Despite massive deficit Hillsborough County Commission lowers property tax rate listen07/30/09 Seán Kinane
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Despite facing huge budget cuts, the Hillsborough County Commission today voted to slightly reduce the property tax rate. The reduction will lower a typical homeowner’s bill by about twenty-four cents, resulting in a further $100,000 decline in county revenue.
The commissioners approved a combined general revenue operating fund and environmentally sensitive lands debt service tax rate of about $5.80 per $1,000 of a property’s taxable value. Some commissioners labeled the tax rate decrease “symbolic.” Commissioner Jim Norman strongly supports it anyway because it continues a streak of sixteen straight years that the millage has been reduced.
The five commissioners who vocally supported the millage decrease called for the skeptics to get on board. Commissioners Kevin White and Kevin Beckner argued that it would be irresponsible to further reduce revenues while the county is drastically cutting programs, services, and positions. Those two offered a compromise of a smaller millage reduction that would cost the county only $10,000. The other five commissioners rejected that compromise, despite their previous calls for unanimity. Afterward, Beckner did not seem to hold that against them.
Kevin White was the only commissioner to vote against the millage reduction. Despite two days of lobbying against it, Kevin Beckner ended up voting with the five commissioners in support of the tax rate decrease.
In their budget workshop Thursday, Commissioners heard from several county departments about how they would be affected by proposed budget cuts. The county’s extension service works in cooperation with the University of Florida to provide education and agricultural services. Proposed cuts would severely impact the extension service, according to Hillsborough’s administrator for human services, Manus O’Donnell.
Commissioner Rose Ferlita asked for some extension service cuts - such as to an aquaculture lab – to be flagged for future discussion. Calling the extension service important to the county’s agriculture and tourism, others agreed, including Jim Norman.
Hillsborough’s Management Service Administrator, Eric Johnson, says the county’s Information Technology Services is facing cuts, including to personnel.
The county’s libraries are not being spared in the proposed budget. Human services administrator Manus O’Donnell says staff will be cut and hours reduced.
Environmental Protection Commission executive director Rick Garrity expects cuts of $1.4 million next year and an additional $700,000 the following year. A major reorganization of the EPC will result in the elimination of two division directors, Garrity says.
Bob Hunter, executive director of The Planning Commission, says that despite budget reductions the last two years, their proposed budget is reduced by an additional 20%.
The Hillsborough County Commission will review flagged budget items in a workshop next Thursday. The first public hearing on the budget will be September 8.