The Board of County Commissioners on Monday looked back in moving forward on next year’s budget.

The Board of County Commissioners on Monday looked back in moving forward on next year’s budget.

During a special meeting, commissioners set a tentative millage rate and took another look at two major issues of prior meetings – pay raises for employees and mandatory garbage pickup.

The BOCC set a tentative millage rate of 6.5608 – excluding fire zone millage – which represents an increase of .8189 compared to the current budget year.

The increase in dollars is nearly $1 million, Commissioner Warren Yeager said.

Commissioners can still bring the millage down; as of today it can not be increased.

A mill equals $1 for every $1,000 in taxable property value.

“We’ve got to decrease this number,” Yeager said of the tentative millage rate. “We are going to decrease that number.”

Yeager again urged commissioners to re-examine mandatory garbage pickup, saying the county could see savings in the hundreds of thousands of dollars in direct and indirect costs.

The move would place more of the burden for the landfill and garbage collection on users instead of property owners, he added.

Commissioners decided last month to effectively postpone a decision until a 2014 fall voter referendum on a sales tax to fund mandatory garbage pickup.

“I agree on this issue,” said Commissioner Joanna Bryan. “(Mandatory garbage collection) would save money and free up our work crews of other important tasks. It all works together. It’s something we definitely need to look at.”

Staff was charged with working on numbers to go out for bid on mandatory garbage to assess the potential impact to the budget.

Yeager said it might not be something that could be put in place for the coming year, but was something the BOCC had to re-examine.

Yeager also resumed an argument for the Tourist Development Council to add a penny to the bed tax – the move would more likely take effect next budget year – to “supplement the sheriff’s budget.”

During Monday’s meeting, commissioners also formally ratified several changes that added $370,000 to the positive side of the ledger.

That included reductions in expenses – such as exiting the courthouse in Wewahitchka for other county facilities – and increases in revenues.

Revenue increases would come by raising the tipping fee at the landfill to $60, increasing fees for “dry” EMS runs and increasing beach driving permits for residents and visitors.

“I think those (total) revenue projections are conservative numbers,” Yeager said.

Commissioners also tapped the reserves in the infrastructure fund by $150,000, dollars related to the erection of the new public works building, which has been largely completed, save deciding how the space would be used.

After adding to the budget, commissioners revisited the issue of employee raises and favored a 3 percent increase across the board for employees.

The price tag would be $207,963.

“These people are going in the hole” with insurance increases and no raises the past five years, Yeager said. “These are tough times but we need to help them keep their heads above water.”

Commissioner Tan Smiley said he did not favor an across-the-board percentage increase, saying that only increased the disparity between the top and bottom of the salary scale.

“They are designed to keep the small guy small,” Smiley said.

Commissioners agreed to set aside the money and have county administrator Don Butler and the Clerk of Courts office iron out specifics for disbursing pay raises – with union approval – fairly across departments and within the offices of constitutional officers.

“We need to make certain we are fair across the board,” Bryan said.

Gulf County Jail

Bryan urged commissioners to examine jail operations and whether there were savings to be had by “farming” out the male population as the jail does females.

All females after first arraignment in Gulf County are transported to Bay County to await further judicial action.

The savings realized approaches $250,000 a year, noted jail administrator Michael Hammond.

Bryan wondered if doing the same with the males might also be a savings and asked Hammond to come up with numbers.

“It benefits Bay County to fill the jail and it would shift the costs and liability out of the county,” Bryan said. “I am all for thinking outside the box. I am not in favor of raising the millage.”

Hammond said when researching costs two years ago, transporting the males, given the larger number, did not work in the county’s favor. He said he would provide the numbers at a future meeting.

BP litigation

Commissioners had individual presentations for the team from Beasley Allen, the law firm representing the county in its claim against BP.

Attorney Ron Jones said the litigation is moving forward and that the firm is seeking to ensure “if there is an avenue of recovery we have it” and that “if there is a solution that is fair and makes sense for Gulf County, without going to trial, that is the No. 1 goal.”

Yeager had expressed frustration that the county was forced to sue while Bay County, the city of Port St. Joe and Panama City Beach, among others, had already accepted settlements.

He said he understood that to date BP’s offers had been insufficient, but “We need to get to a resolution as quickly as possible.”