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published: Friday, July 20, 2012
County looks for ways to make up $2 million shortfall
By ED BALDRIDGE
SEBRING -- Commissioners reviewed the 2012-2013 budget on Tuesday and asked staff to look for big ticket items they could cut.
The recommended $118 million budget starts out of balance by $2 million and reflected $3.7 million "above current year funding," according to the cover letter from Interim County Administrator June Fisher.
Public safety is the largest expenditure in the general budget, taking up 33.1 percent and $39.3 million.
Revenue from property taxes continues to decline as values decrease. The estimate for revenue in next year's budget is $30.4 million, closer to the 2004 level of $30.2 million than to the 2008 figures of $48.9 million.
"Despite our best planning, we do not have the capability to fund the unwanted Medicaid bill and continue to serve the core functions of county government," Fisher wrote in her cover letter to the board.
Fisher estimated that the county would have to pay an additional $750,000 per year for the unfunded Medicaid mandate handed down this year by the state that says counties have to pick up more of their own citizen's bills for Medicaid.
According to records from the Florida Department of Revenue, Highlands County currently owes $388,083.12 in back billing after rebates.
"If we ask every single department to cut 10 percent, that's still not enough," said Commissioner Greg Harris.
"I know there are items in there where we could find $500,000," said Barbara Stewart.
Fisher additionally asked the board to consider rolling the millage forward, increasing property taxes to 7.3534 mills.
The millage is currently at 7.1 mills on each $1,000 of appraised value, but Fisher made it clear this would give the board some options.
"We can lower the millage later. This leaves us some room," Fisher said.
Finally, Fisher suggested further workshops on the budget including Aug. 7, 14, 21 and 28.
The board directed Fisher to take the next two weeks and look for areas that need to be eliminated or decreased.
The list included a reduction in the $330,000 funding to the cities for recreation. It also included cuts to industrial development, Nu-Hope Elder Care, Ridge Area Arc, the Highlands County Boys and Girls Club and the three chambers of commerce.
cuts (by: Brian Sullivan - 7/21/2012)
They could keep hammering us with higher fees for everything. How about $500.00 for a garage sale, $1,000.00 for a yard sale, $10,000.00 for a building permit, $20,000.00 for a ride in an ambulance, $2,000.00 for a tag renewal. They could put tolls on some county roads. Charge us to use parks. How about a $500.00 boat ramp fee? Maybe a fee to patch holes in the road in front of our home. This way, they can say that they didn't raise taxes on us in a recession. Kind of like "rolling the millage forward". We are way too stupid to know these are really tax increases. After all, it is an election year.
cuts (by: Judy - 7/20/2012)
Ridge Area Arc has seen enough cuts to their programs and services by the state, they do not need any cuts at the county level.
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