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  • Florida Departments Have Budget Woes

    This is the city in which I work
    ____________________

    Utility tax approved despite protests
    One Brooksville council member offers an alternative to raise revenue: Shut down the city Fire Department and hire the county for protection.
    By DAN DeWITT, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published August 28, 2003

    --------------------------------------------------------------------------------


    BROOKSVILLE - A divided Brooksville City Council approved a new utility tax Tuesday night over the objections of residents who said they are fed up with rising taxes and other fees.

    "If you live outside the city, it costs so much less, and what do you lose? Good garbage service maybe," said Joshua Brown, who recently bought and renovated a house in the city.

    Two council members, Joe Bernardini and Joe Johnston III, voted against the tax, which will add 10 percent to residents' electric bills. Ernie Wever, Vice Mayor Mary Staib and Mayor Richard Lewis voted for it.

    Johnston, who favored a 5 percent tax, came up with a bold solution to limit the amount levied - and possibly avoid a planned increase in property taxes. He said the city should explore hiring the county fire department to cover the city.

    The council, which violently rejected a similar suggestion from Bernardini last year, agreed to do so.

    "At least it seemed people are willing to look at it, but I think we're in such dire financial straits that you have to look at the alternatives," Johnston said after the meeting.

    Johnston was responding to a letter County Administrator Dick Radacky sent to the city two weeks ago. This renewed the offer Bernardini brought to the council last year and estimated the savings to the city of about $570,000 annually.

    That figure is based on the current Fire Department budget of $1.2-million; the department has proposed cutting that to about $1.1-million.

    Still the savings would be substantial, said Chief Mike Nickerson of Hernando County Fire Rescue. The county also would employ most, though not all, of the current city firefighters, Nickerson said.

    Johnston, in a written response memo prepared before the meeting, suggested the city should sign a contract with the county only if the city saves at least $500,000 per year and the county hires all of its current firefighters.

    Mayor Lewis initially spoke out against the proposal, comparing it to a plan, in 1993, to fire police Chief Ed Tincher and former fire Chief Jim Adkins. This led to a recall movement that placed Lewis and two other council members on the council.

    "Ten years ago they tried to get rid of police and fire," Lewis said. "It went to a referendum. It went to a recall.

    "Once you start doing away with the services in Brooksville, you dissolve the city," Lewis added.

    Brown pointed out that the city has already increased water and sewer rates and plans to add one mill to the city's property taxes. A mill is equal to $1 of tax on every $1,000 of real, nonexempt property.

    "It just gets too expensive," said Brown, one of several residents who spoke out against the utility tax. Unless the city reins in these costs, he said, "you're going to see people leaving the city and guess what? Then the city does go away."

    After the meeting, Bernardini, one of the council members removed in the 1994 recall vote, said Lewis misrepresented the proposal from a decade ago. The council planned to consolidate the police and fire departments, he said, not eliminate them.

    He backs Johnston's plan, he said, but said the city would have been better off accepting it when he proposed it last September. His fellow commissioners, outraged at his action, voted to censure him.

    At the time, Bernardini said, the county agreed to hire all the city firefighters, most of whom would have received raises.

    Now, Nickerson said, the county could take on between eight and 11 of the city firefighters.

    Brooksville fire Capt. Tim Mossgrove said that despite Johnston's requirement that the county hire him and his colleagues, he worries that the most experienced firefighters would be the ones eliminated because they command the highest salaries.

    "They might not necessarily take somebody with 17 years, which is what I have. I'm a captain. They might just need firefighters. They might not need lieutenants," said Mossgrove, who added that his wife recently quit her job to stay at home with the youngest of their three children.

    "And here I am on the brink of not having a job on Oct. 1," he said.

    Besides thinking about employees, Bernardini said, the council must consider residents, whose outrage only will grow as they begin to receive the higher tax and utility bills.

    "That's when you're really going to see some angry people," he said.

    - Dan DeWitt can be reached at 754-6116 or [email protected]
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

  • #2
    Additional Story

    City Leaders Struggle To Balance Budget

    Published: Aug 28, 2003


    BROOKSVILLE - Balancing the municipal budget is simple, City Manager Dick Anderson told Brooksville council members: Raise taxes or eliminate jobs and services.
    Board members this week discussed doing both. They imposed a 10 percent tax on utility bills, a move Anderson said would generate about $385,000 - nowhere near enough to balance the budget.

    They also considered raising property taxes up to 1 mill, equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value, minus a $25,000 homestead exemption. But that wouldn't raise enough revenue, Anderson said. Some police, firefighter and administrative staff jobs would have to remain vacant, public works employees who retire would not be replaced and city workers could anticipate average annual pay increases of less than 1 percent of their salaries.

    Mayor Richard Lewis offered to give up his $450 monthly salary if other council members would give up their salaries. None offered to do so.

    The council will meet again Sept. 9 to discuss the city's budget and property tax rate.


    Fred Hiers <
    09-11 .. 343 "All Gave Some..Some Gave ALL" God Bless..R.I.P.
    ------------------------------
    IACOJ Minister of Southern Comfort
    "Purple Hydrant" Recipient (3 Times)
    BMI Investigator
    ------------------------------
    The comments, opinions, and positions expressed here are mine. They are expressed respectfully, in the spirit of safety and progress. They do not reflect the opinions or positions of my employer or my department.

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