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Sunday, Mar 29, 2015

The time to raise the county's millage rate is now

Guest columnist


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Let's take a hard look at Hernando County and our current financial situation. Every year we face a huge budget deficit; this year is no exception, with a crushing $9.68 million deficit. Our past solutions included reducing the Sheriff's budget, department cuts and draining cash reserves.

Our reserves are now depleted and, with falling property values, the only choice is to increase the millage rate. Continuing on this path will lead to eventual bankruptcy.

I love living in Hernando County and all it has to offer, but I want you to hear the observations of a CEO with a manufacturing corporation that I recently introduced to Hernando County. He noted our parks are in disrepair and we lack a recreation center, many roadways are unpaved, our entryways are unkempt and devoid of landscaping. Infrastructure is lacking.

If you're wondering where this is leading, consider the recent announcement that Amazon is bringing 3,000 jobs to Florida - but not our county. Sadly, Hernando County missed this opportunity, primarily because we squandered our reserves to balance the budget; funds that should have been directed toward more productive investments, like creating 3,000 new jobs. Think about it: why would a major corporation want to move here?

They want amenities, good schools, well-maintained streets, low crime rate and well-trained emergency services, a modern and stable infrastructure, county services, a stable and solvent county government - the things that create a pleasant way of life. I know this because I represented 17 Fortune 500 companies and these items are at the top of their list.

Recently, I represented Corporate Jet Solutions as their spokesman. They are now moving to Hernando County and bringing jobs and prosperity. The expansion of new business in our area would shift some of the tax burden from property owners. We need corporations like this to cure our woes, but how can we ask companies to invest in Hernando County when we are not willing to invest in ourselves? Success breeds success.

In years past, our commission chose the path of austerity. We've paid less over the years, and gotten very little in return. County staff has been severely reduced, leading to reduced services. There have been no raises in six years, causing low morale. Sheriff's deputies are being forced to seek jobs in other counties or the private sector. Fire rescue and emergency personnel are understaffed. Economic Development has been underfunded.

Len Sossamon, the county administrator, unveiled a $322.8 million spending plan for fiscal year 2013-14, which will be funded in part by an increased millage rate. He was extremely successful at building business in Concord, N.C. His knowledge and foresight could turn this county around.

I strongly suggest that we allow him to implement his plan. If allowed to move forward, I believe he can lead us to success. This will take courage and investment on our part. Instead of worrying about paying more taxes, we should concentrate on getting the most value for our buck. Let's give him our support.

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