; lower number of vehicles; reduced travel.

Commissioners are also expected to discuss shifting a portion of the library system's operating expenses to grant funds.

Tuesday's commission agenda also includes other items that will have an impact on the budget, but are slated to be heard before the formal budget discussion.

Chief among those is the discussion of whether to lease the Little Rock Cannery to Spring Hill veterinarian Keely Smith. Supporters of the cannery have urged the county to keep it in their hands rather than lease it. Last week, an anonymous donor gave the county nearly $32,000 to pay the salary of the cannery's supervisor.

An advisory committee of cannery supporters also has been meeting to brainstorm ideas of how to fund the entire $55,000 cost of the facility without using county dollars.

The current proposed budget has no allocation for operating the cannery.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at or (352) 848-1434.

Here's how the county is proposing to cut the final $700,000 to balance the 2009-10 budget

$51,000 Increased parking fees at Pine Island

$103,362 Early leave net savings

$100,654 Reduction to facilities maintenance

$30,000 Reduction to technology services

$114,984 Reduction to community relations

$300,000 Reductions to parks and recreation

$700,000 Total

Lean Hernando County budget about to get leaner 07/25/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 25, 2009 1:33pm]
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