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Lee leaders whittle down county budget

LEESBURG -- Lee County officials whittled away at budget requests for the county's Public Works and Recreation departments Thursday afternoon, scrutinizing every possible dollar in advance of Wednesday's hearing with Sheriff Reggie Rachals.

Rachals has asked for an additional $1.5 million to shore up his department and to make improvements at the county's jail facilities.

"Our biggest concern in this process is finding enough money to meet the needs of our public safety departments," County Commission Chairman Ed Duffy said during Thursday's deliberations. "Public safety is our No. 1 concern in Lee County, and it's pretty clear that the bulk of the money from the cuts we're making to the budget will be directed toward public safety."

The commission's Budget Committee trimmed more than $5,000 off interim Public Works Director Mike Sistrunk's requests for that department and animal control, which falls under Public Works' jurisdiction. Committee Chair Bill Williams said every dollar counts in a tight budget.

"We went into the process knowing we had to cut $3.6 million from budget requests to balance the budget without raising taxes," Williams said. "Right now, I'd say everything's going according to plan. We have a way to balance the budget, but it's going to be a matter of our budget heads cooperating."

In addition to cuts made to Public Works' budget requests, Williams also said he'd written a price increase into fees at the county's landfill. The projected increase would be from 2 1/2 cents per pound to 3 cents per pound.

"We haven't made any changes in those fees since 2006," Williams said. "It's a very small increase, but it could have an impact on our bottom line."

Williams said projected landfill fees would go up from $94,800 to $118,500 with the increase.

Sistrunk also reported an expected finish date for the county's animal shelter, which is being built with special-purpose local-option sales tax funds and donations -- around $150,000 of which have come from orthopedist Dr. Phillip Hajek's Fifth Friday Foundation. He said the facility is expected to open June 17.

Sistrunk also said protective fencing would be needed around the facilty, and County Administrator Alan Ours suggested using part of the $5,000 that had been donated to the project in recent weeks and taking the balance of the cost from contingency funds.

Sistrunk said the lowest bid he'd gotten on the fencing, which he said the Department of Agriculture requires, is $12,700.