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Citrus County to face budget realities

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Financials balanced with reserves, but taxes likely to rise next year

By Chris Van Ormer

County residents can expect to pay more for their government services in the future.

That was the message from Commission Chairman Joe Meek, who spoke Wednesday to the Chronicle’s editorial board.

“We’ve addressed the shortfall for this year,” Meek said, referring to the amount outstanding after Progress Energy/Duke Energy paid only a portion of its tax bill. “The closure of the nuclear plant is being built into next year’s budget.”

The Citrus County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) has conducted budgeting workshops at its meetings. Information is available at www.bocc.citrus.fl.us/managebudget/management_budget.htm.

 “Fitch believes we’ve done a good job,” Meek said about a recent credit ratings report. “We are handling this in a responsible and methodical fashion.”

By law, county budgets must be balanced and can be balanced by the use of reserves, County Attorney Richard Wesch said.

“It is an acceptable budget method,” he said. “That’s why you build reserves during the good times, to mitigate impacts during the bad times.”

Meek said county government was up to about $300,000 in annual savings from staffing cuts and will look to reduce costs further through cutting capital projects.

“We’re facing approximately $14.5 million of reduction,” Meek said. “We’re looking at how our revenue is structured. We have a $231 million budget. Of that, $70 million is ad valorem property tax generated. That is the part where we are short.”

From the $70 million fund, the BOCC must deduct state-mandated expenses, debt service and non-discretionary costs.

“We’re talking about $23 million of discretionary spending that the county has,” Meek said. “That is $14.5 million out of $23 million.”

That cut to discretionary spending would change the face of the county, Meek said.

“We are committed to cutting costs where we can, but the reality is — I do not believe we are going to cut $14.5 million out of the budget,” Meek said.

The county would raise revenue through municipal services taxing units and benefits units, Meek said, and could not be revenue-neutral, although the BOCC would stabilize revenue and drive down the millage rate over time. But it can’t happen overnight, he said.

Contact Chronicle reporter Chris Van Ormer at 352-564-2916 or cvanormer@chronicleonline.com.