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Citrus Department passes reduced budget

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State citrus commissioners have OK’d a pared-down preliminary budget for the Department of Citrus.

The good news: It includes money for the free orange and grapefruit juice travelers can get at the state’s official welcome centers on Interstates 10, 75 and 95 and U.S. 231.

The bad news: The preliminary budget includes salary reductions of $1.4 million. The department “will go from 46 positions to 26 positions, with six vacant slots eliminated and 14 filled positions eliminated,” spokeswoman Shelley Rossetter said.

The Florida Citrus Commission, which oversees the department, Tuesday approved the $20.7 million spending plan for 2016-17. It’s a 32 percent decrease from the prior budget year.

Normally, the department’s operations are paid for by a tax paid by growers on each box of citrus.

But because the state’s citrus crop is shrinking, so are the department’s finances.

A so-far incurable disease called citrus greening is attacking fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree. Florida’s renowned oranges are most at risk.

The budget also includes $7.65 million in general revenue funds from the State of Florida, according to a press release.

That money “will be used primarily in marketing and public relations while $650,000 goes to New Varieties research,” it said.

Gov. Rick Scott had put restrictions on how that money can be spent. They include having the governor’s office vet any new contracts using state money “to ensure transparency and competitive procurements.”

“By approving a preliminary budget, commissioners authorize staff to begin work immediately on programs for the 2016-17 fiscal year, which begins on July 1,” the release said. “Grower assessments will not be collected until after the rate is set in October.”

Commissioners will set tax rates in October, after the initial USDA citrus crop forecast, it added.

Before joining Florida Politics, journalist and attorney James Rosica was state government reporter for The Tampa Tribune. He attended journalism school in Washington, D.C., working at dailies and weekly papers in Philadelphia after graduation. Rosica joined the Tallahassee Democrat in 1997, later moving to the courts beat, where he reported on the 2000 presidential recount. In 2005, Rosica left journalism to attend law school in Philadelphia, afterwards working part time for a public-interest law firm. Returning to writing, he covered three legislative sessions in Tallahassee for The Associated Press, before joining the Tribune’s re-opened Tallahassee bureau in 2013. He can be reached at jim@floridapolitics.com.

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