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Pasco's early budget talks reveal cutbacks, job losses

Budget director Mike Nurrenbrock painted a grim picture for county officials on Friday of what services will look like next year if the tax rate remains the same.

Elimination of 260 full-time positions — 125 of which are currently filled — would occur, under the preliminary budget plan presented at the County Commission workshop.

Some libraries would be open only three days a week. Bus services would be eliminated on Saturdays and holidays. And fewer firefighters and emergency medical technicians would ride on many trucks.

Crashing property values — down $4 billion from last year — mean the county will collect $36 million less in tax revenue if officials keep the same tax rate of 5.9 mills. (A mill produces $1 for each $1,000 of taxable property value.)

But Nurrenbrock said if the county increased the tax rate to 6.5 mills, it would bring in an additional $13 million, which would make some of the cuts in service less deep.

No departments were spared from talks of cuts while the commissioners discussed ways to ease the pain during a financially crippling budget year.

"In these times," said Commissioner Jack Mariano, "we need to look at everything."

Other county services bracing for tough cuts include parks and recreation, which could lose 40 positions. Also on the table: The idea of closing the pools at Grove Park Community Center in New Port Richey and the Hercules Aquatic Center in Zephyrhills.

The preliminary budget plan presented Friday also calls for 21 transportation workers to be cut, possible elimination of low ridership bus routes and increased wait times between buses.

Fire stations could be affected, Nurrenbrock said, with a proposal that 16 of 21 fire stations in the county have only two people per truck instead of three.

The county's 211 help line is also at risk if commissioners can't find the $150,000 needed to run the program.

Commissioner Ann Hildebrand said she planned to look for outside funding or donations to keep the program going.

"I'm trying to save the 211 program," she said. "I'll take that challenge."

Adey Reyes, the community services director who oversees Pasco County Animal Services, said she has 10 vacancies that she won't fill in order to reach the county's proposal of cutting 14 jobs from her department. She said four other people could be laid off.

One cost-cutting idea Reyes plans to suggest is allowing female inmates from the jail to clean cages at Animal Control, under the supervision of an armed guard.

Shorter term, Reyes said, starting next week Animal Control will close at 5 p.m. instead of 7 p.m. on weekdays, and will be closed on Saturdays.

"All of the community services are vital," Reyes said. "We are not just serving animals, but this is about the safety of humans as well."

Linda Allen, libraries director, said she has 21 vacancies, and would have to lay off six people to reach the county's proposed plan of eliminating 27 library jobs.

Allen said to reduce library hours of operation from 280 per week to 204 per week, which is part of the county's proposal, South Holiday and Centennial branch libraries would combine staff. So would New River and Hugh Embry branches.

Those libraries would remain open for alternating weekdays with a leaner staff splitting shifts on Saturdays.

Allen said she hopes the libraries, now closed on Mondays, won't have to close during any other days of the week to meet county budget demands.

"The obvious thing is, if there's no money, there's no money," she said. "There's nothing we can do about it. We can only offer services we can afford to offer. But it just breaks my heart."

Camille C. Spencer can be reached at cspencer@sptimes.com or (813) 909-4609.

Fast facts

What comes next

County officials will continue to weigh their options for cutting services and raising revenues during budget workshops this summer.

Once they reach a proposed tax rate, they will hold a couple of public hearings before voting on next year's budget, which goes into effect Oct. 1.

Pasco's early budget talks reveal cutbacks, job losses 06/12/09 [Last modified: Friday, June 12, 2009 6:50pm]
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