Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Clay County Budget: 'The Revenue Spigot Has Been Turned Off'

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Clay County Budget: 'The Revenue Spigot Has Been Turned Off'

Article excerpt

Byline: BETH REESE CRAVEY

About this time last July, County Manager Fritz Behring said the struggling economy, dropping revenues and increasing costs were forcing Clay County to become a leaner local government.

"The gravy days are over," he said.

A year later, at a budget committee meeting Monday, he talked about 2009-10 budget preparations in identically gloomy terms. Still no gravy, he said.

County commissioners have three choices: bring in more money by increasing the property tax rate, cut expenses or both. At the committee meeting, three of the five commissioners were present and said they wanted to collect the same amount of property taxes next year as they did this year. No more than that, they said.

The two other commissioners have said the same thing, Behring said, so the cost-cutting that began two years ago when revenues began slipping must continue.

"We can't kick the can down the road like we've been doing," said Commissioner Travis Cummings, chairman of the budget committee. "Clearly we're spending more than we're taking in."

There are no plans to give county employees salary increases next year, said Behring, and the next step is eliminating jobs and/or cutting back or eliminating some county services.

"These are not going to be popular decisions. Nobody is going to be happy," he said. "The revenue spigot has been turned off."

In preliminary discussions with commissioners, Behring has proposed a property tax rate of $7.47 for every $1,000 of assessed value, a slightly higher rate than the current $7. Because of reduced property values, a higher tax rate will be necessary next year to bring in the $67.6 million generated for 2008-09, he said.

The preliminary rate might be reduced, however, because County Property Appraiser Roger Suggs said property values may not have dropped as much as he estimated earlier. …

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