The Board of County Commissioners last Thursday began work on the 2014-2015 budget.
County administrator Don Butler brought a series of recommendations from a staff committee reviewing the budget, seeking guidance from commissioners.
Butler said that indications from the Property Appraiser’s office were for property values to move up incrementally this year after seven years of decline.
The increase, Butler said, was estimated to be 2-3 percent, or roughly $190,000-$265,000 in terms of new dollars for commissioners.
The taxable property roll will be submitted to the state by Property Appraiser Mitch Burke early next month.
Butler said the modest increase in revenue would not completely mitigate estimated increases in spending.
Of the proposals brought to commissioners last week from the review committee, implementing business licenses for the unincorporated areas drew by far the most attention.
The license could be free or issued for a nominal fee because the idea was not to generate revenue, Butler said.
The aim was two-fold, he said.
One goal would be for the county to gain a better handle on small businesses operating in the county, for informational purposes and as a way to market small-businesses in the county.
Having such information could also play a role in state or federal economic development programs and funding, Butler said.
“My intention is to do it just so we know what is going on,” said Commissioner Tan Smiley.
Additionally, Butler said, it would provide a front-end process to “indirectly save county time and individuals money” by preventing individuals from starting a business in a structure or location prohibited existing land use regulations or ordinance instead of code enforcement closing a business on the back end.
“We are trying to nip issues in the bud,” Butler said.
But Commissioner Joanna Bryan said she was against business licenses in any form. Favoring less government, she said establishing a business license was an unnecessary expansion of government.
In addition, she said, small businesses may not want to be marketed – it is up to owners – and part of the attraction of Gulf County was less government interference.
“I am not in favor of a business license,” Bryan said. “I think a lot of people move into the county for more freedom than in the city. We can enforce (business requirements) through enforcement of existing rules.”
Commissioner Warren Yeager said the idea for business licensure was not a new one and he had concerns similar to those of Bryan.
“I’ve got mixed emotions,” Yeager said.
He supported moving ahead with the drafting of an ordinance implementing business license (Bryan dissented), saying remained plenty of time for review and input from the public before considering the ordinance.
Outside agency funding
The review committee also recommended reducing or eliminating funding to outside agencies, but the idea had no traction among commissioners.
Those agencies are Gulf County Transportation/ARC, the St. Joseph Bay Humane Society, the Gulf County Library (two branches), Gulf County Senior Citizens and the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce.
“So many of these agencies provide an essential service to the county,” Yeager said. “They save the community money.”
Commissioner Carmen McLemore agreed, particularly about the Humane Society.
“They save the taxpayers a ton of money,” he said.
The $10,000 annual funding to the Chamber of Commerce was eliminated, particularly since the county has completely taken over the economic development element, but commissioners refused to touch the funding to any other agency.
Staff will again go out for proposals from private companies to operate Gulf County EMS.
The BOCC has taken the step before but in years prior all proposals from the private sector were more costly than maintaining EMS in-house.
But the service is a losing proposition for taxpayers, even though annual deficits have been trimmed from more than $1 million by more than half the past few years after several cost-cutting measures, including hiring a private contractor for bill collection.
EMS has a $1.2 million overall budget, with $1,000,050 in salary and benefits alone.
Commissioners charged staff with soliciting proposals to conduct a study necessary to support the implementation of Municipal Benefit Unit to fund mandatory garbage pickup in the county.
An MSBU is based on the cost of a service, the number of properties that would fall under mandatory garbage and the cost of that service allocated to each property.
A study, Butler said, would have to be undertaken to record necessary to make a move to county-wide mandatory garbage lawsuit-proof.
Such a system would single-payer on an annual billing cycle.
The earliest mandatory garbage could be implemented would be October 2015.
The use of a MSBU, which is a non-ad valorem tax, is common for such services as garbage pick-up around Florida.
Commissioners will ask the city of Port St. Joe not to demand of the BOCC the required annual payment to the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency.
Butler said the agency had not requested funding for its first 10 years of existence, the county realizes “little benefit” from the agency and the move would save $134,000.
As Yeager noted, the BOCC has asked the same question before and been rebuffed.
Vendors and leave
The county will seek proposals from vendors for a payroll system for all employees of the BOCC and constitutional officers, a new contract for fuel and diesel, telephone service supporting the existing voice over internet service the county employs and privatizing the administration of the State Housing Initiative Plan (SHIP) program.
Staff will also examine ways to reduce the costs of advertising annual delinquent tax certificates.
County employees will also, as of January, accrue leave on a monthly basis, not annually, in a move that would cut some costs and mirror practices in the private sector.