There have been several meetings lately regarding Brooksville’s budget. A special meeting was held by Brooksville City Council on August 1st to determine a tentative millage rate increase.
Interim City Manager Lyndon Bonner opened the discussion with a review and ten-year projection of the city’s budget. “We gave a thumbnail ... based off actuals … there is nothing balanced about your budget,” he said. Mr. Bonner concluded by saying Brooksville is the “most upside-down budget I’ve ever had. This is risky business.”
According to Mr. Bonner, the current millage rate of 6.6426 mills will not be enough to lift revenues, and recommends a rate of 7.7. The net increase on a home appraised at $100,000 would be $100 per year.
Mr. Bonner referred to one sheet of paper he said was “distilled down from about 700-800 pages,” and reminded all present that any errors found going forward will be addressed, and said additionally “if there are revenues that we’ve overlooked, we’ll need to know.” Of the 7.7 millage rate, Mr. Bonner said, “You can come back down to any level, you just can’t go back up.”
Councilman William Kemerer reported his analysis, starting with, “First of all, we got in this situation because we all like to use these other accounts,” and went on to name accounts that no longer exist. “Those are the accounts that they’ve been using for the last five years to bury the problem. So in my mind … they’re not up for use to try to cut the millage down.”
Brooksville’s biggest shortage came in 2016.
Kemerer explained, “The anomaly that occurred in 2016, was that we gave that 3% salary increase across the board, that was $100,000. We replaced our Finance Director, which drove that department up $65,000, Business Development was up $54,000, legal and insurance were up by $44,000, and we got hit for the first time with the police pension cost, which was $220,000.”
Mr. Kemerer listed the revenue shortages for the past five years, “2013 we lost 52,000. 2014, we lost 30,000. 2015, we lost 204,000. 2016, we lost 578,000. In 2017 we’re projected to lose 422,000. This year, we’re projected to have a $485,000 loss.”
“What this is telling us is very simple; the revenues aren’t there,” he said. Mr. Kemerer quoted Councilwoman Natalie Kahler during a prior meeting, “Systemic changes in this community. It’s got to happen. You can’t get another $500,000 out of ad valorem taxes. If you do that, the businesses alone will wonder why they’re in the city.”
Mr. Kemerer said that the shortages will take a few years to fix, and that he has concerns about keeping the fire assessment the same. Historically, the fire assessment has increased by small increments every year. He also raised the point that 44% of city residents do not pay ad valorem taxes, so that falls on businesses and homeowners. “So a small part of our community is being asked to carry a heavy load.”
“A 7.64 millage rate will probably wipe out the loss. But you’re raising ad valorem taxes 15%. That’s going to be hard for anybody.” Mr. Kemerer said the max millage he would vote for would be 7.3.
Councilman Joe Bernardini spoke about the extra taxes that Brooksville residents pay (county and city), adding that fire and police response times are shorter, and garbage collection services have fewer complaints. In considering increased fire assessments or millage increases, he said, “Either way, the citizens of Brooksville are going to pay, they’re either going to pay the county, or they’re going to pay the city.”
Mr. Bernardini also said some city services could be eliminated, but cautioned that he was only gathering ideas, and no agencies are pending closure at this time. “We could do away with the police department. Sheriff’s department has to provide us with police protection, with law enforcement.” Mr. Bernardini also acknowledged this would affect the level of service currently provided by the Brooksville Police Department (BPD), but the city would be at the same level of service that is provided to the rest of the county. Another option would be to contract with the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) to provide a different level of service within Brooksville city limits.
He also mentioned that the Parks and Recreation department could be eliminated. Bernardini said, that in a study some years ago, 80% of people who use city parks were found to be county residents, not paying for the usage of the parks. “Yes, we lose control (of the parks), but how much control is it really worth it … to the citizens for that control?”
Councilwoman Natalie Kahler said she would not be opposed to the TRIM at 7.7, but believes it could be reduced. “I know between the five of us, there will be a lot of brainstorming … we can figure out what the fire and millage needs to end up being.” Regarding the issue of city control, she said, “I think having direct control over something leads to better quality of the service … Consolidation lessens the authority of the city.”
Vice Mayor Betty Erhard also believes the 7.7 rate is high. Ms. Erhard said that she would not be opposed to consolidating departments, and contracting services from the county to boost the city’s revenue. “The bottom line is it’s not about us, it’s about the citizens, and what services are they willing to pay for?” She went on to say, “If we were not looking at increasing fire fees, then I wouldn’t be opposed to increasing the millage to 7.7.” Addressing the dollar values associated with the millage increase, she said “That’s a $50 increase (on a $50,000 home). That’s $50 of someone’s grocery money.”
Although the Aug. 1, 2017 special meeting did not end in an official vote, the discussion ended with Mayor Battista, Vice Mayor Erhard and Councilman Kemerer recommending the millage rate not exceed 7.3.
Prior to this budget discussion, Hogan Law Firm informed the city council of their resignation from legal services for the city. They were budgeted $200,000 for FY 2018, which has not been reassigned as of yet.