Saturday, Nov 01, 2014
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Proposed county budget shows millage hike

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— When Hernando County commissioners meet Tuesday to set a proposed property tax rate for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, they will consider a possible tax hike to accommodate an increase in the sheriff’s larger-than-expected proposed budget.

George Zoettlein, assistant county administrator of budget and business development, was required by law to submit a balanced budget to the board last week and said he had little choice but to include an increase of 0.1048 mills, which would generate another $709,000 for the county’s general fund.

Zoettlein said county commissioners, who have said they didn’t want to impose another tax increase this year, either will direct him to stay with the existing millage rate or include the tax increase.

Once the millage rate is set, commissioners can lower it but cannot increase it for fiscal year 2014-15.

A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 in taxable property value.

Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis submitted a $42.8 million budget (4 percent higher than this year’s budget) that includes a 2 percent cost of living raise for employees below the rank of lieutenant.

The sheriff’s proposed budget is $1.3 million higher than this year. Nienhuis has said it ensures the sheriff’s office can maintain appropriate staffing levels to account for expected growth.

Taking into account the $700,000 in unspent funds the sheriff typically returns to the county, it results in an increase to next year’s budget of $642,829, Zoettlein said.

Nienhuis said it is premature to discuss a tax increase and blames the proposed millage hike on miscommunication.

Nienhuis said his submitted budget’s effect on the county’s general fund is around 1.6 percent. However, he said, the county is expected to take in 2.3 percent more revenue — so he doesn’t see a shortfall.

“The numbers always change drastically,” Nienhuis said. “This early budget is conservative and, as we move closer to September, I know it’s going to change.”

Zoettlein has until Aug. 4 to submit a proposed millage rate to the property appraiser’s office. County commissioners must adopt the final budget and property tax rate at a public hearing on Sept. 23.

Of all five elected constitutional officers, the sheriff represents the biggest chunk of the general fund budget. The property appraiser and tax collector’s office submitted 2014-15 budgets lower than the current fiscal year, Zoettlein said.

Supervisor of Elections Shirley Anderson is asking for $955,412, a $91,207 increase from her current budget.  Circuit Court Clerk Don Barbee is requesting $1.87 million, up $41,250 from this year’s budget.

County Commissioner Dave Russell said the board had no choice last year but to raise the tax rate because the county had stretched itself too thin in delivering services. The board voted for a 0.95 mill increase for the general fund.

But this year, with property values increasing for the first time in seven years and property tax revenue thus increasing, there is no need for a millage rate hike, he said.

Staff will have to look at revenue options to make up any shortfall, Russell said. “We’re just going to have to look harder,” he said.

The county commission meeting will begin at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Hernando County Government Center, 20 North Main St. in downtown Brooksville.

To view the entire county commission agenda, visit http://hernandocountyfl.iqm2.com/citizens/

mbates@hernandotoday.com

(352) 544-5290

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