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To trim budget, Hernando leadership team considers many options

BROOKSVILLE — The county leadership team has mobilized to find ways to cut $10-million from the 2009-10 budget. Targeted for severe reductions or elimination: THE Bus, community relations and the limerock road improvement program.

In notes from the March 18 leadership team meeting, which will be reviewed Tuesday by the county's budget and finance committee, officials note those programs and a long list of others where the county could consolidate, review levels of service or trim in order to balance the budget.

According to County Commission Chairman Dave Russell, everything is on the table to try to get next year's spending plan in line.

"We've got an $8- to $10-million budget deficit to address. It's not going to be easy,'' Russell said. "No one wants their ox gored.''

The budget committee has a number of issues to discuss, including a policy on reserves, eliminating or reducing services, and a possible increase in taxes or fees.

The budget committee also is scheduled Tuesday to hear a detailed report about the county's public transit system. The report lists several possible ways to cut the cost of running THE Bus, ranging from parking it one more day a week, running fewer buses at longer intervals, and making the entire county into one large route rather than operating multiple routes.

While each is shown to save dollars, the report concludes that each means a reduction in service that could hurt ridership and also run up the cost of operating the county's more expensive door-to-door bus service.

Russell said that elimination of THE Bus isn't a sure thing; it's just not a high priority of the leadership team. "The commission may view that differently,'' he said.

The general fund this year includes $658,856 for mass transit, with two-thirds of the service's cost coming from the state and federal governments.

As for community relations, which includes Hernando County Government Broadcasting, Russell said that he would prefer to hear discussions about consolidation rather than elimination. The focus, he said, should be on finding ways to combine school and government broadcasting and consolidating public information functions performed by the county and other entities, such as the Sheriff's Office.

The 2008-09 community relations budget is $373,500.

When it comes to paving limerock roads, the staff memo mentions eliminating money from the county's general fund budget, but leaves open other funding options.

The dollars to continue improvements to limerock roads might be available once the county sees how much federal stimulus money it will get, Russell said. He noted that the most recent information he has heard is that Hernando may get another $10.5-million for road resurfacing, which could allow the county to shift money around for other purposes.

"There's a lot up in the air right now, a lot happening,'' he said. "The entire budget picture is truly dynamic right now.''

This year's general fund budget sets aside $390,000 for the paving of limerock roads.

The budget committee also will discuss two other projects where the county is considering spending money now to save some down the road.

County staffers will present plans to spend about $300,000 for an expansion of the animal services facility, to improve safety and to provide space for the county's Code Enforcement Department.

"The long-term efficiencies will be seen through the cross training of staff and shared administrative services,'' according to a staff memo.

The other project is a recommendation that the county use its own staff to design and build a new courtroom in the county government center in downtown Brooksville.

By doing the work in-house, the cost would be an estimated $140,000 and would take about a year. Outsourcing the job could cost $622,000 and take 20 months.

The county is making plans to remodel existing space for another courtroom because the commission recently discussed putting on hold plans to build a free-standing judicial center until economic conditions improve.

The property appraiser is also agreeable to moving into space on the fourth floor of the government center, saving the $5,000 a month it costs to rent space at Brooksville City Hall, Russell said. And the clerk of the circuit court is discussing moving some functions from leased space back into the government center.

In addition, the county is considering disposing of some of its properties that are not currently in use, including several in downtown Brooksville.

Also under consideration, based on the leadership team discussions, are reducing the hours of operation for county government, not budgeting for any pay increases for employees in the new year and examining library services. The county has been discussing the possibility of hiring a private company to operate the libraries.

Deputy County Administrator Larry Jennings said Tuesday's meeting will just be the start of the public discussion about how to balance the budget — based on preliminary information. Items debated now may not end up being cut once the budget is finalized in September.

"These are all options," Jennings said. "Things for discussion and things for debate.''

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

To trim budget, Hernando leadership team considers many options 04/04/09 [Last modified: Saturday, April 4, 2009 12:50pm]
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