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Yes, Hernando County commissioners. You have a budget problem

Clerk and auditor repeat their concerns that the county has been spending more money than it brings in.

Hernando County Courthouse in Brooksville

JUSTIN TROMBLY | Times


By Barbara Behrendt

Published April 10


BROOKSVILLE — Hernando County commissioners — who’ve said repeatedly over the past year that the county’s financial crunch came as a surprise to them — heard Tuesday from County Clerk Doug Chorvat that the seeds of the problem were visible in previous years’ financial reports.


And auditor Mark White reminded them that he said a year ago they were heading in a bad direction.


At Tuesday’s commission meeting, Chorvat, county finance director Amy Gillis and White, of the county’s auditing company Purvis, Gray and Company, presented the county’s annual financial report. They repeated a message commissioners have heard time and again in recent months, that they have been spending more money than they bring in for some time.


Gillis showed charts indicating the chasm between revenue and expenses, graphically demonstrating the general fund shortfall that county officials describe as between $9 million and $11 million. In the first two quarters of this fiscal year, the county is down $3.6 million from what was budgeted, Gillis said,


and the charts haven’t changed for the past couple of years.


“That gap between revenue and expenses has been there,’’ she said.


Commissioner John Mitten suggested that staffers add quarterly financial updates to commission meeting agendas so they can review them regularly.


“We need to keep it front and center,’’ Mitten said, “until we get out of the woods.’’


Gillis also showed how the county has tried to shore up its general fund. Commissioners transferred $3 million set aside for capital improvements into their spending plan in 2017. And they pulled $2.8 million from the Quality of Life Fund — monies collected from taxpayers to protect environmentally sensitive lands — to shore up their general fund in 2018.


The practice has gone on for years, Chorvat said.


“There have a been a lot of one-time revenues used in the past to patch this,’’ Chorvat told the commission, adding that commissioners must fix this trend.


The auditor’s report also revealed the need to get expenses and revenue in line. And it noted the county’s problems with managing overtime for employees in the public works department, which have been the subject of several union and legal actions. Among them was a payment of nearly $42,000 to Tom Charlow, the husband of county human resources director Cristi Charlow. The auditor said it was a conflict of interest for Cristi Charlow to be involved in her husband’s overtime case.


He has since resigned.


In recent months, commissioners have told acting County Administrator Jeff Rogers to cut expenses. He has laid off employees, cut open positions and asked county employee unions to forego previously-approved pay raises.


On Tuesday, Rogers told commissioners he may ask the local growers association to take over operation of the Little Rock Cannery, a facility that allows community members to come in and preserve food. The Cannery has often been on the budgetary chopping block in recent years and has been closed recently due to staffing issues. The group has great ideas for the facility, Rogers said, and he may bring a contract back to commissioners soon with a new operational plan.


Rogers is hiring a financial consultant to help the county develop a multi-year fiscal plan. He plans to have several workshops over the summer to flesh out the monetary picture for the new year and beyond.


The county staff must present commissioners a balanced budget by mid-July. Constitutional officers, including Sheriff Al Nienhuis, must submit proposed budgets by June 1. The Sheriff’s spending makes up about half of the county’s general fund expenses.


Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434. Follow .

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