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BROOKSVILLE LOOKS FOR WAYS TO BRIDGE $404,000 SHORTFALL

After two budget sessions, the City Council cannot agree how to proceed.

Since learning last month that they need to bridge a projected $404,000 budget shortfall in the coming year, City Council members have been looking for ways to shave expenses.

But after two budget workshops, there still is no consensus on how to proceed.

On Tuesday, council members discussed a number of issues, including limiting waivers for special events, hiring a full-time in-house attorney and changing shift hours for firefighters.

None of the ideas seemed to float very far.

Council members gave the most serious consideration toward converting firefighters' pensions from a private plan to one operated by the state. But that alone won't yield enough savings to keep the city out of the red, council member Lara Bradburn said.

"We're in a deep hole right now," she said. "At this point, the only thing we can do is keep going back to the drawing board."

In July, City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha warned council members that after three years of staff cuts, limiting capital improvements and minimizing operating costs, balancing the budget required more than just quick fixes. She suggested that they look for ways that would achieve immediate reductions without jeopardizing services.

Council member Joe Bernardini said the most equitable solution to resolving the deficit would be to slightly raise the city's tax rate, along with reducing some services.

"There really is no magic bullet that I can see," Bernardini said.

This month, the city submitted a proposed rollback rate of 7.46 to the property appraiser. That rate would allow the city to collect roughly $2.9 million in taxes compared to about $2.4 million if council members keep the rate the same as the current year.

Bernardini said the rate could be adjusted downward if Norman-Vacha were to find extra savings through various departments.

"I think we'll wind up with a combination of things," Bernardini said. "It's not a question of not getting there, it's a question of how we'll get there."

Logan Neill can be reached at (352) 848-1435 or lneill@sptimes.com.

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