Hillsborough budget process analyzed

03/31/09 Mitch E. Perry
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Officials with Hillsborough County announced earlier this month that decreasing property taxes would leave a huge deficit for next fiscal year, possibly more than $100 million. County Administrator Pat Bean said the reduced revenue could lead to 1,000 layoffs in the county, an admission which stunned some Commissioners and led to a heated discussion about how the County Commission ultimately works.

Leading off the discussion was county Budget Director Eric Johnson, who had little positive news to add to the daunting economic figures announced earlier this month.

Johnson said recent figures show it will be years before Hillsborough enjoys 5 percent growth in property tax rolls, and thus short-term solutions are not the answer.

He said the fear is increased inflation. Johnson said the county is now looking at a $110 million reduction in revenue going into next year, which means an 11 percent across-the-board reduction for every department to stay within the budget. But he acknowledged that many areas cannot be cut.

He said avoiding touching the budgets of constitutional offices such as the Sheriff and Supervisor of Elections offices, as well as fire/rescue, the cuts to other departments would be greater.

The proposal, first presented by Norman two years ago, had not been discussed for months, but the Commissioners eagerly discussed the concept again.

But it was a presentation by the county’s Internal Performance Auditor, Jim Barnes, that led to a heated exchange at times. Barnes presented a plan on strategic planning and budget reform. After his lengthy presentation, Commissioner Norman said if Barnes did what he proposed, it would be the equivalent of changing the county’s 24-year-old charter.

But Al Higgenbotham said he completely disagreed.

Later, Norman proposed consolidating the Fire/Rescue department of the county and the city, and put that on the ballot.

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