BROOKSVILLE — This is the week the Hernando County Commission must stare its $10.4 million budget shortfall straight in the eye — or, more accurately, eyes.
In order to close the huge gap between projected revenue and spending, the county administration is recommending losing the equivalent of 47 full-time employees, leaving some services with just one worker and privatizing other functions.
And even after all of that, the county is still off by nearly $1.2 million and must find either that much in new revenue or that much more to cut.
The recommendations include cutting 16 of 29 parks maintenance workers, seven of eight recreation workers, two of three employees in community relations and three of 15 in animal services.
"Everyone is taking a hit across the board," said George Zoettlein, director of the office of management and budget.
Knowing that some of their favorite services were on the chopping block already has prompted numerous residents to speak up. Fans of the county's dog park have signed a petition asking that it be saved and voicing interest in paying a fee to use it.
Those who use THE Bus, the county's public transit system, which is also recommended for the chopping block, have been contacting commissioners. One anonymous donor last week mailed a check to the county to cover the $55,000 annual operating cost of the Little Rock Cannery, in hopes of keeping its doors open another year.
On Wednesday and Thursday, commissioners will hear department heads and constitutional officers line up and explain the effects of the proposed cuts on the services they offer.
Commissioners will also be given a laundry list of options for what they might do to raise more revenue. Those include raising fees, further reorganization and consolidation, creating new fees, further cuts in departments' budgets or those of the elected constitutional officers, and possible reductions in employee benefits.
Also on the table is a possible increase in the property tax rate. The commission can opt to levy what is known as the "rollback" rate — the tax rate that would bring in the same amount in tax revenue as this year — or some lesser tax increase. Last year's rate will bring in less money because of a sharp decline in property values.
Another possibility that commissioners have talked about is tapping into some of the $18 million set aside to build a new judicial center. Last week, Commissioner Rose Rocco said she was willing to look at that option, as did Commissioner Jeff Stabins, adding their voices to other commissioners' similar public statements.
A preview of the workshops could come during Tuesday's regular commission meeting when commissioners will discuss what to do about proposals received from firms interested in drawing up the specifications for the judicial center project.
Stabins said that as far as he is concerned, with the county looking at such a deep reduction in revenue this year, all possibilities are on the table.
"People are going to lose their jobs this year," he said, "but it doesn't have to be 40 to 70 people if everyone is willing to share the pain."
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.