Hillsborough County Hears Mixed News on FY 2011 Budget

02/24/10 Kate Bradshaw
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For local governments, budget season is fast approaching, and Hillsborough County is no exception. At a workshop today the Board of County Commissioners heard from County Economist Kevin Brickey. He told the board that recovery is on the horizon, but it won’t exactly be swift.

He warned of another sharp decline in countywide property tax revenues.

The state’s projected ad valorum decline of 8.5 percent was on the lower end of a range of estimates, one of which he said predicted a 13 percent decrease in ad valorum revenues. Brickey said that this will be slightly offset by the fact that the decline in sales tax revenues will not be as sharp as it has been in recent years.

Brickey said that the county’s general fund will likely see a surplus of $71 million over the next five years. That’s if the county does not move forward on its expansion of the county jail by 2015.

Hillsborough's unincorporated fund, which covers services like police and fire in areas not located within the county’s three cities, is not expected to fare so well. This, the economist said, is due to factors like less Communications Service Tax Revenues and increased Florida Retirement System costs.

With such a cloudy forecast for the coming fiscal year, the county is looking at all its matrix of services, to see where it can make cuts. County Administrator Pat Bean suggested that the Board ask the Citizens Advisory Committee to advise them on what programs could be slashed. The CAC, which consists of appointees chosen by each commissioner, advises the board on a range of issues. The board, Bean said, could use their help on the budget.

The commission agreed with Bean, and voted unanimously to seek their advice. But the County said it also wants to hear from hard-to-reach demographics like residents under thirty. Lori Hudson, the County’s Communications Director, said her department is working on new ways to glean feedback on the county budget, including a Facebook page and a blog.

Hudson added that such outlets would boost transparency and provide a more direct way for residents to get answers from the county, at no cost to the county. Commissioner Mark Sharpe said that such transparency might help restore trust among residents in the way that the county creates its budget.

County Administrator Bean must address the county’s budget shortfalls, and propose spending cuts, by June 3, a week ahead of the board’s first scheduled budget meeting.

Hillsborough residents can comment send feedback on the budget in a variety of ways by going to http://hillsboroughcounty.org/budgetmatters/.

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