County picking at how it spends

The commission again asks Florida TaxWatch for help.

By BILL VARIAN, Times Staff Writer
Published January 4, 2008

TAMPA - Hillsborough County commissioners are looking for outside help to reduce their spending of tax dollars.

For the second time in a decade, the county is turning to the business-backed nonprofit Florida TaxWatch to recommend ways it can spend tax money more efficiently.

Commissioner Brian Blair said he is seeking the review in anticipation of possible property tax cuts coming either through a public vote Jan. 29 or by state mandate.

"I think we're being proactive, not reactive," Blair said.

Blair said the analysis will not be paid for with tax dollars, but through contributions from local businesses or individuals, who have not been named. The board voted 6-1 to solicit a TaxWatch review, with Commissioner Rose Ferlita objecting.

"Florida TaxWatch is very honored and pleased to be invited back to assist the Hillsborough County Commission and its hard-working, taxpaying citizens," said Dominic M. Calabro, president and chief executive officer of Florida TaxWatch, in a statement.

TaxWatch performed a similar review of the county's books in 1998. That analysis was commissioned by local Republican businessman Ralph Hughes, an influential local advocate for reduced government spending.

Findings from the 1998 report faced skepticism in part because of its patron. Accounts differ still on the savings it identified, with numbers cited Thursday ranging from $2.5-million to $70-million.

The private backing was a primary concern of Ferlita.

"If private dollars are involved in this, I'm concerned that there's a conflict," Ferlita said.

In other action, commissioners voted 6-1 not to challenge Bright House Networks' removal of government access stations from basic cable service. The vote accepted an agreement in which Bright House pledges $150,000 in advertising on other cable stations that the county can use as it wishes.

Bill Varian is available at varian@sptimes.com or 813 226-3387.