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Public's ideas to balance Hernando County budget sit on sacred cows

Nobody ever said the public doesn't have its sacred cows.

The loud mooing you hear are the answers to Hernando Commissioner Jeff Stabins' pitch for additional public input on closing a $10.4 million hole in the upcoming county budget.

County staff already held a series of town hall meetings to gauge sentiment on where to cut or how to raise money to balance the public appetite for services with its distaste for tax increases.

Early proposals called for cutting 47 county jobs and putting the microscope on non-mandated services like the cannery and THE Bus. An anonymous benefactor saved the cannery and commissioners hope the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority (TBARTA) does likewise for the county's beleaguered mass transit system after the commission granted it a one-year reprieve.

The town hall meeting I attended included a strong contingent of retired veterans as well as library workers stumping for — what else? — veterans services and libraries.

Protecting a vested interest shouldn't be unexpected and the same can be said for those who took up Stabins' offer. The commissioner decided to take his own survey, asking people to complete the statement, "How I would balance the budget.''

Ninety-six people offered more than 225 ideas. The complete list is available on the county's website under the agenda for Tuesday's commission meeting and the tally is heavily influenced by input from county employees. Moo.

That doesn't invalidate those ideas, but it does mean that this, by no means, should be construed as a scientifically accurate survey of public opinion. So, the focus here will be on the ideas that drew double-digit responses.

A dozen people favored realigning supervisors and managers and cutting their salaries. No surprise. It means rank and file employees and not managers/supervisors answered Stabins' appeal. It also means people are familiar with the workings of county government since County Administrator David Hamilton previously announced he plans to do this anyway.

Thirteen people said to close the county buildings one day per week. Nine said to work four, 10-hour days each week and three specified the shifts should be 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday. Taken together, the ideas translate to cutting overhead — the light bill — but not the salaries of people staffing those buildings.

Twelve people recommended canceling construction of a new standalone judicial center, a plan that remains on the perennial drawing board because the projected expense of up to $50 million doesn't match the less than $20 million that's been set aside in a capital account.

Left unsaid is the notion of spending the judicial center earmark to offset ongoing expenses. It's shortsighted and duplicates the ongoing strategy of spending $9 million worth of reserves over three years to help balance the budget.

The most common idea, drawing input of 20 people or a fifth of those responding, was to charge appropriate fees at parks and boat ramps. I'll surmise that "appropriate'' means "new'' or "higher.'' Along that line of thinking, nine people said to increase fees for sports leagues, something a different commission rejected two summers ago.

Eleven people said to raise the tax rate. It's a legitimate idea, but one not likely to gain political traction. It is unfortunate. Falling property values means a status quo county tax rate will result in a tax cut for three quarters of the single-family home owners in Hernando. Likewise, homesteaded property owners pay smaller tax bills now to run county government than they did 11 years ago. Such logic, however, fails to resonate among the government-gone-wild clique.

A few other noteworthy responses: Nine (friends of Jeff?) said to reduce the sheriff's budget. Two people said to fire Hamilton. Maybe that is from two managers on the cutting block. Three people wanted to dump the cou nty's legal department and somebody suggested eliminating two of five commissioners.

Here's something else worth pondering. Only three people said to park THE Bus. Mass transit advocates just have to hope all three aren't sitting on the commission.

Public's ideas to balance Hernando County budget sit on sacred cows 07/10/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 9, 2010 11:10pm]
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