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Pinellas County calculates budget losses

Pinellas County got a double dose of bad news Tuesday.

As agencies across the county gauged the impact of the proposed state budget — the smallest in four years — county officials met for the first of several local budget workshops.

The outlook was bleak.

There will be fewer dollars next year from building permits and sales taxes, thanks to the slack economy, budget officials said. The total shortfall linked to those and other income sources unrelated to property taxes may amount to $16-million, officials said.

That loss is on top of an estimated $42-million in property taxes voided by Amendment 1, which Florida voters approved in January. In total, roughly $55-million may have to be trimmed from the 2009 budget, which will return the county to 2005 spending levels.

"There is a lot of pain that is in this budget this year," interim County Administrator Fred Marquis said.

The county is targeting 194 jobs for elimination. Of those, 113 are vacant slots or represent employees soon to retire. The remaining 81 positions are filled. It's hoped that by shifting some of those workers into vacancies, the actual number let go will be between 40 and 60. Marquis oversees about 2,600 people.

The public may feel service cuts to parks, social service programs and Animal Control, which is slated to close Saturdays.

The first information session where the public can comment is scheduled for May 15. Formal budget hearings are in September. The new budget year begins Oct. 1.

The fiscal funk for local leaders grew worse when state lawmakers unveiled their proposed $66.2-billion budget. It's a reflection of a steep decline in tax collections that have forced cuts in education and human services, the two areas of greatest spending.

Legislators will debate the budget today and take a final vote before their scheduled adjournment Friday.

The budget trims public school operations by $332-million or 1.8 percent, but the size of the cut varies by county. Pinellas' reduction of $28-million, or 3.6 percent, is one of the largest, a result of its declining student enrollment.

Pinellas Sheriff Jim Coats and other Florida sheriffs could not stave off a 5 percent cut in the money they receive to handle child abuse investigations for the Department of Children and Families.

That's just one of many cuts to human services, which face the biggest reductions. Also affected are reimbursement rates to hospitals and nursing homes, programs for abused and foster children, adoptions, and community care.

Not all the news was bad. The Pinellas-Pasco Circuit Court's chief judge, state attorney and public defender said they expect to survive the latest state budget cuts without deep service reductions or layoffs.

Pinellas-Pasco public defender Bob Dillinger held 12 positions open and stands to lose 10 of them under the new budget.

But the state is just one source of revenue for his agency. His office also receives money from counties and cities. If they cut back, his budget will suffer even more.

"I don't know that I'm getting that money because the counties haven't done their budgets yet," Dillinger said. "So if I get it, that's good. If I don't, it's worse because some of those fund people."

The state Department of Transportation, which was planning to spend $560-million on roads, buses and airports in Pinellas next fiscal year, may have to delay projects. DOT officials are reviewing tax revenue projections before deciding which projects get stalled.

Times staff writers Steve Bousquet, Melanie Ave, Mike Brassfield, Tamara El-Khoury, Jamal Thalji and Jonathan Abel contributed to this report. Will Van Sant can be reached at vansant@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4166.

Pinellas County calculates budget losses 04/29/08 [Last modified: Friday, May 2, 2008 10:04pm]
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