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Monday, Mar 30, 2015

City Council holds financial workshop, discuss outsourcing fire department


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BROOKSVILLE - First quarter numbers are in for the fiscal year, and the city is showing some slight signs of improvement.

"I think there are some signs of hope," said City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha during Tuesday night's financial workshop, citing the 7.4 percent unemployment rate in December - the lowest since April 2008 - and increase in net jobs in the Tampa Bay area and rising home sales and apartment rentals.

The city of Brooksville's taxable property values have decreased by about $200 million in the past five years, Norman-Vacha said.

Assistant Finance Director Jim Delach noted an increase in building permits, sales of cemetery plots, as well as 68 new residential water customers in the city.

"These are all positive signs the city is actually starting to get people moving back in and starting to build again," Delach said.

Other significant revenue streams include the Photo Enforcement Traffic Safety Program. Red-light camera revenue for the first quarter amounted to $487,330, or about 21 percent of the first quarter budget. The city also saw $572,054 in Fire Department revenue in the first quarter, due in part to the special assessment fee collections.

Last year, City Council asked Norman-Vacha to explore the cost of consolidating the city's fire and police departments. The majority of Tuesday night's meeting was devoted to comparing Brooksville's services and numbers to neighboring communities of comparable size, including Inverness, the Citrus County city that has a similar population but not their own fire or police department.

In 2014, Inverness budgeted about $760,000 for police services and $1.4 million for fire services.

Brooksville, which has a population of about 600 more people, a higher amount of taxes levied and about $700,000 more in the general fund, expects to spend about $2.2 million on police services and about $1.5 million on fire services this year.

"Taxpayers are making greater demands for governmental services yet are more reluctant to pay additional taxes. ... For many public organizations, the solution to public demand for service delivery with limited funds, resources is privatization, or outsourcing," Norman-Vacha said.

But, Norman-Vacha said, there is little evidence to show consolidation leads to efficiency.

Norman-Vacha urged council members to consider numerous questions when thinking about outsourcing emergency services to the county, including the expectations of city residents, the potential loss of local control, change in staffing numbers and political climate.

Norman-Vacha said the city's approach to fire services is "readiness to serve," as opposed to the county's "demand for service approach."

City fire rates are calculated on a two-tiered system: $0.90 per $1,000 of improved property value and a flat rate of $71 per parcel.

Hernando County fire rates are based on property type, as well as base and fire assessment fees, and the county has different rates for residential and commercial properties. Churches and government properties are charged in the county, but not the city, Norman-Vacha said.

Norman-Vacha showed the council 11 real examples of city properties, and compared what they pay in city fire taxes versus what the county could charge. Two larger properties pay more under the current system, but all the other properties would pay more if the county took over the services.

The highest was Wal-Mart on Broad Street, Norman-Vacha said, which would pay nearly $12,000 more under the county's rates and taxes based on the existing formula.

Council members did not make any decisions on the future of fire and police services Tuesday, but instead planned to digest the figures and discuss them further at a May workshop.

Vice Mayor Frankie Burnett said he "constantly hears" residents say they want to keep the city fire and police departments.

Mayor Kevin Hohn, who said during budget talks last summer he didn't think the city could afford a fire department, maintained his position in the meeting.

"There's nobody in the city that wouldn't want our own fire department, our own police department, and if they said they'd rather not have them, I think they're kidding themselves," he said. "Everybody wants to have their own toys, their own bedroom, their own house, cars, sometimes you can't afford those things."

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