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INVERNESS — Getting a jump on next year’s budget because of a potential shortfall from the county’s biggest taxpayer started in earnest at Tuesday’s county commission meeting.
“It is going to be the biggest issue we face as a community over the next year,” said Commission Chairman Joe Meek, who introduced the opening session to the Citrus County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC). “Today, we’re not going to be making any decisions about what we are going to be cutting or adding in our budget, but we are going to lay out the process that we are going to go over.”
County Administrator Brad Thorpe and Budget Director Cathy Taylor gave an illustrated budget analysis presentation with numbers and graphs to show county spending on maintenance and services.
“The first statement I’d like to make is we have a balanced budget,” Thorpe said. “We already went through a budget process just recently. In the auditorium, we had 500 people show up and talk about it. We went through the budget process and we balanced the budget for this year. I’m using this current budget to outline the model to discuss for next year.”
Once the board has built next year’s budget, it will go “on the road” to residents’ groups so the BOCC would not need to have another event such as the 500 people attending the meeting last year at the county auditorium.
“The final comment I’ll make is: We’re not including Duke Energy’s potential shortfall in this budget when we talk about these numbers,” Thorpe said. “We have not included that in this document, because we don’t know what that will be. It’s a future threat that we’re going to have to deal with. What we’re going to show you is what the balanced budget looks like for this year.”
Upcoming meetings will cover what Thorpe called the seven functions of the budget. The Jan. 22 meeting will cover the functions of human services, economic environment and culture and recreation. The Feb. 12 meeting will cover transportation. The Feb. 26 meeting will focus on physical environment. March 12 will be devoted to public safety and March 26 will look at the budget for General Government.
Thorpe said the BOCC should seek assistance from the firm of Nabors, Giblin and Nickerson to consider revenue options, because expenses cannot be covered by ad valorem taxes alone as property values have declined by 27 percent since 2007. However, the county still had to maintain capital projects “citizen-driven” from inception.
The total budget of $231,773,880 was broken down to show 33 percent goes to the general fund; $98.5 million comes from property taxes; and $36 million goes to constitutional officers. The BOCC ends up with a discretionary fund of $19.9 million for its determinations.
Commissioner Scott Adams questioned the county’s use of consultants.
County Attorney Richard Wesch responded about the role of Nabors, Giblin and Nickerson. It would provide a level of analysis to sustain a legal challenge, Wesch said. This level would be beyond what county staff could provide.
In other business:
* After more than an hour of discussion, the BOCC agreed to send another letter to the Citrus County School Board about concerns some in the community have about impact fees.
* The BOCC agreed to support the applications for three affordable rental housing projects in the county.
Chronicle reporter Chris Van Ormer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 352-564-2916.