BROOKSVILLE — Most municipal managers readily admit there's not much good news these days when it comes to city finances. Falling property tax revenues, along with the rising cost of providing services, have necessitated a lot of belt tightening.
While Brooksville City Manager Jenenne Norman-Vacha's proposed $6.69 million 2013-14 budget may not have wowed City Council members during a budget workshop Tuesday night, at least it didn't come with the ominous warnings so common during the city's recent debt-strapped years.
Nonetheless, there are still plenty of mounting concerns, including rising costs for health insurance, workers' compensation, and police and fire pension fund contributions.
"Containing those costs as much as possible will be critical as we move forward in the budget process," Norman-Vacha told council members. "Staff will be working over the next couple of months to bring you the information you need."
Similar to last year's budget, projections call for departmental expenditures to remain relatively flat, and the elimination of only one part-time parks and recreation staffer. And for city staffers, who haven't received a pay raise in four years: a recommendation calling for an across-the-board 3 percent cost-of-living raise.
Norman-Vacha said that balancing the budget will require an increase in the city's property tax rate from 6.6 mills to 6.7188 mills, plus an increase of 0.9 mills to the city's fire assessment rate. One mill is equivalent to $1 of tax for each $ 1,000 of assessed, nonexempt real property.
While council members seemed to generally agree with Norman-Vacha's recommendations, Vice Mayor Kevin Hohn balked at the proposed $1.6 million to fund the city's Fire Department, saying Brooksville maybe should consider contracting for fire service with the county, which already staffs a rescue vehicle at the city fire station. "Twenty-three percent of our annual budget goes for fire service that can easily be provided by the county," Hohn said. "So here we are. We've got no money for road improvements and infrastructure, and to me it's just not right."
Others on the council felt differently, including Mayor Lara Bradburn, who said that a city that does not provide its own police and fire service "just isn't a city."
The council will have several more workshops before conducting public hearings and approving a final budget and tax rates later this summer. The new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.