Tax hike possible in St. Lucie County

FORT PIERCE, Fla. - There's nothing glamorous about budget discussions.  Department heads plead their cases with county commissioners, who go line by line looking for cost savings.  Monday was the third day of talks in St. Lucie County.

Even if commissioners approve St. Lucie County Administrator Faye Outlaw's proposed budget for 2012, the county still faces a 21-million dollar budget gap.  So Outlaw is asking for a 7.3% property tax hike this fall.

"It is still with great agony when you start looking at having to recommend a tax increase in this sort of economy knowing that residents have been impacted," said Outlaw.

The tax increase would mean an additional 51 cents per $1,000 of taxable value.

Outlaw has already cut in half the number of county departments, and reduced staff 30-percent in the past four years.  Another 82 county jobs could be phased out in the next three years.

One place where the county is looking to save millions is at the county jail. Right now, the sheriff's office runs the facility but there is talk of privatizing the operation.

It's part of Outlaw's "7-7-7" plan.  7 million dollars in cost savings from the jail, 7 million from additional property tax revenue, and 7 million dollars cut in county operating expenses.  That adds up to 21 million.

St. Lucie County Commissioner Chris Dzadovsky supports the tax hike.

"We have a minimum standard of which we must maintain county services. I think we're there, we have met equilibrium," said Dzadovsky.

Commissioners will decide on the property tax question Wednesday night at 6 p.m. at the commission chambers.

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