Lake County leaders say more budget cuts could be in store

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LAKE COUNTY, Fla. —

Lake County leaders said that because property values still aren't increasing, they are looking at another round of budget cuts.

They said that this time it might be the highest percentage of cuts since the start of the recession in 2008.

Times have been tough for Lake County government for five years straight, and things are shaping up to make it six years.  

Local business owner Ralph Smith has watched the county cut the budget before. He said it's time for everyone to step up.

"I'm a vendor of Lake County. I sell them tires. Ask every vendor you have to give you a 1 percent cut on state bid price, 1 percent.  What would that do?" said Smith.

Since 2008, Lake County government has cut 145 positions and $54 million out of its budget. But this year might feature the steepest cuts yet.

"We know that our cuts will need to be somewhere between 5 and 10 percent.  At this point it's looking like 6 percent, and that's based on certain assumptions about the tax roll," said Lake County Commissioner Leslie Campione.

The number one assumption is that property tax collections will continue to slump because local home values still aren't coming back. That's quite different from some of Lakes County's neighbors.

"Orange County has already flushed this out.  They're back into a recovery mode. Their values are increasing every year. So hopefully, Lake County is going to be there," said Campione.

Smith said he hopes so too, but he says officials might have consider an unpopular option.

"They do have some daunting needs. The question is, 'Are those really needs?'  People will be willing to pay more for taxes when their services are cut," said Smith.

So far, the commission has avoided tax hikes.

County leaders will discuss possible cuts at a budget meeting set for Friday, Feb. 22.

That meeting starts at 9 a.m. at the Lake County Administration Building in Tavares and is open to the public.