If Hernando County commissioners are sincerely interested in saving taxpayers money and right-sizing county government in these lean economic times, they should start by reducing the size and budget of the county attorney's office.
For salaries and benefits alone, the county attorney's office weighs in at a hefty $782,000 for five full-time attorneys and four support staffers. That doesn't include all the cases that are farmed out because of so-called "conflicts of interest," lack of internal expertise and the fact that other constitutional officers hire their own attorneys to represent them.
Makes us wonder why, though.
How can county officials justify all that money to pay for attorneys in these tough financial times, especially when the county to our north has three attorneys?
Added to that, one of the attorneys gets paid 100 percent from the county's utilities department, but also does work for the planning and zoning department and charges for those legal services as well.
County Attorney Garth Coller recently told Hernando Today that his utilities department attorney doesn't maintain logs for his time, yet the same attorney is often seen at planning and zoning meetings answering and commenting on zoning issues.
How many times should ratepayers pay for the same attorney?
Also, should ratepayers foot the bill 100 percent while that same attorney also does work for other departments of government?
We think not.
It's our strong suggestion that Coller better account for that attorney's time so as not to improperly charge utility ratepayers for his salary.
That could be considered a violation of state law.
Although only at the helm a short while, County Administrator David Hamilton has demonstrated a keen sense of figuring out what's going on in Hernando County government and attacking the problems head on. We're confident that he's already taking a long, hard look at the county attorney's office and will make necessary reduction recommendations to county commissioners soon.
Despite lame arguments to the contrary, the county attorney's office is an obvious place to find a windfall of taxpayer savings.
If legal problems crop up, an outside attorney with the exact expertise could always be hired - which seems to be exactly what's happening now even with all the legal muscle on staff.
It seems a no-brainer to cut the county attorney's staff to two or three attorneys and a part-timer, which would also reduce the support staff needed.
The bottom line is that Hernando County does not need the services of five attorneys and support staff to carry out the functions of government. We need to downsize and save the taxpayers of Hernando County hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The county attorney's office is a great place to start.