Saturday, November 18, 2017
News Roundup

Signs of an improving economy lead to cautious budget optimism in Brooksville

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BROOKSVILLE — The opening strains of budget season in Brooksville on Monday night lacked the ominous tone of the past few years.

Optimism about rising property values, some cautious improvement in the county's jobless numbers and even signs of new construction in places such as Southern Hills Plantation Club and the Cascades have been hopeful indicators that the Great Recession is finally abating.

That said, City Council members understand that the return to anything that could be considered normal is apt to continue to be a year-to-year issue.

City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha presented council members with a balanced budget that would run the city on the same 6.7317-mill property tax rate the council adopted last year. One mill is equivalent to $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessed, nonexempt real property.

"We're hopeful that things will go our way when it comes to things like negotiating insurance rates and other expenses that tend to fluctuate," Norman-Vacha said. "We've been lucky in a lot of things, but you can't depend on that. You have to do whatever you can to find every savings possible."

Norman-Vacha has a history of making the best of financial adversity. Over the past six years, Brooksville's taxable property value fell more than $200 million, forcing her to drastically trim staff and cut costs. As it normally does, the council adopted a tentative 8.0 millage rate for 2014-15 as a cushion, but is optimistic that a lower rate ultimately will be approved. The final millage rate, which will be set in September, can be set lower than 8.0, but cannot go above the tentative number.

Council members also set a tentative rate for the two-tiered fire assessment, which helps fund the Fire Department, which would place more of the department's "ready to serve" capabilities on individual property owners. Under the present rate, property owners pay a flat $71 per parcel, regardless of size, plus 90 cents per $1,000 of the value of improvements. The tentative rate calls for raising the per-parcel cost to $80 per unit, while lowering the charge to 80 cents per $1,000 of improvements.

If Monday's council meeting is any indication of how fire assessment discussions will go, council members can look forward to some long nights ahead.

Brooksville Fire Chief Tim Mossgrove said that lowering the assessment on improvements would help lift some of the present burden from business owners, whose properties account for 54 percent of the revenue currently taken in for fire service. However, council member Joe Bernardini contends that raising the flat rate would unfairly shift more of the burden to the owners of undeveloped property who may never use the service.

"I've never cared for the way this was set up," Bernardini said. "We're going to keep having trouble with this until we come up with something that's fair to everyone. This sure isn't."

Budget workshops are set for 6:30 p.m. Aug. 12 and Aug. 26. The first budget hearing will be at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 8. The final budget hearing is set for 6:30 p.m. Sept. 17. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

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