BROOKSVILLE — When the Brooksville City Council raised the tax rate for the 2021-22 budget year to 7 mills in a 3-2 split, the three quickly declared it was only tentative.
The vote Aug. 2 came after City Finance Director Autumn Sullivan recommended the council raise the tentative rate from a current millage of 5.9 to 6.5 mills, adding that the municipality could go as high as 10 mills. Sullivan also noted the council would be allowed by law to lower the final tentative millage but not increase it, which could be done at a budget meeting slated for Aug. 10.
The city must submit the final millage rate to Hernando County by the end of September, with Sept. 30 the end of current fiscal year 2020-21. First, the council will hold public hearings on Sept. 8 and 22 on the entire budget.
According to Sullivan, a rate of 6.5 mills would deplete reserves in the city coffers during the next fiscal year from a current estimate of $2.1 million to $1.42 million by Sept. 30, 2022.
Sullivan noted that 1 mill would raise $517,598 in property taxes, and 6.5 mills would produce a total of $3,364,384 in revenue for the city. The proposed budget calls for general fund expenses of $8.4 million and $7.3 million in revenues; the current budget requires $7.3 million.
Mayor Pat Brayton said he preferred a tentative rate of 7.0, but he emphasized, “I feel comfortably we can bring it back down” in the next budget session. He said the proposed budget numbers based on 6.5 mills “scares me” for two reasons: The city faces several projects that need funding, and he would prefer to see the reserves up around $2.5 million to $3 million.
“A lot of things have happened including Tom Varn Stadium,” he said, noting reconstruction of the facility will cost about $350,000. “The 6.5 is not going to cover what we need to do.” Regarding the stadium, he pointed out the city would have to levy more than a half of a mill just to cover that one project.
Councilman Robert Battista stated the council should start high on the tentative millage just in case any unforeseen costs should come up before the final rate is set.
Councilman David Bailey voted with Brayton and Battista, but he stated he was only doing so to have flexibility in setting the final rate in case of something unforeseen coming up. He made it clear he planned to lower the final rate as much as possible.
One of Councilwoman Betty Erhard's campaign promises when she ran for office was safeguarding taxpayer dollars. In voting against the 7.0, she was adamant the 6.5 suggested by Sullivan was preferable, and the city needs to tighten its belt.
“I don't think the taxpayers should be penalized because of years of neglect by the city. That's what it boils down to,” she declared. “It's time to deal with it.” Erhard could not be reached to explain her comments.
Councilman Blake Bell has also promised the voters it is time for “limited government in Brooksville.” He too voted against the 7.0 rate.
In other news
• The council unanimously approved completion of the CIP Road Rehabilitation and Reconstruction project by Goodwin Brothers Construction as the low bidder at $480,417. The work will include complete reconstruction of four segments of the following roads: North Lemon Avenue, North Alabama Avenue, Sharon Street and Shayne Street. Eight sections of roadway will undergo less extensive resurfacing work: E. Early Street, S. Mildred Avenue, Sheriff Mylander Way, Palm Lane, Lamar Avenue, South Bailey Avenue, Shayne Street and Rogers Avenue.
• The council unanimously approved spending $300,000 on the Sewer Rehab Phase IV project, which aims to reduce groundwater infiltrating the system, reducing overflows and backups and fixing defects. Public Works Project Manager Jon Dowler noted the first three phases of the city's ongoing sewer repairs and improvements were already completed over the last 15 years, and it will take up to two years to finish this one. The city received $60,000 from the Florida Legislature to help pay the tab for Phase IV.
• Council members decided to close East Jefferson Street from North Main Street to North Magnolia Avenue for the Sheriff's Safety and Fun Fest from 9 a.m. until 7 p.m. on Oct. 2 in downtown Brooksville. Sponsored by the Hernando County Sheriff's Office and the city, the event will be held from noon until 5 p.m. It will include vendor booths, exhibits and demonstrations, including the sheriff's K-9 program and the narcotics unit to support local businesses and allow residents to interact with first responders “in a stress-free environment.”