The Brooksville City Council’s special meeting on the budget held on June 22, 2022, was just under 5 hours long and featured some contentious moments between city officials, City Manager Ron Snowberger and Finance Director Autumn Sullivan.
At the end of the meeting, Snowberger and Sullivan were directed to amend the budget proposal using a 5.90 millage rate, and increase salaries by 5%. The date for the next proposed budget hearing was not stated during the meeting.
Also incorporated into the hearing was a 5-0 vote to not move forward with a grant application to fund the Hernando Oaks Water Reclamation project, and end the project altogether.
Snowberger introduced the proposed budget, featuring an increased millage rate of 7.25, which drew negative responses from the council members. The current millage rate is 5.90. The proposed budget also requests increases in staffing and salaries.
During his opening, Snowberger said of the millage rate increase, “That also takes into account providing an increase in the city reserves.” Snowberger, who has been Brooksville’s City Manager for less than a year, said he reviewed video of previous meetings, “There seems to be a culture or historical practice of not putting money in reserves … it led to some anomalies in the city. It led to the city moving to get away from their police department several years ago because they felt like the funding had gotten out of control.”
Snowberger said he supports that move because reserves were very low in 2018 when the Brooksville Police Department (BPD) was disbanded. The city then contracted with the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) to provide law enforcement services. “In addition to that, Council had made repetitive decisions on either keeping the millage rate the same or reducing the millage rate. There seemed to be a culture that reducing the millage rate or keeping it the same was in fact what was best for the city.” Snowberger went on to say that the disbanding of BPD resulted in additional costs to the city with regard to pensions and other costs not mentioned.
“When we say that we want to set the millage rate this time, it’s based on a budget that is very inclusive of things that the city needs. One of the things included is a 5% salary increase for all employees based on the inflationary rate. One of the goals of the city is to have and build a strong workforce … and it also includes a request for 9 additional personnel in understaffed departments.”
Snowberger ended his introduction by advising that maintaining current service levels going forward may cause the city to fall short. He added several examples of costs of infrastructure projects that have since increased substantially since they were approved, but however not begun. “One looming thing is the building of an oxidation tank. It’s been talked about for well over a decade. There was $3 million worth of funding set aside … the cost of a tank at this point is $9 million.” Oxidation tanks are used in the treatment of wastewater.
The written format of the budget submitted to the City Council members has changed. Mayor Pat Brayton and Council Member Betty Erhard expressed their dislike of the new layout, particularly where the transfers from the General Fund to other accounts are concerned. Erhard also said, “My first thought is, ‘Why the change in format …’ Is it just to confuse, deceive, manipulate council by saying it’s transparent?”
Sullivan began by explaining the General Fund Revenue and Expense Summary, showing a $390,302 increase in ad-valorem revenue for the city.
The city will also receive $192,500 in ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funds for Revenue Replacement. Sullivan explained that these funds are accounted for in an “Unearned Revenue” category until the funds are used. It is expected that the written accounting will show a decrease in the ARPA Unearned Revenue category and an increase in the appropriate category where the funds ultimately are applied.
Sullivan explained that the ARPA funds will cover a lot of the costs of the streets department.
The summary of the 2023 budget shows revenue for the city up by 13.26% and expenses (before reserves) increasing by 6.22%. The largest revenue bumps are expected from licenses and permits, up 45.94%, and Jerome Brown Center Revenue up by 45.93%. Revenues from Ad Valorem taxes show an increase of 13.38%.
Streets and drainage saw their expenses decrease by 54.84%, and Buildings and Facilities by 1.37%.
Notable increases were in the budgets for the Brooksville Fire Department (56.03%), Cemetery Division (48.20%), Parks and Recreation (40.96%), and Technology Services (34.94%)
Brooksville Fire Department
Fire Chief Brad Sufficool of the Brooksville Fire Department reported that the largest increase in his department’s expenses is a 5% maximum merit-based salary increase for all personnel, which increased personnel expenses by 7.54%.
Another significant increase for Brooksville Fire is the cost of radio equipment. Sufficool reported that the department has been paying $115 per radio in an agreement with Hernando County. That cost jumps to $533 per radio for the 2023 Fiscal Year (FY). The department has reduced its number of radios, however, the exact number was not stated.
The department has also added an ALS (Advanced Life Support) certification, aimed to attract Emergency Medical Technicians (EMTs) and Paramedics. The new certification will lead to higher salaries. In the past, the salaries remained the same for ALS Certificate holders, causing them to seek employment elsewhere.
Brooksville Fire is currently fully staffed.
Jessica Cole reported not changing too many items in her budget, as she has been in her role for three months. Cole reported her department’s largest capital outlay is a $40,000 vehicle replacement for Code Enforcement.
Cole’s 5-person department will see a 7.24% increase in Personnel expenses in 2023. She also added $300 to the budget for Employee Recognition. She explained, “When we put our people first, they serve our citizens and our internal customers much better.”
Finance Director Autumn Sullivan reported a 3.57% increase in personnel expenses due to the 5% wage increase. Operating costs are expected to go down in this department due to a decrease in conference attendance. The department has two current employees who are Florida Government Finance Officers Association (FGFOA) certified, however, one will attend a conference per year, rather than both.
Human Resources Director Kimberly Price reports that this department’s Front Desk Receptionist will be moved to the Utilities Department budget, as those duties are primarily related to providing customer service to Utilities customers. This move reduces the number of Full-Time Employees (FTE) of Human Resources to 2, lowering personnel expenses by 3.55%.
Price also reports a decrease in the department advertising budget, due to no longer advertising on Indeed.com. A new applicant tracking system which costs about $8,000 per year replaces manual website posting, which can cost $300-$500 per advertisement, which increases with the length of time the ad is run.
Parks and Recreation
Angie Whisnant, Director of Parks and Recreation reported a 53% increase in personnel costs. She is requesting 2.5 more full-time employees, one of which needs to be a supervisor.
Whisnant reported offering positions to two potential candidates for Maintenance Technician who did not accept the positions. “It’s hard to pay folks $12.50 to $13.00 an hour to go into public restrooms and clean up what they find in there, written on the walls, and it’s not spraypaint. If you’re interested in any more detail, we’ve got pictures. You don’t want to see them … it’s hard work.” Toilets and sinks have also been smashed, requiring replacements.
In response to a question from Council member David Bailey, Whisnant stated that she spent approximately $6,000 on high-quality electronic timed locking devices for some of the public restrooms on city property. She couldn’t pinpoint exactly when the vandalism is occurring, but suspected that once the vandals know when the restrooms will automatically lock, they simply prop the door open.
Cameras are expected to be installed in some of the parks, however, they cannot be installed inside the restroom facilities.
Operating expenses for Parks and Recreation are expected to increase by 30.25%, due to engineering service at Tom Varn Park (TVP), and maintenance and service for the coming Splash Pad.
Whisnant reported receiving an email from Daly and Zilch, the constructors of the Splash Pad regarding additional water features. New pricing was given based on a 1000 square foot pad, an increase from the previously discussed 800 square feet. Large dump bucket: $89,500, triple trees: $27,750, Triple bucket; $27,500 and six-bucket: $36,900. The 1,000-square-foot base will cost approximately $77,000.The prices include transportation to the site and plumb the attraction properly.
The increase in splash pad size increases the budget from $400,000 to $478,000.
She will be meeting with the Kiwanis Club and City Manager regarding the changes and cost-sharing potential.
In closing, Whisnant again requested approval of additional personnel. “We’re not asking for new vehicles, we’re not adding any new projects … we need help. We need someone who wants to be in the heat, and who is flexible to go from something that’s on their schedule to something that’s not. It’s a hard job.”
City Manager Ron Snowberger reported that the FY-23 General operating expenses will increase 6.05% after transfers out to accounts labeled, “Energy Savings Loan 6.72%” and “.58% of Fleet FY 2022 Budget of $151,954.” The increase is due in part to a mandatory audit, the City Hall Art Coordinator stipend, insurance increases, and increases in contractual obligations.
Also budgeted is $50,000 for Brooksville Main Street, which will come before the council in a separate vote on July 18, 2022.
Snowberger was also directed by Council to research cost savings if solar power can be implemented.
The 5 members of the City Council will see a 5.32% increase in per diem allowances, conference attendance, and promotional activities. The amount may increase. Mayor Brayton quickly calculated that a conference in the near future will cost at least $1,100 per person, without per diem.
Special Events sponsorship is being considered for reduction. The council did not decide how much to lower the $10,000 proposed sponsorship budget.
Snowberger reports that a 5.01% increase in his offices’ expenditures is due to other contractual services. He seeks $15,000 for initial startup costs to move to digital archiving of official documents.
Information Technology Coordinator Tim Grantham is looking for an IT Support Technician, which will increase his personnel expense by $48,284.24. The addition will increase the Technology Services department to 2. Additional software licenses will be needed as well
The most significant item for this department is the $67,000 capital outlay to upgrade the City Council Chamber with new audio equipment. $17,000 of this goes to Phase II of security camera installation.
The Brooksville Cemetery falls under the City Clerk’s office. Presented by Jennifer Battista, the largest request for this department is for irrigation, parking space improvement, and septic tank and drain field improvements, totaling $148,000.
Battista also reported the request for an Administrative Assistant for a total of $31,101.35, and $20,000 for software upgrades to digitize paper filing systems.
Revenues generated by the cemetery were not included in the budget. Mayor Pat Brayton requested a section on revenues be included when the budget comes back before the council.
Paul Booth, Director of Public Works reported that his Building and Facilities Department will see a 1.37% reduction in costs overall. This is largely due to a reduction in Capital Outlay costs, down 63.44% from the FY-22 budget.
Repair and maintenance services have more than doubled for FY-23, up to $84,448 from $35,000 last year. A significant increase is also seen in operating supplies for building maintenance and repair.
As with many goods, the cost of sports drinks has risen. Booth’s department spent $700 per palette last fiscal year and found that the best price they could find this year is approximately $1,200.
Council Member David Bailey and Booth discussed the prudence of providing the sports drinks, which add sodium and other electrolytes in a flavored solution, as opposed to having the staff drink plain water. Booth said of sports drinks, “I’m personally not a big fan of the sports drinks. Staff does like them. It is important that we provide our staff with those electrolyte supplements when they’re out working in the field. This week, we’ve seen ‘feels like’ temperatures in excess of 110 degrees.”
Booth is also requesting 3 Maintenance Techs and 1 Equipment Operator for a total cost of
Hernando Oaks Water Reclamation Project
In a separate discussion, the council turned to the Hernando Oaks Water Reclamation project, Council Member Blake Bell said, “From the start, the benefit — I don’t think — outweighs the city’s effort to do this, and I don’t always trust an HOA (Homeowners’ Association). If we were flush with cash, and we had this ability and were fully staffed, and we also had a $275,000 benefit a year, that’s one thing. But $25,000 for somewhere in the county, we’re going to benefit a subdivision that doesn’t even want to be annexed into the city of Brooksville. Come get annexed in, then we can talk.”
Bell’s comments then fueled his motion to not move forward with the grant application, or the project. The motion was seconded by Councilmember Betty Erhard and approved 5-0 by a roll-call vote.
The project was to cost the city $272,500 for a grant match of the same amount. The $545,000 project had the potential to net Brooksville $25,000 per year from Hernando Oaks, as well as save the city an additional $25,000 per year when no longer providing water to Cemex.