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Hunzeker: Cut $25 million from budget

BRADENTON — The Manatee County administrator told the board of commissioners to expect to see a general government budget of about $25 million less than last year.

At a work session meeting Thursday, County Administrator Ed Hunzeker presented the commissioners with a list of guidelines he will use in drafting the 2009-10 budget and said with the expected revenue shortfall, they will have to make some tough decisions on program cuts.

“It’s going to be much more difficult than even the last two years,” Hunzeker said. “The last two years the cuts were the low hanging fruit.”

He said over the last two years, the county budget was reduced by about $65 million.

“It’s going to be more painful and contentious this year,” Hunzeker said. “Nobody wants their program cut.”

The draft budget will be presented to the commission in June. Public safety services can expect reductions, and the “quality of life,” or health and welfare programs will be subject to the largest trimming, he said.

“The quality of life issues are the things that are going to suffer,” Hunzeker said. “You will need to decide issues such as: Is public service more important than quality of life, or is quality of life more important that social services.”

Commission Chairwoman Gwen Brown said it was a matter of how one defines “quality of life.”

“All those things you mentioned are quality of life,” Brown said.

The administrator said an example would be operating expenses of the county park system.

“When the revenues were greater than the year before the county got involved in the park business,” he said, referring to G.T. Bray park as an example.

Commissioner Joe McClash suggested the county develop its volunteer program to help defray costs at the county parks and preserves.

McClash also said the county needs to look at pay decreases.

Hunzeker said the budget would contain few pay increases and the decreases may be handled with a reduced work week schedule.

Commissioner Carol Whitmore asked Hunzeker to look at raising the employee contribution amount they pay for health care insurance.

Some of the other items in Hunzeker’s list of guidelines included studying alternative fund sources, such as a stormwater fee or business license fees.

There also may be some tax increases to offset new state mandates or to preserve public safety services.