BROOKSVILLE - Hernando County commissioners recommended at a Tuesday workshop that staff come back with a 1.1 millage rate hike to help reduce a $9.2 million shortfall and balance the 2013-14 budget.
If approved during a formal meeting next month, the 18.6-percent increase would cost the average taxpayer - whose home is valued at $50,000 after a homestead exemption - about $40-50 a year on the tax bill.
By raising the general fund millage rate from the current 5.9 mills to 7.0, the county would receive another $6.5 million in revenue.
Commissioners directed staff to find the additional $2.7 million of the shortfall through alternative means.
The budget office had originally proposed raising the millage rate to 7.3.
However, after hearing comments from the audience and debating the matter among themselves, the board opted for a smaller hike.
County Administrator Len Sossamon said he will come back Sept. 10, the first of two public hearings on the budget, showing the proposed millage rate increase.
Between now and then, Sossamon said he and staff will also look to eliminate any reccurring expenses from the budget and explore cutting the elected officers' budgets - at least those which the county has the authority to reduce.
Finally, Sossamon said he would examine any other alternative sources of revenue.
The final budget hearing is Sept. 24 and the final millage rate will be adopted at that time.
Assistant County Administrator for Budget and Business Development George Zoettlein said the board can no longer rely on cash reserves because the county has depleted them to balance previous budgets and are now at bare minimum.
The county has bottomed out on its balance forward cash, he said.
Zoettlein said the main culprit in all this is a severe reduction in property values. More than 71 percent of parcels in Hernando County have property values of $50,000 or less.
The county has cut its personnel in half since 2008 and the board has been resistant to lopping off any more jobs.
County commissioners praised Zoettlein for presenting a comprehensive budget.
Commissioner Diane Rowden said the budget is cyclical and once property values start rising, the millage rate can be reduced, she said.
Commissioner Wayne Dukes said it's unfair that the majority of taxpayers must "pick up the slack" for those who received big property tax reductions due to suspected sinkhole activity on their property.
"It's just isn't right," Dukes said.
Commissioner Jim Adkins said he wants the elected constitutional officers to re-examine their budgets and identify more cuts.
All but four of those officers have asked for increases.
Commissioner Nick Nicholson singled out Sheriff Al Nienhuis, whose submitted budget, he said, makes up $4.9 million of the projected revenue shortfall.
"He certainly doesn't need to be asking for an increase," Nicholson said.