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Budget draft unveiled

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Published:   |   Updated: July 17, 2013 at 10:26 AM

BROOKSVILLE - County Commissioner Dave Russell said more than likely the board will have to consider raising the millage and taxes this year.

"Frankly I don't see any way around it without having to shut down complete departments and arms of government," he said.

The comments came after the county announced the proposed fiscal year 2014 budget this week, totaling $322,764,997. Of that, 28.57 percent, or $92,210,483, is the general fund portion.

The last time the overall fiscal year budget was this low was 2005, when it was $304,169,253.

"Obviously, all of the streamlining, downsizing, combining of departments is reflected here and we are managing to do as much or more with less," Russell said.

"This budget will culminate eight years of cuts and the strategic use of reserves to keep peoples' taxes low for as long as we possibly can," Russell said. "Now we're at the point we have to compensate through an increase in the millage rate to achieve the service levels that people want."

Since 2006, millage rates were cut almost two-fold and the resulting tax savings to residents were in excess of $108 million, he said.

The current general fund millage rate is 5.9169. A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 in taxable value.

Russell commended County Administrator Len Sossamon and staff for working diligently on producing a balanced budget that provides a "tangible roadmap for the future of county government."

"These are challenging times for Hernando County," Sossamon said in an attached memo to the budget. "The county must keep a close watch on the pulse of the community."

Sossamon is finishing up his long-term strategic plan for the county and called it essential to the commissioners to follow that blueprint.

"Hernando County must be prepared to change and adjust plans as circumstances dictate," he wrote.

All but one of the five constitutional officers submitted budget increases, which include some employee raises. County commissioners have been adamant in recent weeks in saying the constitutionals will have to reduce their budgets because there is no money to accommodate them.

Sheriff Al Nienhuis, who oversees the largest of the constitutional budgets, said in his budget request that employee morale in his office has been affected due to a pay freeze in effect for several years.

Nienhuis submitted a budget of $39.9 million, or some $1.2 million more than his current budget.

He also built into his latest budget a $700,000 request to initiate a tiered approach to salary hikes.

County Commissioner Nick Nicholson said recently he will not support any raises and that morale will have to be improved some other way.

Assistant County Administrator of Budget and Business Development George Zoettlein said he is anticipating a $9.5 million shortfall, which includes the $2 million needed to fund libraries.

Zoettlein said the county can reduce expenses or raise revenues to a combination of the two. There are really no other options, he said.

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