Already poised to lay off workers, close parks and slash services, Hernando County officials on Friday got news that their budget cuts must be even deeper than they feared.
The Value Adjustment Board voted unanimously Friday to reverse a decision from earlier in the month and to accept a challenge by the cement giant Cemex on the value of its equipment.
The move will strip $160 million in property value off the county's tax rolls. That will mean that the most recently calculated 2012 budget shortfall, which stood at $5.7 million, will now certainly grow by hundreds of thousands of dollars if not more, according to county budget manager George Zoettlein.
He did not yet have firm numbers from the office of Property Appraiser Alvin Mazourek, but he said he expected a report early next week that will help him calculate an updated number for the shortfall.
"It's going to be rough, and we're trying to keep up the level of service for the county,'' said County Commission Chairman Jim Adkins.
Also the chairman of the VAB, Adkins said the vote on the Cemex value had to be reversed after the board members learned from their attorney that they could not reject the recommendation of the special magistrate on the Cemex petitions without "indisputable evidence.''
"Our hands were tied,'' Adkins said. "It's going to require more cuts in the budget. I don't know how much but there will be some.''
The only hope is that Mazourek has said he will take legal action to challenge the Cemex assertions that its cement kilns and related equipment had dropped in value by 50 percent due to the down construction market. Mazourek has asked for documentation of that figure but has not seen it.
Still, even if that suit is someday successful, the County Commission is now in a position of having to make cuts to balance the budget soon. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
All totaled, the VAB stripped $172 million in value off the rolls for 2012. John Emerson, Mazourek's chief deputy, said he anticipated now that the overall property value drop last year to this year was going to be about 10.4 percent. That's 2 percent more than the county had most recently calculated as department heads work to build their budgets.
While the county has been forced to cut its budget for the last several years due to the falling property values, Zoettlein noted, "This is just more difficult than in the past.''
In previous years, the county had relied on reserve funds to cushion the blow but those reserves are now gone.
"Pretty soon,'' he said, "there won't be any government left.''
Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.