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A Times Editorial

Take a stand on how your money is spent


© St. Petersburg Times
published July 21, 2002

If you're a person who has an opinion about how much you pay the Hernando County Commission in taxes, or if you have a suggestion about how the commission spends your money, there is more to talk about than the heat these days.

Starting Monday, and continuing Wednesday and Thursday, the county commissioners will convene workshop meetings to review the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

More specifically, they will set the tax rate that determines how much residents will pay in property taxes.

After initially facing an $8-million deficit, the commission readjusted its priorities and, with the cooperation of Sheriff Richard Nugent, made significant cuts in the proposed budget. Now the deficit is a less alarming $1.1-million.

Budget Officer George Zoettlein has recommended closing the gap by raising the tax rate 23.7 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. The owner of a $100,000 home, with a $25,000 homestead exemption, would pay $641.85 in standard property taxes under this rate, which does not include special assessments for emergency services, or assessments from other taxing authorities.

Zoettlein's earlier budget cuts have reduced the deficit to a manageable level, but now it is time for the commissioners to finish the job.

Their choices are simple: Approve the small tax rate increase, which would be the first since 1996, or come up with an additional $1.1-million in savings.

We recommend the commissioners keep cutting.

Finding an additional $1-million in a budget that totals $199-million is an achievable task. At the least, it will call for detailed scrutiny of the budget; most likely, it also will necessitate postponing some projects, expanding some services, or perhaps even imposing on employees to accept a pay raise smaller than the proposed 5 percent, which is a generous offer during a recession.

Although the budget won't be made final officially until the commission holds two required public hearings in September, this week's workshops are where the tough decisions will be made. That means now is the time for taxpayers to tune in and voice their concerns. If residents don't pay attention and participate in the process now, their protests will ring hollow after the spending plan is adopted.

Hernando County is not in an ideal situation, but that doesn't mean this is a financial crisis, or that government is spending your money recklessly.

However, it does mean the time has come for the commissioners to make some unpopular decisions and to set an example of fiscal austerity for their employees and the public. Maintaining the current tax rate accomplishes that, at least for the time being.

If you go

County commissioners will examine the proposed budget for fiscal 2003 at workshops Monday, Wednesday and Thursday. The meetings begin at 10 a.m. each day in the commission chamber, 20 N. Main St., Brooksville. Commissioners are not required to accept the public's comments at these sessions, but they traditionally have allowed brief, relevant comments. Commission Chairwoman Nancy Robinson says she will continue that practice this year.

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