Hillsborough Commissioners discuss dismal budget scenario

02/11/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Hillsborough County Commissioners began the first of many public workshops they will conduct on their fiscal year ’09 budget today – and the news was sobering.

Kevin Brickey, an economist with the county, said with the housing market continuing to deteriorate, economic forecasts are more difficult than ever before. And he listed statistics on dropping home prices in the area and the state from a variety of sources.

But existing sale have actually gone up in recent months, due to the rock low prices in some sectors of the county, he said. As bad as it is in the Tampa bay area, things aren’t as dire as conditions in South Florida, he added.

Brickey said the Save Our Homes Amendment, coupled with dropping housing prices, is dramatically reducing property tax values in the county.

Throughout the presentation Brickey said most economists don't see the economy turning around until late this year.

But Commissioner Kevin White asked if the economist’s projections were possibly too optimistic?

The County’s Chief economist, Eric Johnson, told Board members that traditionally, the forecasts that his staff makes this early in the year inevitably are corrected later, as tax revenues are captured.

But he says the difference this year is that generally that by the summer, there’s typically more money on the table than predicted. But he says that might not happen this time around.

Johnson said the risk this year in comparison with the past is the number of foreclosures.

A frustrated Jim Norman asked county economists if they could tell him when the government could would start unfreezing the credit markets, saying that is what is needed to correct the ailing economy.

At the end of the County Commission’s meeting last week, Commissioner Norman expressed frustration with a backlog of approved building permits being stalled.

Since then, a local blog commented that Norman and the majority of the board wanted to expedite more housing. But Norman said Wednesday that was not his intention.

Commissioner Al Higgenbotham also denied he had any intention of trying to weaken environmental protections.

County Administration Pat Bean said she will be ready to answer questions about the budget in the future as often as the Board calls for such information.

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