Enthusiasm was lacking but the Board of County Commissioners approved a millage rate and 2013-14 budget during the first public budget hearing Tuesday night.
After commissioners discussed but failed to act on any substantive changes to the budget – other than approving some department- or agency-centric changes in cash carry forward – they reluctantly approved a budget that will mean an 11.94 increase in the millage rate.
A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 in taxable property value.
The rollback rate, that rate at which the county would bring in the same property tax as the current fiscal year is actually above the current millage rate, due in part to declining property values, so while the millage rate is up, the 11.94 percent does not reflect true increases in revenue.
The overall budget, which includes all sources of revenue including grants, will drop from $32.66 million last year to $30.542.
Total property tax collections in the general fund would be $9.260 million, down from $9.389 million last year.
The proposed aggregate millage, including general fund and fire zones, is 6.8740. The current millage is 6.0553 and the rollback rate is 6.1408.
But commissioners were not satisfied they were able to wring all excess from the budget and with one more budget hearing, 5:01 p.m. ET on Sept. 24, they stated a desire to find more savings.
“We’ve cut to the point that I don’t know if we can cut anymore, but we still have time to reduce it,” said Commissioner Warren Yeager. “I would still like this thing to be closer to where we are at now.”
Commissioner Ward McDaniel suggested, and commissioners heeded, going back and looking line by line at the department and agency budgets.
He said in perusing those lines he found areas of potential savings – increases in spending he questioned – while acknowledging individual savings might not amount to huge sums.
But taken together, McDaniel argued, the budget could be further reduced.
He asked staff to assemble justification for areas where commissioners had questions.
“Just to jump these increases in there without justifying them, I don’t know about that,” McDaniel said. “We have a duty to pinch every penny we can. We are fine-tuning now.”
Commissioners did discuss two issues that loomed over this year’s budget process as the county faced shrinking revenues, but took no action for the coming year.
A proposal to add 5 cents to local gas tax to relieve some of the property tax burden from landfill operational costs was a non-starter, in large measure due to the deadline having passed for implementing the tax for the coming fiscal year.
Yeager said it was the right thing to do and urged his fellow commissioners to keep the issue on the burner for next year, but two commissioners voiced opposition.
Commissioner Carmen McLemore said the price of gas was already too high, that local gas taxes were already lofty and any further addition would be a hardship on citizens.
“I am not in support of it,” Commissioner Joanna Bryan echoed.
Yeager also broached mandatory garbage, saying it was too late to move on the issue and realize savings for next year, but urging that the BOCC at least begin the process, likely lengthy, to institute mandatory pickup.
“We need to start the process,” Yeager said. “We will still be able to vote up or down on mandatory pickup. At the end of the day (mandatory pickup) solves a whole lot of problems. It will also save the taxpayer money.”
McLemore has opposed a move to mandatory pickup and a referendum to implement a sales tax to fund mandatory garbage pickup was pushed to November 2014 due to opposition to mandatory garbage on the board.
However, McDaniel seemed to be backing off his opposition, noting that both cities have mandatory garbage collection and that the move would likely “not hurt anyone.”
“We are going to have to cross the bridge sooner or later and I’d rather it be sooner,” McDaniel said.
County administrator Don Butler was charged with continuing to explore options with both cities and examining whether the county could extend its current contract, which expires early next year, by a few months to coincide with the expiration of Port St. Joe’s contract.
Port St. Joe’s vendor is Waste Pro; the county’s Waste Management; the city of Wewahitchka contracts with Parker Sanitation.
But linking up with the cities, it was suggested, a better overall rate for all county residents could be negotiated.
Wewahitchka health services
Sacred Heart Health Systems has announced that it will open the Wewahitchka Health Department primary care facility Sept. 23.
The facility has been without primary care services since the end of June while the transition to Sacred Heart was unfolding.
The facility will be open 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. CT Monday through Friday, with lab and x-ray services continuing to be provided on Fridays.
There will be an Open House 7:30-8:30 a.m. CT on Sept. 23.