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With help from reserves, Hernando commissioners tentatively approve budget, tax rate

BROOKSVILLE — After months of scrutinizing every way possible to save money, the Hernando County Commission on Tuesday evening gave tentative approval to a 2012-13 spending plan.

The budget includes a property tax rate increase of 5 percent to support the general fund and use of another $1.8 million from the county's judicial reserve fund, which commissioners have been reluctant to touch.

A final hearing on the tax rate and budget is slated for 5 p.m. Sept. 25. The new budget year begins Oct. 1.

As tough as balancing the budget has been for 2012-13, officials predict they will have to close a revenue gap of between $5 million and $10 million for 2013-14.

Property values have continued to fall, shrinking the tax revenue the county counts on to fuel its many functions. Adding to the grim financial picture has been the lagging payment of property taxes and the sluggish sale of tax certificates.

Commissioners avoided a last-minute showdown with Sheriff Al Nienhuis when late last week Nienhuis announced that he had found enough unspent money in his coffers to offset the $1.3 million by which commissioners had reduced his budget allocation.

The remaining departments controlled by the commission were still $1.8 million in the hole. To cover that, budget manager George Zoettlein dipped deeper into the capital projects reserve, which at one time was a fund set aside to build a new judicial center.

Commission Chairman Wayne Dukes said he asked Zoettlein to figure out what tax rate would be needed for 2013-14 in order to keep the budget even with the one for 2012-13 — so people would know as discussions begin how much it would cost them.

For the owner of a house with a taxable value of $100,000, the rate would result in an added tax of about $133, Zoettlein figured, assuming the home's value remained constant.

Commissioner John Druzbick, who voiced strong disagreement with spending more reserves, said he was sorry the commission hadn't agreed to accept smaller tax rate increases over the last several years to maintain programs and services. He was the sole vote against the tax rate and the budget Tuesday.

The tentative budget is $403 million, compared to last year's $420 million. The general fund would shrink from $99.5 million to $87.4 million. The tax rate to support the general fund would climb from 5.6279 mills to 5.9169 mills.

A mill is $1 in tax for every $1,000 in appraised taxable property value. For the owner of a $150,000 home with the full $50,000 homestead exemption, the county tax bill to support the general fund would be $591.69, $28.90 more than last year.

With most home values still falling, however, officials have argued that few homeowners will actually pay more in taxes this year than they did last year.

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

In other business

The Hernando County Commission on Tuesday:

• Unanimously approved minor changes to the Purple and Red routes for THE Bus. The changes include running the Red route to Forest Oaks Villas and to Lakeside Plaza in Spring Hill. Other changes include moving the stop for the Purple route at the West Hernando Branch Library to State Road 50 and Blackbird Avenue, eliminating the eastbound stop for Oak Hill Hospital and relocating the stop at DaMac Estates to the Yontz Road-Howell Avenue intersection on the north side of Brooksville. The changes begin Oct. 1.

• Approved the recommendation by County Administrator Len Sossamon to reorganize county code enforcement under the building department and move stormwater services from Environmental Services to Transportation Services. Sossamon said each move seemed like a better fit. Officials have said that, with the shift of code enforcement from Animal Services, embattled Animal Services and code enforcement manager Liana Teague will likely move to code enforcement supervision.

• Approved a change order on the Sunshine Grove Road widening project totaling $80,721, with hopes that most of the cost will be covered by Progress Energy. The largest share of the increase, $63,600, was due to a delay by the utility in moving power poles, and the county is seeking reimbursement. A settlement over an access issue with Bigun's Bar-B-Q accounts for the remainder. Contractor Goodwin Construction Inc. was also awarded an additional 20 days due to rain. The project is expected to be completed by November. With the latest change order, the construction cost increases to $4.8 million.

With help from reserves, Hernando commissioners tentatively approve budget, tax rate 09/11/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 9:25pm]

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