In the past five years, Hernando County has witnessed unprecedented growth. Translation: More people and more development brought more money into county coffers.
Hernando's total spending more than doubled - a 109 percent increase - to $434-million from fiscal year 2002 to fiscal year 2007, according to a Hernando Times computer-assisted analysis. Likewise, property tax collections rose 105 percent to more than $90-million. The growth easily outpaced the increases seen in Pasco, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
Now, property tax reforms mandated from Tallahassee mean a reversal of fortunes for Hernando. Officials must roll back tax rates and trim 7 percent from the spending plan. The bulk of the cuts will come from the $120.6-million general fund.
When it comes to the budget, it's important to look at two distinct categories: total spending and the general fund. Total spending takes into account all revenues, including service charges, user fees and money from grants. General fund money is primarily the dollars generated by property taxes and the local portion of sales tax. The fund pays for operating expenses and is typically the subject of most debate.
As the County Commission begins budget deliberations Wednesday and Thursday, use this budget primer to help you understand and judge the discussions. The figures below answer some questions and raise others. Our coverage will continue until the final county budget is adopted in September. The 2007-08 budget year begins Oct. 1.
The accounts of money that control county spending:
Funding source 2002 2007 Change
General funds $69.2 $120.6 74%
All other funds $138.8 $313.6 126%
Total spending $208 $434.2 109%
Property tax revenues $44.2 $90.4* 105%
Population growth 138,786 165,409** 19%
* Figures indicate tax revenue collected to date. Original projections put revenues at $88.5-million.
** A 2006 population estimate, the most recent figure available.
All figures represent fiscal years in millions and are rounded up to the nearest $100,000, unless the figure is less than $1-million.
The Big Five
These consume the bulk of the tax money in the general fund. *
The bulk - $26.7-million, or 86 percent - of the sheriff's budget in fiscal year 2007 went to salaries and benefits for 202 deputies, 42 sworn supervisors and 144 other staffers. Operating expenses of $3.3-million covered equipment, insurance, repairs and maintenance. Also, last year the agency received $274,000 for building upgrades and $241,000 for a storage facility. The agency's budget procedurally is set by the state with input from local officials. The agency generated $693,000 in revenue, which includes fines and money for school resource officers.
Hernando County Jail
All but a small fraction of the money for the jail goes to cover expenses incurred by Corrections Corporation of America, the private Tennessee-based company contracted to manage the facility. The jail's inmate population continues to grow - capacity is 730 - which increases the costs associated with housing, food, legal services and security at the facility on Spring Hill Drive. Last year, the county paid $59,000 to provide someone to handle contract matters, and the jail received $10,000 to replace the telephone system equipment.
Reserve for emergencies
Think hurricanes. This fund is based on well-founded fears of living in a coastal Florida county. Having quick cash on hand in times of emergencies is important. The county can tap this money to cover damage or recovery expenses before potential funds from the state or federal governments become available. Tax dollars don't flow into this account annually. Instead, the coffers filled up with excess funds not spent in previous years. It earns interest, as do other reserve accounts, and county officials hope they don't ever need to use this money.
Behind the county's buildings and grounds stands the facilities maintenance division. Its goal: Keep all county properties - excluding parks - safe, attractive and accessible. It accounts for $3.6-million. This means anything from mowing the grass and fixing the plumbing to waxing floors and cleaning toilets. The department's role has increased as the county added new buildings in recent years, including two libraries and the emergency operations center. The department also helps with planning new facilities and renovating old ones.
Twenty-five parks dot the county's landscape from Pine Island on the coast to Lake Townsen near the Sumter County border. Maintaining these properties takes up a considerable chunk of taxpayer dollars. General upkeep costs $1.6-million while landscaping maintenance expenses reach $800,000. The department employs 39 staffers, including a foreman, horticulture technicians and gate attendants. Last year, the department spent $65,000 on capital expenses, buying three new radios, two new trucks and making improvements to two parks.
* Figures do not include other sources of revenue. Also, major departments such as utilities and fire departments aren't included because they are funded primarily by service charges and impact fees.
In the past five years, these line items accounted for the largest increases in spending of tax dollars.*
Department 2002 2007 Percent change
Insurance $302,000 $970,000 221%
Hernando County Jail $4-million $12-million 199%
Animal services $613,000 $1.2-million 96%
Mosquito control $391,000 $746,000 91%
Code enforcement $585,000 $1.1-million 88%
*Calculations account for only general fund spending and do not include growth in grants, transfers and reserve accounts.
Between 2002 and 2007, county departments and constitutional offices added 219 new positions (full or part time) to reach a total of 1,585 staffers. That's a 16 percent increase. Here are the five departments that added the most personnel.
Department 2002 staff 2007 staff Change
Sheriff 315 388 +73
Parks maintenance 22 41 +19
Facilities maintenance 37 50 +13
Property Appraiser 39 48 +9
Tax Collector 33 40 +7
Sources: Hernando County Office of Management and Budget and U.S. Census Bureau