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Hernando County budget solutions may include tax increases and pay freezes

BROOKSVILLE — Facing a $10 million budget hole and the possibility of having to borrow money this year, Hernando County commissioners floated cost-saving and money-making ideas at last week’s meeting, getting an early start on their 2020 spending plan.

Tax increases are on the table, however tentatively.

It might be time to ask residents again to raise the sales tax for specific county projects, Commissioner John Allocco said. After several tries, it worked for the school district. And if that doesn’t fly, he said, commissioners should consider a property tax increase.

The .1 mill property tax break commissioners approved two years ago might need to be repealed, said commission Chairman Jeff Holcomb. That small decrease — 10 cents in savings per $1,000 in appraised taxable property value — was offset the same year by a .5 mill property tax increase for fire fees.

Holcomb also suggested the county consider selling 27 vacant properties that it owns. Several larger sites are designated park areas in Spring Hill that the county never developed. Turning those over for home building “probably could be turned into good money,” Holcomb said.

County attorney Garth Coller cautioned that some properties might have restrictions that don’t allow such development.

One of the multi-million-dollar costs the county faces is the need for more office space. Hernando County judges are pushing for more courtrooms, courthouse security and work spaces.

The county had planned to create non-judicial county offices at the Pinebrook Medical Center location it owns on State Road 50, west of the Suncoast Parkway. However, commissioners learned recently that traffic and other construction concerns make that location less desirable than first thought.

Previous coverage: Judge’s letter warns Hernando County it must add judicial space now

Commissioner Steve Champion, who said there is no public appetite for a tax increase, suggested relocating the utilities department and using its building, also on SR 50, to house constitutional officers. That might satisfy the county’s needs without spending as much as $15 million at Pinebrook.

The utilities building isn’t large enough to accommodate everyone, according to acting county administrator Jeff Rogers, but it might help to solve a portion of the problem.

Champion also said that the county’s fire and rescue department should pay back more quickly its 2015 loan from the general fund it took to meet expenses after the commission refused to raise fire fees. Rogers said that is under discussion.

“In the end, nobody likes the ‘t’-word,” Allocco said. “Taxes are taxes.”

But the community cannot become an attractive place for young professionals and families if it cuts desirable county services such as parks and effective law enforcement, he said. And many county expenses are mandatory.

“It doesn’t matter how conservative you are,” Allocco said. “you have to pay for it.”

Previous coverage: Higher property taxes not on the table in Hernando County. Cuts and consolidations are

Champion balked at raising taxes, but Allocco said that this commission must do what is necessary.

“In the end,” he said, “we’re responsible for the time we have here.”

Rogers said he talked with the Teamsters Union that represents county workers about suspending previously-approved pay raises, but the union has not responsed. And he plans to freeze pay for county managers not represented by employee unions.

Rogers also talked with Hernando County Sheriff Al Nienhuis about freezing his spending at this year’s level, he said, but reached no agreement.

The county must consider other expense reductions, Rogers said, and must prioritize services. The county rolled $21.2 million forward to operate county functions at the start of this budget year, he said, but that number will be more like $12 million for the coming year because money is so tight.

Commissioners are expected to discuss budget options at their meeting on Tuesday.

They also expect to talk about an unsolicited bid submitted last month to build the county a new government center and about options for permanently filling the job of county administrator.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at [email protected] or (352) 848-1434.

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Electric companies overspend by billions, driving up utility bills, report finds

Electric utilities across the United States are overspending by billions as they’ve ramped up spending on aging transmission lines and other equipment, recent reviews show, with no competition and no upfront scrutiny in many cases.

That means higher electric bills for customers forced to pay off the costs, critics charge. And lives could be saved, as well as dollars, experts add, if rather than merely replacing hulking, out-of-date equipment, innovative technology was installed in wildfire-prone areas, for instance. 

“Big picture: You can save lots of money potentially by having these technologies included,” said Jon Wellinghoff, former chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. ” And potentially yes … you could save lives.”

An estimated $8 billion in savings in five years could be achieved if just a third of all major transmission projects across the nation were opened up to competition, according to a report by the Brattle Group, a global consulting firm that analyzed FERC and regional data from 2013 through 2017.

Just two percent of all projects went through a competitive process, they found. Projects handled by the large utilities escalated costs by 34 percent on average over original estimates, while winning bids by independent companies, when allowed, averaged 40 percent below estimates. Nearly half of the projects did not undergo public review or planning approvals.

In an interview with USA TODAY, current FERC chairman Neil Chatterjee acknowledged the problem and said fixing it was “a priority” for his agency, among others.

“Competition brings more cost discipline,” said Chatterjee. “It can also lead to more creative financing, promote more technologically advanced solutions and lead to new participants.”

But he added, “It’s a complex system and we don’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater.  We owe it to consumers to think creatively and get it right.”

The report found U.S. transmission investments have stabilized at about $20 billion per year for the last five years, after rising steadily from $2 billion a year in the 1990s. The growth largely occurred not because of the need for vast, new capacity, but to replace aging infrastructure.

That issue has dogged the northern California utility, Pacific Gas and Electric Co., in particular. It faces criminal investigations and lawsuits following a string of wildfires sparked by its equipment. PGE, California’s largest power provider, has filed for bankruptcy protection in the face of billions in potential insurance claims. 

The utility already spent more than $5 billion on “self-approved” capital additions from 2007 to 2017, according to a presentation by a California Public Utilities Commission attorney at a U.S. Department of Energy workshop on transmission issues in November. It is projected to spend $3.2 billion in the next five years on the projects.

“PGE is spending over $2 million/day on these projects,” according to a slide from the presentation. “As the Brattle Study shows, it’s a national problem.”

A PGE spokesperson declined to comment on the reports. A coalition of northern California nonprofit power providers last week told state regulators that in light of PGE’s “deplorable safety record,” the utility should get out of the business of providing electricity at the retail level, and focus on the “wires” side, fixing its transmission lines and poles that have sparked blazes. PGE said in its own brief that it “supports consideration” of the idea, though it would be challenging. Company attorneys noted that unlike municipal utilities, PGE and other investor-owned utilities are allowed to make a “return on equity” profit, which they claim is a strong incentive to boost safety.

More: PGE Files for Bankruptcy

More: PGE Overspends by Millions

Critics say the spiraling costs are rooted in history. For decades, six regional transmission organizations that cover large swaths of the U.S. identified major expansion or replacement projects and then gave the largest nearby utility the “right of first refusal” to take on the job.

In 2011, in the face of mounting criticism, FERC issued Order 1000 to open up the competition and create incentives for innovative, cost-effective projects. The “right of first refusal” was eliminated, but implementation was left in the hands of the regional operators, whom each use different criteria for how the transmission projects will be awarded. In practice, the lion’s share of projects is still being done by the old utilities.

Wellinghoff, who took the lead on Order 1000, said it’s time to toughen up the rule. Wellinghoff, the former FERC chair who now is an energy policy consultant, said not only money but lives could be saved if PGE and the other utilities would plan first for what would be most efficient, up-to-date and reliable, rather than just cutting down trees and replacing aging towers or poles.

Technologies include wrapping lines that are likely to spark in fireproof materials, or installing “smart” wires that can read wind speed, temperatures and humidity to accurately predict the risk of wildfire, and either immediately shut down or reverse power flow.

To fix the problem, the Brattle report makes two other recommendations: consistent project criteria and cost tracking across all regions, and drawing from best practices of the least restrictive regional transmission operators.

“If it works in New York, why wouldn’t it work in California or the rest of the country?” said lead author Johannes Pfeifenberger, a Brattle economist and engineer.

The report, titled “Transmission Solutions: Potential Cost Savings Offered by Competitive Planning Processes,” was presented in November to the National Association of Regulatory Commissioners.

More:Want more energy and climate news? Subscribe to Climate Point

The study was paid for by transmission product companies, and experts said that while it was well done, there are other reasons for large expenses.

“There are some valid points,” said Tyson Slocum, director of the energy program at Public Citizen, a Washington, D.C., consumer advocacy group. But he said “lingering problems” with the Energy Policy Act of 2005 also allow FERC to add “big financial incentives for transmission projects. These … are too generous.” 

Chatterjee said he sees opening up the grid system that keeps the lights on across the U.S. as vital to both reducing security risks and tackling climate change, along with keeping electric bills low. Meanwhile, costs for wind, solar and other renewables could come down even further. 

“I’m very cognizant that the policies that we put in place with regards to transmission today are going to have a huge impact in shaping the grid of tomorrow,” he said. “Getting these systems right is crucial.”

Janet Wilson writes about the environment for The Desert Sun and authors USA TODAY’s Climate Point. She can be reached at janet.wilson@desertsun.com and @janetwilson66. Elizabeth Weise of USA TODAY contributed to this story.

No reservations: Money-saving Valentine’s Day ideas

MINNEAPOLIS — Not everyone has hundreds to spend on a romantic Valentine’s Day with their significant other.

So, KARE 11 Sunrise talked with Terri Peterson Smith, author of “Unique Eats and Eateries of the Twin Cities,” to get some cost-effective Valentine’s Day suggestions.

Create a picnic

“Shops like France 44 have a beautiful selection of wine and cheese (and sandwiches) to create a romantic dinner at home or to take somewhere else,” Smith said. She suggests taking your picnic outside (despite the cold) to a park or the Ice Castles in Excelsior.

Surdyk’s is another option for picnic treats, she said.

Visit a food hall

Midtown Global Market and Keg and Case both have a variety of food options, and may not be as crowded as a traditional restaurant on a busy day like Valentine’s Day.

Try a new brewery or distillery

There’s no shortage of craft breweries, distilleries or cider taprooms in the metro. Visit a new one and maybe play a board game while enjoying a beverage!

RELATED: No Valentine’s Day plans? This is the most popular romance movie in your state

Read a book and grab a bite

If your significant other is a big reader, why not spend Valentine’s Day at a local book shop? You can head to a small business, or a larger store. 

“Wrap up your Valentine’s favorite book and eat at Barnes Noble in Edina in the Galleria,” said Smith. “They have a nice restaurant and a special prix fixe Valentine’s menu.”

Wrap a gift card for future eats

There are a few places that offer “date night” cooking classes, like Cooks of Crocus Hill. Most of them are probably booked for Valentine’s Day this year, but you can buy a gift card for a future class, Smith said. 

Unique Eats and Eateries of the Twin Cities
Unique Eats and Eateries of the Twin Cities

Terri Peterson Smith is the author of “Unique Eats and Eateries of the Twin Cities.” You can learn more about her book here. 

More from KARE 11 Sunrise:

Keep your heart healthy this Valentine’s Day

Women ‘Crushing It’ Wednesday: Lisa Booth

Libraries are not lame: Millennial librarian explains career choice

Ask the expert: Home improvement projects that can save you money on your utility bills

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — With the rising costs of gas, electric and water, it seems a never-ending chore to conserve energy and find ways to save on our utility bills. While there are some solutions that can be easily tackled, there are some that require a significant investment — although the payoff can be substantial.

According to the US Department of Energy, the attic is where most of the heat in your home escapes. That is because heat rises, and most homes do not have enough insulation to keep the heat inside, so it floats out.

Energy Star estimates you can save up to 20 percent on your heating and cooling costs by effectively insulating your home. By adding insulation in your attic, in the exterior walls or in your basement, your energy bills can be reduced significantly. Consult with a professional to identify which areas of your home can benefit from additional insulation.


For more simple projects, check around windows and doors to see if there are any air leaks. Weather stripping is very easy to install and will make a significant difference in keeping drafts at bay.

Start with the perimeter of your home to see if there are any significant gaps at the base of your walls. Check around windows and exterior doors to make sure no heat escapes between the framing and walls.

Old and decayed weather stripping or caulking can create gaps and allow air to flow from the outside in, causing your heat to stay on longer.

Leaks around windows and doors will create the opposite effect during the summer. Hot and humid air that seeps into your cool and comfortable home will keep your air conditioning running longer, whereby increasing your electric consumption.

Seal the leaks with spray foam, caulk or weather stripping. If you have single pane windows, consider replacing them with more efficient double pane windows.


Although it is sometimes concealed, it is a good idea to check for leaks in your ductwork. Twenty to thirty percent of the air that moves through your duct system may be lost due to leaks, holes or a separation in the ductwork.

If you notice that the frigid temperatures are affecting your home’s comfort, don’t wait! Call a professional to assess if your ductwork is intact and if your heating system is operating at its full potential.


It is estimated that you can save about 10 percent of your utility bill just by installing a programmable thermostat. This will provide you with the ease of pre-setting the temperature in your home to a comfortable level, based on the times that you occupy your home, leave your home, go to sleep and wake up.

With the new smart thermostats on the market, controlling your thermostat is easier than ever, but do your research. There are many brands on the market and it is important to find one that works best for your needs. Read consumer reviews and ask a professional before taking on the job by yourself.


For further energy savings, insulate electrical outlets and switches.

This smaller project is one that’s often overlooked because homeowners do not realize that outlets and switches can be sources of air leaks, especially when they are placed on outside walls.

There are specialized outlet and switch plate seals that can be found at your local hardware store, and insulation that is made specifically for electrical outlets and switches. Make sure you find the materials that are right for the task.


If your appliances are more than 20 years old, consider purchasing an energy star rated, refrigerator, dish washer, washing machine, heating or air conditioning system, or water heater. They use a fraction of the energy than non-rated appliances.

When washing clothes, use the cold cycle. Some 90 percent of the energy that your washer uses goes to heat the hot water that goes into the machine. Considering that most families do about 400 loads of laundry per year, switching to cold water can provide a significant savings.


Next, try saving water by turning off the faucet while shaving or brushing your teeth. Consider turning off the shower while soaping up. You may even want to consider waiting to turn on your dishwasher or washing machine until there are full loads.

Some simple water savings tips can save you about 8 gallons of water a day, which translates to over 275 gallons a quarter.

When it comes to water usage, check your faucets, toilets and hoses to ensure there are no drips or leaks. The average American home wastes more than 10,000 gallons of water per year from easy to fix leaks and wasted use of water.

If your faucet is leaking, check to see if you can repair it with a wrench for a quick fix. If not, consider replacing your faucet with a new one or call an experienced and licensed plumber.

To check your toilet for silent leaks, put a few drops of food coloring into your tank and watch for about 10 minutes. If the water in your bowl turns color before flushing, it may be time for a new rubber flapper.


Lastly, if you have not replaced your shower head over the last 10 years, consider doing so. A low-flow shower head which only uses about 1.5 gallons per minute, as opposed to 4-5 gallons of water by older shower heads, offers water saving features without compromising décor or function. This investment can save you almost $100 per year.

When it comes to saving money on your utility bills, identify the items in your home that consume the most energy and water. As with all Home Improvements, if a task seems too big, consult with a licensed and insured professional that can provide you with energy efficienct options.

— David Romano, president, Avid Construction, 718-727-6280, avidc@aol.com.

All our experts are licensed, bonded and insured members of the Home Improvement Contractors of Staten Island (HIC of Staten Island). Homeowners should always consult with licensed professionals, check a contractor’s license through the NYC Department of Consumer Affairs (call 311 for information) and ensure that their project complies with NYC DOB regulations before embarking on any home improvement project. For more information contact us at (718) 356-2323 or visit www.hicofsi.org.

Visit us on Saturday, March 30, and Sunday, March 31, at the 8th Annual Home Remodeling Expo at the Center Court of the Staten Island Mall for assistance with your next home remodeling project.

To ask your home improvement questions contact: questionsfortheexpert@gmail.com.

Change your screen habits from time-wasting to money-saving | News, Sports, Jobs

Like how many text notifications you receive, the number of hours you spend on social networking and how your total usage on any given day stacks up against your average.

The numbers don’t lie, but they can be surprising. If you find yourself wasting too much of your day on your phone or tablet, here are some ideas for how to use your time and devices for something more productive — like saving money.


First, be honest about how many hours you spend staring at a screen.

Mike Johansson, a senior lecturer in communication at Rochester Institute of Technology, has asked his students to keep track of how they spend their time.

“Over time, I had a few students who came back to me and said, ‘I was amazed. I didn’t realize that over the course of a week I was averaging three to four hours on YouTube every day.’ It adds up,” Johansson says.

Once you’ve tracked your habits or checked your phone’s tally of your usage, make some judgment calls about which activities are (or are not) a good use of your time.


If you can’t put down your phone completely, try switching the applications you use most frequently. If you’re going to be on your phone, you might as well make it worthwhile, right?

Instead of opening YouTube, Instagram or Facebook, here are some of the apps and tools that can be a more effective use of your screen time:

— FINANCIAL ACCOUNTS. Download and check the apps for your various financial accounts. “The first app people should sign in to every day is their bank’s app and any credit card apps they use,” Robert P. Finley, a certified financial planner and the principal of Virtue Asset Management in Illinois, said in an email. “First, this process will help them better understand their daily spending, and second, help them keep an eye out for any fraud.”

— BUDGETING APPS. Similarly, budgeting apps like Mint and PocketGuard can assist in keeping your spending in check. Use these regularly to get a better handle on your cash flow and how much money you’re devoting to each category of your budget.

— ORGANIZERS. Organization tools like Evernote and OmniFocus can help, too. Open up these apps to create shopping lists to prevent you from buying extra things you don’t need, or to-do lists to ensure you pay all of your bills on time.

— COUPON FINDERS. Coupon apps, including Coupons.com and CouponCabin , compile coupons for free. Take the time to consult these before shopping to lower the amount of money you’re spending on life’s necessities, such as groceries or household supplies.

— CASH-BACK SITES. Take the extra step to use cash-back websites such as Ebates and BeFrugal to earn money back on purchases you’re already making.

— FREEBIES. Sure, social media is free, but there are other free apps that could be more educational. Libby, for example, is a reading app that uses your library card to access e-books and audiobooks for free.


While these apps are helpful, it can be freeing to cut down your screen time completely. And contradictory as it sounds, your phone can actually help you limit the amount of time you spend on your phone.

Some apps help you stay off your device altogether. Flipd, for example, calls itself a “digital nudge” to discourage phone usage. Download the app to lock yourself out of your downloaded apps for a certain period of time, says Alanna Harvey, co-founder of Flipd.

“Flipd is a productivity and time management app that people use to help motivate themselves to not get distracted by their phones when they should be doing other tasks more mindfully like studying, reading and spending quality time with family and friends,” Harvey says.

If saving money is your goal, you can add financial management to that list of things to do in the real (not virtual) world. If it helps, get off your phone and spend some time with an old-fashioned paper budget, calculator, your credit card statement and checkbook.

And perhaps most importantly, start by changing your mindset. You don’t have to be tethered to your phone.

“Once upon a time, people literally would call your house, and if you weren’t there, they would call back later,” Johansson says.

SAVE NOW: Simple ways to avoid overspending as retirement nears

Empty nesters can track their monthly expenses, including how much they spend on dining out, to ensure they aren’t overspending as they inch closer to retirement.

Analysis | Drug Giants Can Save America Billions. But Will They?

Pharma and its drug-pricing practices have come under fire from critics on the right and left, and from lawmakers on Capitol Hill to Donald Trump’s White House. But amid the political bashing, here’s something that may come as a surprise: The industry managed to save taxpayers some money.

That conclusion comes out of a recent study in Health Affairs from Harvard economist and Obamacare architect David Cutler, which sought to identify the reasons behind a mysterious slowdown in health-care spending among older Americans in recent years. He calculates that Medicare spending per beneficiary grew by 3.8 percent annually between 1992 and 2004 on an inflated-adjusted basis; since 2005, though, the growth rate has slowed to just 1.1 percent. In 2012 alone, spending was nearly $3,000 lower than expected.

Cutler and his co-authors found that half of the total slowdown came from reduced spending on treatments for cardiovascular events like heart attacks and related conditions. Half of that effect was attributed to greater use of some of pharma’s best-sellers: medicines targeting risk factors such as high blood pressure and elevated cholesterol, as well as chronic conditions like diabetes, which have proven effective. That was helped along by Medicare Part D in 2006, which lowered drug costs for seniors.

This a huge deal in health policy. The idea that preventative care should push future spending down seems perfectly obvious. But it’s has been difficult to actually prove it. It is also a win for drugmakers. Pharma firms love to argue that their medicines can save money in the long run when justifying pricing and pushing for broad access.

There’s potential for even greater savings going forward. More people have been on preventative medicines for longer since this data was collected. A number of important cardiovascular drugs have gone generic, which has further expanded access and affordability. Important new medicines have been developed as well. 

This being pharma, there are caveats to this good-news story line. If the industry wants to tout cost saving talking points and have a sustained positive impact on spending, it needs to change some troubling trends. Drugmakers’ aggressive pricing, for instance, has led insurers to throw up barriers to impactful new drugs and made it hard for patients to consistently afford even older medicines. 

Another potentially worrisome development is pharma’s move away from the sorts of relatively low-cost and widely used medicines that delivered these cost savings and toward expensive drugs designed for small populations. Such medicines are often easier to develop and face a lower regulatory bar. They command premium prices, face less competition and insurer resistance, and require less marketing. Sanofi announced exactly such an RD pivot last week, and it’s not alone. AstraZeneca PLC’s better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings results Thursday and its long-sought return to sales growth come on the back of a shift to cancer medicines.  

Cutler’s research is a powerful reminder of how important drug innovation will be as the population continues to age. But it’s also an argument for finding ways to nudge pharma to more consistently emphasize volume over price, and prevention and primary care over narrow markets and pricing power.  

To contact the author of this story: Max Nisen at mnisen@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Beth Williams at bewilliams@bloomberg.net

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Max Nisen is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering biotech, pharma and health care. He previously wrote about management and corporate strategy for Quartz and Business Insider.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

Ken Morris: Your tax refund provides a great opportunity. Don’t blow it.

I feel pretty strongly that a significant number of taxpayers will be pleasantly surprised to learn they’ll be receiving a substantial federal tax refund for tax year 2018.

This is the first tax-filing period where households will reap the benefits of the reduced income tax rates that went into effect on January 2018.

Based on 2017 tax data and factoring in the new tax brackets for 2018, I estimate that the average refund per household will be in the neighborhood of $3,000.

In addition to lower tax rates, the tax preparation process has been simplified for many families. An increased number of tax filers- those who don’t have a lengthy list of deductions- no longer need to itemize. Instead, they can simply use the new, increased standard deductions.

The new amounts are $12,000 for individuals and $24,000 for married people filing jointly. The bottom line is that many middle income Americans will get to keep more of their own hard earned money. And the question is, “What will they do with it?”

Businesses throughout the country know this is the time of year when households begin receiving tax refunds and when many firms hand out bonuses. No wonder you see so many newspaper and television ads trying to entice you to spend your newfound money on their products and services.

Before you get too excited and start doing just that, I’d like to suggest some other ways. They’re not exactly ideas you’ll want to frame and hang on the wall, nor will they provide the thrill of a lifetime. But in the long run, they just might make your life a bit easier.

First you should take a look at your debts. If you can reduce or eliminate those credit card balances, do it. And continue the process by not running up more debt. If you can do that, maybe next year you can actually put your refund into something more exciting.

With high interest rate credit cards out of the way, I suggest you next whittle away at any student loan debt you might have. I personally know many people with massive student loan balances.

Third, you should establish or add to a liquid emergency fund. We’ve recently experienced two events that demonstrate the importance of having one. The partial government shutdown and the reduction in the workforce at GM are grim reminders that bills don’t stop coming when you’re out of work.

Once you get past the debt reduction and cash building, there are plenty of other things you can do. A household with children, for example, should consider putting money into a 529 College Savings Plan. The new tax law has expanded the use of a 529 far beyond traditional college.

Beyond your children’s education there are plenty of other ways to put your refund to good use. If eligible, open up a Health Savings Account, contribute the maximum allowed to your IRA and investigate some of the other retirement programs that are out there.

Paying down debt or saving your refund is not as exciting as a family vacation or a new toy, but the reduction of financial stress combined with improved money management can go a long ways toward a comfortable, confident life. And thinking long term is always a good idea.


E-mail your questions to kenmorris@lifetimeplanning.com. Ken is a Registered Representative of LPL Financial. Ken is Vice-President of the Society for Lifetime Planning. All opinions expressed are those of Ken Morris. LPL and Society for Lifetime Planning are independent companies. Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.