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BUDGET CUTS WILL BE FELT ALL OVER

Though the complete picture is still unclear, county jobs are being thinned already.

As Hernando County looks to craft its 2007-08 budget to comply with the state-mandated tax rollbacks this fall, the ax will swing both high and low.

That's what County Administrator Gary Kuhl told the Hernando County Commission at its regular meeting Tuesday.

Although short on specifics, Kuhl told the commission he was confident that the county will survive the roughly $8-million loss in general fund revenue.

"We will be judicious (with the budget cuts). But no question, the impact will be across the board," Kuhl said. "Everyone will feel it."

Kuhl told commissioners that the process of thinning county employee ranks has already begun. Attrition has pared 46 county positions in recent months, which will help alleviate at least part of the pressure to find up to 15 percent in cuts.

Still, Kuhl said that the complete budget picture will not be fully clear until after the Legislature releases its recommendations on how much to cut to counties and municipalities on July 13.

Until then, Kuhl said he will continue to work with department officials and county budget director George Zoettlien to come up with workable solutions to get a tentative budget in place by the time the commission begins holding a public hearing on July 25-26.

The county's changing needs have already dictated some actions, Kuhl said. Five employees from the building department, including at least one supervisor, were laid off Monday because of a drop in home construction.

Kuhl said that other departments would probably see some reorganization as well.

"You might have someone from the transportation department whose skills could also be used in utilities,'' he said. "Rather than eliminate that job we'd prefer to move that person."

One idea Kuhl is not fond of is dipping into the county's reserve fund, which he favors keeping between 18 and 20 percent. He warned commissioners that doing so might leave the county vulnerable in its response to a disaster.

"When you consider what some counties in Florida were up against following the 2004 hurricanes, it wouldn't be prudent," Kuhl said.

Logan Neill can be reached at 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.

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