Hillsborough slogs through budget, capital costs see two-thirds cut

07/13/11 Kate Bradshaw
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Hillsborough County officials are rounding out another tough budget process to plan for the next two years. For the most part the picture isn’t as dire as it has been in recent years, but programs like public art and after school activities still face tough cuts.

Next year’s draft operating budget totals nearly $3 billion – that’s nearly half a billion less than that of last year. County Administrator Mike Merrill said declining property tax revenue is a major factor, which means that some programs are likely to lose out on county dollars.

The Tampa Tribune reported that public art will likely be cut in half this year as well. Merrill said even infrastructure will likely see some tough reductions in the upcoming budget year.

Reductions in the operating budget may loom large, but the county’s capital improvement budget faces a daunting reduction of nearly two-thirds. He said that includes things like roads, stormwater, and government facilities. Merrill said the reason is that in addition to other falling revenue sources, money collected through the Capital Investment Tax has dropped significantly.

Some departments aren’t seeing a major cut in county funds. The public defender’s office, which receives the bulk of its money from the state, is one.

Julianne Holt is public defender of Hillsborough County. She said the state didn’t end up reducing the office’s budget, save for the mandate requiring public employees to pay three percent of their salaries into a retirement fund. On the county side, she said, she’s hoping to even add new language interpreters to meet the needs of a growing number of non-English speakers.

Mike Bridenback is Court Administrator for the 13th judicial circuit in Tampa. He said after a few years of really tough cuts, the county budget is easing up a little.

He said in recent years the department has had to cut a few administration positions and reduce its lengthy technology budget, but key services the county funds at the court remain intact.

Tomorrow, County Administrator Mike Merrill will present a proposed budget to the Board of County Commissioners, each of whom can flag budget items for further discussion. The public can weigh in at a hearing scheduled for July 21.

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