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They'll dig for deeper savings
Brooksville Council to review budget proposals, including partnerships with the sheriff's office.
By BARBARA BEHRENDT, Times Staff Writer
Published August 1, 2007
BROOKSVILLE - Could the city put police officers on the street for more hours if the county handled dispatching and recordkeeping?
Should city workers get a 5 percent pay raise this year, or can they do with less?
Does the Quarry Golf Course really need a full-time golf pro?
Answers to those and other city spending plan questions are expected as the City Council meets at 6 tonight and again on Thursday for budget workshops.
City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha has brought the council a proposed 2007-08 budget that meets the requirements of property-tax-reduction legislation, but does not get spending down by 10 percent, as the City Council had requested.
In a memo to the council, Norman-Vacha said the spending plan is "status quo" and does not include layoffs, program reductions or other deep cuts.
The drop in property tax dollars have been offset by increasing revenues in other areas, which has saved the city from more painful budget cuts.
"But it would be short-sighted and negligent for the city and its staff not to begin planning for the fiscal years that follow," Norman-Vacha wrote.
The Legislature forced local governments to roll back their property tax revenues this year to provide tax relief to citizens, and more rollbacks will be required next year. If the voters approve changes to the state's homestead exemption in January, officials predict far greater spending cuts.
To help the City Council begin discussions of how to deepen this year's tax relief and to prepare for harder times ahead, Norman-Vacha's budget memo includes a list of items the council may want to consider.
Among them are suggestions that could prompt some controversy.
She suggests the city explore contracting for services from the Hernando County Sheriff's Office for dispatching police and fire calls, and to determine whether that arrangement would save money in terms of technology, communication and recordkeeping.
Additionally, the city could explore contracting with the sheriff's office for property room, evidence processing, storage and disposal services.
Another area where Norman-Vacha suggested review is the BERT, or the Brooksville Emergency Response Team program. The city could coordinate with the county to determine how to utilize the BERT equipment and when and how to deploy.
The council also could consider reducing to 3 percent the 5 percent merit raises recommended for city employees, examining whether a full-time golf pro is needed at the city's course and lengthening the expected replacement time for city vehicles.
Other suggestions include revising the city's occupational licensing program, scheduling changes for the fire department to save overtime costs, privatizing some services and examining how the city can team up with other governments to save money by sharing equipment and coordinating purchases.
"Obviously, Tallahassee is telling us that we have to cut our millage rate so we have to look at everything," said Mayor David Pugh. "The two biggest items in our budget are police and fire, and to keep those services for citizens, we have to look at other avenues to cut the budget."
Because the city doesn't know what will happen with the January referendum, Pugh said it is prudent to prepare for the worst.
"Every time you cut the budget it's not popular," he said. "It's not going to be easy."
Council member Lara Bradburn said she believes the city needs to take a hard look at several of the areas recommended for study.
She said the BERT program has lost its focus, which was to provide emergency assistance in the community when needed. She also said pay raises should be discussed and, depending on what else happens with the spending plan, maybe the city will be able to only afford a cost-of-living increase.
Bradburn also said working with the sheriff's office could allow police officers to spend more time on the street.
Being more efficient, she said, "doesn't mean giving up control of areas we most care about. ... It just means we work smarter."