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Hernando Commissioner Dukes' budget votes sting the public

Wayne Dukes is a commissioner of few words. A single syllable, in fact, when it comes to budgetary matters: "No.''

Tuesday evening, sitting through his first county budget hearing since his November election to the Hernando county commission, Dukes voted against the tentative tax rate, against the tentative budget and against a planned new tax for mosquito control that was to be offset by the suspension of the tax collected for acquiring environmentally sensitive land.

He offered no solutions to the county's fiscal woes beyond creating more work for a shrinking staff taking pay cuts and forced furlough days. Commission Chairman Jim Adkins wasn't much better. He voted for the tentative budget but against the tentative tax rate to pay for it. He gave no public reason for his contradictory votes.

Adkins' convolution, however, was less damaging than Dukes'. As the only dissenting vote, Dukes single-handedly killed funding for mosquito spraying because state law requires unanimous board support for a new tax. After Dukes' rejection, the commission then voted to restore the tax rate — less than 8.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value to generate a little more than $605,000 — back to its original intent of buying sensitive land.

Don't be fooled. Dukes is not pro-environment, and preserving more land is not on his agenda. Even a status quo property tax rate — with a slight county increase offset by the water management district's reduction — fails to meet his undetermined standards.

His voting record even befuddled fellow commissioners. After Dukes objected to the county tax rates, Commissioner John Druzbick asked for an explanation, wondering if Dukes had a concern that could be addressed.

"It's history now, John,'' Dukes said. "Let's move on.''

Why bother with critical thinking and/or problem-solving skills when it's easier to obstruct?

The mosquito control vote is just as curious. Over the summer, Dukes raised no concerns with a plan from Commissioner David Russell to switch the land-buying tax to pay for mosquito control this year and next, and then to schedule 2012 referenda. The ballot questions will give voter a chance to formally consider a mosquito control district and to extend the land-buying tax for two years to recoup the diverted money. Though the plan to shift resources was problematic, at least the commission wanted to give the final say to the voting public.

Instead, the county is left with no money to pay for mosquito spraying despite Dukes' contention that it can be done more cheaply than projected and the county can find the cash in its strapped general fund that required multimillion-dollar cuts to compensate for a double-digit decline in the tax rolls.

Dukes clearly has forgotten the admonishment from highly respected utilities director Joe Stapf, who briefed the board in May on mosquito control, saying, "If we're going to do it, we need to do it right or get rid of it.''

Dukes' lack of recall also fails to acknowledge the 900 complaint calls from county residents in April when the county was unprepared for a burgeoning mosquito population after cutting funding for control. The county now spends $565,000 on mosquito spraying, down from $688,000 in prior years.

Absent action at the final budget hearing in 11 days, that spraying number drops to a new low at the Oct. 1 start of the fiscal year: zero. That equals the regard Dukes shows toward his mosquito-pestered constituents.

Hernando Commissioner Dukes' budget votes sting the public 09/15/11 [Last modified: Thursday, September 15, 2011 7:30pm]
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