The Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously voted to accept a grant proposal from Triumph Gulf Coast to help defray shortfalls this year in property tax revenue.
The Triumph Gulf Coast will formally take up the $2.7 million grant application, the money to be disbursed among the county, two municipalities and school district, Monday during a meeting in Shalimar.
The board will also consider a staff question that could mean additional funding to address property tax shortfalls.
In addition, as a condition of accepting the Triumph grant, Commissioner Ward McDaniel, chairman of the BOCC budget committee announced the county would not increase the current millage rate of 7.10 for the coming fiscal year.
Earlier this year, the Triumph board earmarked $15 million to assist taxing authorities in Gulf, Franklin, Wakulla and Bay counties with potential property tax shortfalls over the next three years due to the impacts of Hurricane Michael.
Triumph, charged overall with disbursing some $1.5 billion over the next 13 years into eight Northwest Florida counties, established the “Hurricane Michael Disaster Recovery Fund” to provide direct grant funding to assist those four counties most likely to experience storm-related declines in ad valorem revenue.
“We have to give Triumph kudos on this,” said Assistant County Administrator Warren Yeager. “They really stepped up on this.”
Franklin and Wakulla County officials are currently estimating an increase, not a decrease, in property values when tax rolls are certified in July.
Monday, the Triumph board will consider the only two applications to the recovery fund thus far, from Gulf and Bay counties.
Bay County officials have already signed off on a proposal for $6.7 million, with portions going to municipalities: Mexico Beach would receive $325,386.
In Gulf County, the application and subsequent proposal were for $2.7 million.
The BOCC would receive $1.347 million, Gulf District Schools $1.24 million, the city of Port St. Joe $54,780 and the city of Wewahitchka $8,606.
“It will help us all,” Yeager noted, “but particularly the schools.”
Under the most optimistic of projections to date, the Gulf County School Board is staring down an estimated deficit of at least $400,000.
As for the city of Port St. Joe, it is projecting a significant decline in utility revenue, the Triumph dollars will help but are a “drop in the bucket” for the city’s overall financial picture, said City Manager Jim Anderson.
Yeager noted the Triumph board and staff urged a county signatory be on hand Monday to immediately sign the grant documents.
“The indication is they want to get this to us as soon as possible,” Yeager said.
The grant document indicates the money will be disbursed within 30 days, but Yeager said it could be as soon as a week following the finalizing of documents.
And before Monday’s Triumph meeting is over, the county could be in line to receive another $1.6 million.
“We could see these numbers move up a bit,” Yeager said.
The Triumph board initially indicated when setting up the Hurricane Michael Disaster Recovery Fund that it would only fund up to 50 percent of any property tax shortfall in any of the four counties or their municipalities or school districts.
However, with Wakulla and Franklin thus far not indicating they would submit applications, the Triumph board has roughly $5.6 million remaining in the recovery fund.
A proposal to be discussed during Monday’s meeting would be to disburse those remaining funds among Bay and Gulf based on the percentages of available funds already granted.
That would mean an additional $4 million to Bay County and $1.6 million for Gulf County.
The grant requires the county to provide financial records and submit to audits verifying loss of property tax revenue.
The funds are also disbursed based on the understanding that current estimates of property tax shortfalls are just that, estimates.
The fund was established after the Triumph board heard a report from Gulf County Property Appraiser Mitch Burke estimated local property tax loss could reach 40 percent.
Those projections have come down, though the tentative tax roll will not be certified until July.
McDaniel said Tuesday the latest projections were for a drop of 18-20 percent.
And even if the millage was raised to the state-mandated maximum of 10 mills, the county would still lack the resources to fuel full recovery.
“This grant will allow us to maintain our tax base,” Yeager said. “I don’t know what we would have done without this appropriation.”