Friday, February 23, 2018
News Roundup

Message to Brooksville council: Still no reason to celebrate over improving finances

BROOKSVILLE — At their first budget workshop of the year, Brooksville City Council members got pretty much the same cautious, yet optimistic message that City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha has delivered the past two years: The city's financial picture is getting brighter, but there's no reason yet for a grand celebration.

Norman-Vacha pointed to several positive factors in 2013. Sales of city-owned cemetery plots are up, building permits have increased significantly and revenue from sales and communication taxes are on the upswing. B

ut whether those things are a sign of sustained prosperity remains to be seen.

"We're not seeing the decline we were once seeing, but where that will lead is still something of a guess," Norman-Vacha told council members during Tuesday night's workshop. "While the state economy has shown improvement, Hernando County is still struggling."

The city manager said she and her staff have continued to explore ways to improve the city's overall financial health, including the possibility of doing away with the city-run Fire Department and contracting with another entity for those services.

The issue of outsourcing fire service was a main topic of discussion during last summer's budget hearings after Mayor Kevin Hohn refused to go along with an increase of 0.9 mills in the property tax rate to help fund the Fire Department's $1.6 million 2013-14 budget. While Hohn said he had no qualms with the quality of service the city's 19 full- and part-time firefighters provide, he likened the department to the city "owning a Cadillac" when a cheaper alternative might be more prudent.

Norman-Vacha presented some comparative figures from Central Florida municipalities that outsource all or part of their fire or law enforcement services to their respective counties, including the city of Inverness, which is similar in size and makeup to Brooksville.

But while Inverness property owners may reap some tax savings, it remains unclear whether outsourcing services has brought much benefit beyond that, she said.

"In the end, you have to consider whether what you pay for is worth the level of service you're getting in return," she said.

Under the current methodology, residential property owners in Brooksville pay a $106 flat fee, plus a 0.90-mill assessment based on the value of improvements on their property, whereas the county charges a $171.44 flat fee. And while some property owners might benefit from the county system, many would pay much more.

Hohn was unmoved, saying that the issue needs to be explored in greater depth. Council members agreed and asked Norman-Vacha to compile additional information for a workshop that will be held in May.

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