Outlook brightens for tax revenue, budget in Brooksville

BROOKSVILLE — After several years of plummeting home values and bare-bones city budgets, Brooksville taxpayers may well get some good news this year.

Preliminary figures from the Hernando County Property Appraiser's Office suggest that the heavy bleeding has stopped.

Appearing before the Brooksville City Council on Monday night, county Property Appraiser John Emerson said the bulk of the city's property values dropped by only 1.5 percent during the past year. Factoring in tangible tax revenue, which typically isn't calculated until May, he was confident enough to say that this year's revenue picture will remain largely unchanged from last year's.

While the early figures aren't much more than a thumbnail view of the city's overall financial picture as it begins to shape its 2013-14 budget, they do show a marked shift from a trend that saw Brooksville property values plunge more than 33 percent over five years, resulting in staffing reductions and a cutback of some crucial infrastructure needs.

City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha said that even a slight economic improvement is worthy of at least cautious celebration.

"Seeing some stabilization is a hopeful and encouraging sign," Norman-Vacha said. "We've had to endure some tough decisions the past few years. And while I know it's subject to change, it does give us hope."

The economic downturn, which began in 2008, left many government entities reeling in the wake of the collapsing real estate market. Since then, Brooksville officials have continuously been forced to grasp for solutions to close the city's budget gap. Over a five-year period, city staffing was reduced by 35 percent. The city's budget, which topped out at $9.23 million in 2008, shrank to $6.55 million last year.

While city officials say they have managed to keep most services largely intact, things like routine road maintenance and care and repair of drainage structures have lagged behind schedule because of a lack of funding.

Council member Joe Bernardini said he hopes that as the city's financial picture improves, more money can be committed to those kinds of improvements.

"We've fallen behind a lot more in our infrastructure than anyone thought we would," Bernardini said. "If things really are getting better financially, I think we owe it to the citizens to do the kind of things they expect us to do."

Emerson said he will probably have a better idea of the city's anticipated tax revenue when he delivers his office's good-faith estimate on June 1. The county's tax roll will be formally certified on July 1.

Logan Neill can be reached at lneill@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1435.

Outlook brightens for tax revenue, budget in Brooksville 04/16/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 16, 2013 7:22pm]

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