(Opinion) – By now it’s no big secret that Hernando County Commissioners have big problems with managing money.
There’s also seems to be a lot of passing the buck going on with regards to who made what mistakes and the trend is still going strong.
In Tuesday’s July 30th meeting, the BOCC voted 3-2 to publicize raising the millage rate from 6.8912 to 7.8912. Commissioners Steve Champion and Wayne Dukes voted no.
Of course they did.
Saying no to a tax increase sounds good to your constituents when you’ve got an election cycle ramping up doesn’t it? Here’s the thing – in Tuesday’s meeting the vote wasn’t for an actual increase. We’ll get back to that one on another day.
About that elephant.
No, not the elephant dressed as a red herring; the real one dressed as an elephant.
It’s a big one too. Big to the tune of being between a $9 million and $11 million general fund shortfall that wasn’t talked about much in Tuesday’s meeting. (Here’s a link to that meeting.)
The elephant didn’t grow overnight.
Back in January 2019, Hernando County administrator, Len Sossaman, was fired from his job after the county commission voted 3-2, with Champion and Dukes voting to not let him go after a seven year run. The reason for his firing was attributed by Commissioner John Mitten as ‘consistent budget challenges.’
“Administrators can make recommendations and they can be turned down. Sometimes they get approved. I don’t take that personally,” Sossaman responded. “You all make the decisions. You were elected by the people, and the people will get what they ask for.” (You can watch the video of that meeting back in January by clicking here.)
Where’s the money?
That’s the same meeting where Commissioner Jeff Holcomb brought up the former budget manager who was fired in April 2018 for a miscalculation that threw a $3 million dollar mistake into the already multi-million dollar unaccounted for deficit saying that day back in 2017 was one of the worst in his life when he learned of the mistake. That mistake accounts for a little over a third of the ‘surprise’ 10 million dollar deficit.
In the same meeting Commissioner Steve Champion admitted that the cause of the budget problems the county could be found by ‘looking in the mirror’ and that the problems were caused by the Commission itself. He then quickly backtracked on what he said and attributed the budget woes to ‘previous’ commissions’ and said the situation had ‘snowballed’ and led them up to that point.
In the April 9 BOCC meeting County Clerk Doug Chorvat told the BOCC that the problems were visible all along in previous years’ financial reports. (Here’s that meeting.) County auditor Mark White was there and also reminded the Commissioners that he told them a year ago they were heading in a bad direction.
In Tuesday’s July 30th meeting Commissioner Champion put another spin on the situation, passing the buck once again, by going after the Sheriff’s office budget as being part of the problem. In case you missed that meeting you can watch it here.
Champion, who is facing backlash for blocking voters on social media if they question him or disagree with him, specifically targeted the Sheriff’s budget in Tuesday’s meeting stating, “Increase in the constitutionals is 7.5 million…. If you said hold the line, you cannot spend any more money, not cut anybody, not do anything, just hold the line, like our administrator is doing…… but the elephant in the room again is … this commission tells these constitutionals what they can spend. There’s 7.5 million more than last year. It is not beyond us to say No; you’re going to get zero. You’re going to get a nothing increase.”
What about growth and public safety?
If Hernando County is adding new homes at the rate of roughly 100 a month and the growth rate is putting pressure on the budget and the county’s ability to provide services to these new residents topped with the fact the BOCC has serious budgeting issues how will this affect public safety?
Perhaps Commissioners Champion and Dukes know there is no way to get around increasing taxes. Maybe they just said no to the tax increase because they knew the other three will put the best interests of the citizens before personal gain and private interests.
It wouldn’t be the first time.