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Guest Column

Commissioners try to keep lid on spending

By GARY BARTELL
Published February 26, 2007


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This is in response to an editorial Feb. 18, "Government has to make dollars go further," in which the County Commission and county staff were unfairly criticized related to the 2007-08 county's budget preparation process and county government spending.

It is unfortunate that such comments were made and written without input from county government officials and/or staff. In this incident, the facts were misconstrued and the editorial painted a false depiction of how the county operates.

The editorial stated inaccurately that the county has yet to put action behind words referring to government living within its means. To the contrary, Citrus County began looking at alternatives such as zero-based budgeting in the fall of 2006. Zero-based budgeting is a method of budgeting in which all expenditures are justified each fiscal year, as opposed to only explaining the amounts requested in excess of the previous year's funding.

On Dec. 28, the zero-based budgeting concept was formally presented to the county administrator and approved for implementation in the 2007-08 budget cycle. Staff received a training announcement on Jan. 31, and the first zero-based budget training class was held on Feb. 16. The new systematic process is being implemented over a three-year period, with 13 areas to be addressed utilizing the zero-based budgeting technique this budget year.

Furthermore, I sent a memo to County Administrator June Fisher on Jan. 9, in which I stated: "It is my firm belief that the Board of County Commissioners needs to establish a policy on Zero Base Budgeting and set a cap on budget increase requests, by both county departments and constitutional officers."

On Jan. 23, I personally addressed my concerns regarding our fiduciary responsibility to our taxpayers under my agenda item during the commission meeting with my fellow commissioners. During this discussion, I conveyed the need to act now rather than later by tightening our belts through the zero-based budgeting process and reprioritizing projects and programs.

Based on the current economic situation, I personally requested staff, which was also the consensus of the board, to have Fisher send a letter to the constitutional officers requesting that as they prepare their budgets to limit their requests to the cost-of-living increase, which is currently about 2.5 percent.

It concerns me to read the following: "If commissioners need an example of what can be done, they need look no further than Hillsborough County, where commissioners recently voted to impose spending restraints on themselves by tying their annual budget increases to population growth and inflation."

Citrus County has been proactive in responding to the current economic situation and communicated limited spending directives to staff prior to Hillsborough County taking such action as noted earlier. Furthermore, Citrus County voted to reduce the millage by 1 full mill last year when Hillsborough only reduced by 0.5841 mill. In addition, Citrus County acted prior to Gov. Charlie Crist's recommendation for all counties to limit spending.

Citrus County has heard the taxpayers' concern and is actively working to be fiscally disciplined. In doing so, the zero-based budgeting information will formally be presented at the next commission meeting on Tuesday to communicate the fiscal techniques used for the 2007-08 budget cycle for the purpose of educating the general public. In addition, a Capital Improvement Program Planning Workshop has been scheduled for March 1 and 2 beginning at 9 a.m. to discuss the prioritization of the county's largest projects with a limited budget in mind.

The editorial also criticized county government for having a lack of creative thinking in reference to the Emergency Operations Center project and other county projects. Referring to the alternative option, concretables, I sent a memo to the county administrator on Feb. 15 (two days after the public meeting that the editorial addressed) addressing my concern to look at other building material options including concretables for the EOC project.

In my memo, I stated, "Prior to the EOC Administration Building coming back before the board, would you please look at other funding mechanisms, i.e., law enforcement impact fees, and get back to me. Also, from a construction standpoint is there any potential for using other construction methods, i.e., concretables?" I personally realize the importance of thinking outside the box as in this case and others to insure all options are explored.

I believe it is extremely important for the citizens of Citrus County to know the proactive, fiscally responsible actions and measures that staff and commissioners have taken and will continue to take to live within our means, while continuing to provide the level of services necessary to meet the needs of our local citizenry. Unfortunately, inaccurate editorials provide a false portrayal of Citrus County government and fail to include the proactive steps taken by Citrus County to be fiscally responsible to the county's taxpayers.

Gary Bartell is the county commissioner for District 2. Guest columnists write their own views on subjects that they choose, which do not necessarily reflect those of the newspaper.

[Last modified February 25, 2007, 20:16:19]


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