tampabay.com

Hillsborough may face more than 137 layoffs

By BILL VARIAN
Published July 26, 2007


TAMPA - Hillsborough government could face more layoffs than those announced this week if county commissioners continue on the road they headed down Wednesday.

Meeting in budget talks for the first time since state lawmakers ordered property tax cutbacks, commissioners took direct aim at many of the proposals designed to cut $55.9-million in spending next year.

There was little discussion, however, of ways to offset the cost of programs commissioners want restored. So now County Administrator Pat Bean will have to come up with further cuts, and that may mean even more layoffs than the 137 already proposed.

Call it habit. In past years, commissioners had the luxury of increasing spending in pet areas because of swollen property tax proceeds. Now legislators are forcing them to tighten their belts.

"This is a very different year for them," Bean said after the workshop.

Individual commissioners, needing only one other board member to back them, asked Bean to look at restoring at least partial funding to several nonprofit groups she recommended cutting. The list included the groups that run the county's public and education access channels.

Elsewhere

MORE CUTS IN PORT RICHEY: In the midst of state-imposed budget cuts, Port Richey city officials had already approved a restructuring of the police and fire departments that would allow the city to cut the tax rate from 4.7 to 4.163 mills without facing a tough budget year.

The curveball came Tuesday night. That's when the City Council abruptly - and unanimously - approved an even lower tax rate of 3.9 mills in the absence of the person who crunched the numbers for the budget: City Manager Jerry Calhoun. He's the one who will have to figure out how to cut an estimated $80,000 to meet that rate.

"I don't think we needed his input," council member Mark Hashim said Wednesday. "We are speaking for the citizens. His job is to fill requests."

HERNANDO OFFICIALS WANT MORE CUTS TOO: County commissioners gave initial approval to a lower tax rate Wednesday for the coming year and said they wanted to see taxes cut even more.

They did not, however, specify where those cuts should come. Instead, they spent much of their meeting talking about things - notably public safety services - they don't want to lose from the budget.