TAMPA — Maybe it's a reflection that the public expects local government to cut spending, what with property tax revenue being down sharply.
Few people turned out Wednesday for the first of two public hearings on Hillsborough County's budget proposal for next year, despite revenue declines of $73 million forcing cutbacks, particularly to nonprofit groups.
Only a half-dozen people showed up to urge commissioners to spare pet programs.
Commissioners learned that they'll be able to absorb a state mandate for criminal background checks of certain volunteers that had threatened to cost Meals on Wheels as much as $25,000 to carry out. The county has purchased equipment that will allow it to perform background checks at a lower cost than previously expected.
The board also heard from advocates for the agricultural cooperative extension and Catholic Charities' Mercy House, which provides housing and services for women and children who are HIV-positive. Both are facing cuts, and commissioners asked the county administration to see if there are ways to spare both.
Commissioners voted 6-0 to tentatively approve the $3.5 billion spending plan. Commissioner Kevin White was absent, citing a scheduling conflict.
The plan is predicated on lowering the county's overall tax rate from 10.7614 mills to 10.7598— a small amount, but one that would allow commissioners to claim they have lowered the property tax rate for 18 consecutive years. A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of assessed taxable value.
Due to declining property values, the county's budget represents about a 12 percent cut in property taxes based on how the state defines whether local governments have increased or lowered taxes.
A final public hearing is scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 23 at County Center, 601 E Kennedy Blvd.
Bill Varian can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3387.