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Brooksville council maintains tax rate and approves 2020 budget

Spending plan includes a new fire fee calculation, new positions and a plan to improve city infrastructure.

BROOKSVILLE — It took Brooksville City Council members a half dozen workshops and hours of detailed discussions since March to come up with its 2020 budget. But the final public hearing last week was over in less than 15 minutes and without a single public comment.

The Council approved a general fund budget of $5.4 million, compared to last year’s $6.9 million, and an overall budget of $30 million compared to last year’s $31.7 million.

The budget held the existing property tax rate of 6.2 mills or $6.20 in tax for every $1,000 in appraised taxable property value.

Starting next year, the city is changing how it charges residents for fire services. After a consultant’s study of the matter, the City Council voted to implement an "on-demand'' fee system. It replaces a two-tiered system that was based both on property value and a fixed fee per parcel.

In the past, multifamily facilities paid a single fee, but now the city will assess each unit individually. Most believe that owners of apartments or mobile home parks, such as Clover Leaf Farms, likely will pass the cost on to tenants.

Council members decided the on-demand system was more equitable. Those with expensive residential properties will see a break in their fire costs. So will those who own vacant parcels, who have long argued that the fire risk on an empty piece of land was not the same as on parcels with improvements.

Under the new system, residents pay $165 per improved parcel, owners of vacant lots pay $31.62 and non-residential locations pay per square foot, depending on usage. Previously, the cost was $135 per parcel, plus 97 cents per $1,000 of appraised taxable property.

Another controversial decision for the council was to continue funding the Brooksville Main Street Program. For the past three years, the city has spent $51,000 per year. This year’s expense is $45,000, and council members will begin requiring regular financial statements about Main Street activities.

The city budget also includes 3 percent pay raises for most employees, with the city manager determining raises for department heads.

When council members made the difficult decision to close its police department last year, they talked about wanting to become more financially solvent. They also wanted to begin working on needed city maintenance and upgrade projects ranging from aging utility lines to crumbling city streets.

The approved spending plan includes the first year of a five-year capital improvement plan. Among the road projects are a $15,000 expense for core drilling, $500,000 for repairs and $100,000 for milling and resurfacing.

The city also added an engineer to its workforce for 2020, as well as a special projects leader, a fire inspector, an information technology staff member and two sanitation workers.

Council members, who voted unanimously for the new budget and the tax rate, had little else to say about the spending plan at the final hearing.

"I think we’re all seeing the city going in a good direction,'' Mayor William Kemerer said.