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County taps every channel for citizen budget input

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By MELODY JAMESON

mj@observernews.net

If you’re a South County citizen who’s ever said of a Hillsborough government action “that’s such a waste of money,” listen up.

If you’re one of those who thinks there’s a more efficient way to get a specific county job done, your local bureaucrats want to hear from you.

If you’re a homeowner or a property holder or a business operator and you can identify an area of your government that might increase its revenues without creating full scale revolt, there’s never been a better time to speak up.

County government staff currently is working on the budget for Fiscal Year (FY) 2011. At this point, the shortfall is $55 million. And somehow that radical difference between anticipated income and expected outgo has to be tamed to something resembling a balance.

This is where you, the citizen, come in. For the first time in memory, Hillsborough County administrators are utilizing every conceivable method of communications, including the now-booming social media, to obtain any and all suggestions.

The FY 2010 Hillsborough County budget, under which county government currently is operating, was $110 million short going into that budgeting process, Willie Puz, a county spokesman, noted this week. Supported by funds from a variety of sources including ad valorem (property) taxes, the county’s money plan took a considerable hit from such factors as reduced property taxes, decreasing consumer spending leading to lower sales tax revenues and a deepening recession on all fronts.dollar-balloon

Hillsborough administrators instituted radical measures to deal with the deficit topping $100 million, including deep cuts in personnel, department after department, mandated unpaid furlough days for still-employed staff, plus substantial jumps in fees for services in such areas as the county’s regional parks, Puz said. And, some of the balance was achieved because citizens make it clear what was most important to them, he added.

As an example, Puz cited the barrage of complaints from Hillsborough residents when staff proposed closing some of the county parks in a cost cutting move. Citizens said loudly they preferred paying fees to losing the parks and their recreational features, he added.

This year, administers are hoping for similar and additional citizen input between now and June 3 when the FY 2011 draft budget is to be presented to the board of county commissioners, (BOCC) Puz said. And, to facilitate the efforts, several lines of communication now are open.

Residents can use the BOCC budget hotline, a conventional telephone call to offer their suggestions, by dialing 813-704-0181 or can address budget staff

email through HCbudget@HillsboroughCounty.org. In addition, citizens comfortable with the social media sites can weigh in at www.facebook.com/hillsboroughfl and at http://twitter.com/hillsboroughfl, Puz said. Then, there’s the ongoing blog conversation. This communications channel is reached through http://hillsboroughfl.blogspot.com.

Regardless of the channel chosen, budget staff is interested in citizen comment related to both sides of the balance sheet: any reasonable means of cutting costs and all ideas about adding to the county coffers to fund the necessary expenses.

Following presentation of the draft budget in June, three public hearings are scheduled, Puz added. The sessions are set for July 15, September 15 and September 23, with final budget adoption foreseen at the last September session. While the public hearings all are slated for 6 p.m. in County Center in downtown Tampa, the sessions also can be viewed on government television channels as well as streamed through the budget website.

“The county wants public feedback,” Puz emphasized, “voices are being heard, comments are being read.”

© 2010 Melody Jameson

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