The Board of County Commissioners signaled Monday a desire to cut the millage rate which has been in place the past two years.
During the first meeting on the budget, administrator Michael Hammond presented the initial draft to commissioners, including requests from department heads, constitutional officers and outside agencies.
If all requests were met, the budget would grow by just under $500,000.
Hammond told commissioners that the budget committee would have to find $403,000 to slice out of the document to maintain the current millage.
That was insufficient for commissioners.
They requested that committee and staff dig deeper and seek to cut the budget next presented by nearly $650,000.
“I move staff presents us with a balanced budget with the lowest possible millage rate,” said Commissioner Ward McDaniel. “Take out the bells and whistles.”
The motion was approved unanimously and without much additional comment by the board.
The millage rate is currently 7.2442.
A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 in taxable personal property.
According to Property Appraiser Mitch Burke, the BOCC realized an increase in the tax roll of just under 9 percent as property values climbed a fourth-straight year.
That increase, however, was somewhat balanced by the $115,000 gap between the current year’s estimated property roll and the actual roll, said Clerk of Courts Becky Norris.
“You are starting out with the less than hoped for,” Norris said.
McDaniel said, and commissioners agreed, that the target be 7.10 mills.
The board will meet next week to approve a tentative millage rate by the Aug. 3 deadline for submission to the property appraiser.
Once the tentative rate is set, it can not be raised, only lowered as the board moves through the process of public hearings in September and adoption of a final budget by Oct. 1.
Before considering a millage, commissioners reviewed the proposed budget and heard from constitutional officers.
The major budgets are, of course, the sheriff’s office and public works (up 2.3 percent).
Parks and recreation will also jump 7.5 percent and the county’s commitment to the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency increased 15 percent to just over $193,000.
The sheriff’s office is seeking to upgrade technology and will also be undertaking a move to a new centralized location on State 71 in Port St. Joe.
A significant portion of the increase the sheriff’s budget will be offset by school safety dollars as the number of school resource officers more than doubles.
The offices of tax collector and property appraiser are seeking dollars to upgrade a server the offices share.
But the major increase currently in the budget is an across-the-board 3 percent pay raise for employees.
The proposed budget would also include a new position in planning and zoning and in code enforcement, Hammond said.
In addition, the board’s budgetary responsibilities will transfer from the Clerk of Courts to the BOCC.
Under the proposed budget, funding to outside agencies would remain flat, with no increases, but also no cuts, to the public library, humane society, senior citizens and health department.
McDaniel said the board had done a good job of building reserves since the national economic downturn of the last decade, and now was a good time to lower taxes.
“We don’t want to get way down and have to come back up the next year because people don’t remember the going down,” McDaniel said. “We are trying to find middle ground here.”