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Police force is likely to stay

The cash-strapped city of Brooksville should not save money by giving up its police force. But it should raise some extra cash by changing the way it pays for the fire department.

Those were the recommendations Wednesday of the city's 10-member task force.

Those suggestions probably will end, for now, talk of merging the police and fire departments into comparable county agencies.

But the committee's choices, if adopted by the City Council, won't relieve Brooksville's money problems for long.

"We're in a crisis," said task force member Doug Bevins. "We may resolve it with short term things now, but sooner or later the piper will come to be paid."

The committee's toughest decision Wednesday involved the city's Police Department.

Hernando Sheriff Tom Mylander had earlier proposed to provide comparable law enforcement protection to city residents at a cost of $775,000 _ a substantial savings over the Police Department budget.

The city's finance director, in a review of Mylander's proposal, amended some of the savings the city could expect if it contracted with the sheriff's office for police protection.

But, committee member Nick Nicholson took exception to the finance director's calculations and strongly urged the task force to consider Mylander's proposal.

"How can we sit here and . . . recommend this (plan to keep the city police) that costs residents $280 per year in taxes for a family of four?" he asked. Rather, Nicholson indicated, the city could save its citizens half a million dollars a year by contracting with the sheriff.

But Nicholson got little support for his views.

Instead, task force members noted that Mylander gave a one-year proposal; costs could rise in future years.

Hiring the sheriff's office to provide law enforcement protection for Brooksville could anger Spring Hill residents, who already feel shortchanged on services, committee member Amy Gillis said.

But the task force did recommend saving some money by creating a Municipal Services Benefit Unit (MSBU) to pay for the city fire department.

Residents and businesses would pay a fee for fire services under the MSBU; the ad valorem taxes, levied by the city, would be reduced by two mills in a two-year period.

But the tax reduction won't offset the fire-protection fee, task force members said. Citizens will pay slightly more if the shift to an MSBU is approved, they said.

Into the night, committee members continued to discuss ways of boosting the city's coffers.

"The city lost $280,000 last year," said committee Chairman Ernie Weaver.

"This year, we will lose between $300,000 and $500,000. In another two years, we will deplete the reserves the city has."

Brooksville faces an ultimate threat of bankruptcy if the drain on the city budget isn't stopped, Weaver said.