Monday’s meeting of the board of Triumph Gulf Coast went about as well as it could have for local taxing authorities.
The Triumph board not only agreed to grant funds applied for to mitigate revenue shortfalls to due to declines in local property taxes, the board also added to those funds as well as putting the finishing touches on two grants for the public schools.
“The meeting went beautifully for the county,” said Assistant County Administrator Warren Yeager. “It is going to help us all when we get to our next budgets.
“I am not worried now.”
Since they garnered the easiest action, let’s start with the school programs.
A $750,000 grant to establish a drone program at the high schools received final approval after the Triumph board agreed to delay by one year the timeline for meeting certification mandates.
The district sought the extension due to the impacts of Hurricane Michael causing a delay on forward momentum.
The Triumph board also approved a $125,000 grant as the district seeks to establish an agricultural sciences program at Wewahitchka Jr./Sr. High School.
But by far the most significant action, certainly the one with the most impact to the county, was the decision to divide a fund earmarked to Hurricane Michael recovery fully between Bay and Gulf counties.
That will mean Gulf County will receive $4.27 million to be divided among the county, municipalities and school district.
The county and school district will receive just over $2 million; the city of Port St. Joe $88,280 and the city of Wewahitchka $13,716.
“This investment can go a long way to help the families of North Florida at a time when they need it the most,” said Triumph board member Jason Shoaf.
“Now, it is incumbent upon the cities and counties to be judicious and responsible in utilizing these funds so they can bring maximum benefit to these devastated communities.”
Yeager said Triumph staff indicated that upon signature of grant papers on Monday, the check should be to the county within a week or so; the grant documents indicated the money would be disbursed to the counties within 30 days.
The school district, in comparison to the county and two cities, will be turning over a new fiscal year the end of next month; the new fiscal year for county and cities begins Oct. 1.
And as it is each year, the final run of the numbers for each district under the Florida Education Finance Plan will be among the last official calculations of the state budget.
Even though the current legislative session ends Friday and the numbers have begun to turn slightly in favor of the county, until those FEFP is approved on the final day little is certain.
And between the loss in property taxes and a drop in enrollment the district was looking at deficits and layoffs.
“The combination of those two would be about $1.5 million and $2 million dollars,” said Superintendent of Schools Jim Norton. “We’re certainly pleased with the Triumph board stepping up with this grant money.
“We are kind of made whole for a year. This is not recurring money, but it gives us life to run the school system next year at the same level as the current year.”
The Board of County Commissioners voted last week to accept the grant proposal from Triumph Gulf Coast.
The Triumph board earmarked $15 million to assist taxing authorities in Gulf, Franklin, Wakulla and Bay counties with potential property tax shortfalls due to the impacts of Hurricane Michael.
The Triumph board initially capped any individual grant award to 50 percent of estimated shortfalls from the four counties.
However, Franklin and Wakulla County officials are currently estimating an increase, not a decrease, in property values when tax rolls are certified.
As such, the Triumph board voted Monday to divide remaining dollars in the fund to the two counties applying, Bay and Gulf.
Bay County officials sought $6.7 million; the county will receive $10.7 million, of which Mexico Beach will receive $523,000.
Gulf County initially sought $2.7 million; the number is now $4.3.
Gulf County Property Appraiser Mitch Burke, for purposes of the Triumph application, forecast property value declines for the county and school district at 20 percent; the city of Port St. Joe was forecast at 10 percent and the city of Wewahitchka less than that.
Burke, however, will not certify a tentative property tax roll until July 1.
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.
And the grant dollars are intended to mitigate shortfalls in property taxes and maintain status quo, including millage rates.
The county has already announced it would not increase the current millage rate of 7.10 for the coming fiscal year.
“We are kind of like a patient that needs time for recovery,” Norton said. “We need time to heal. We did just go through a Cat 5 hurricane, in case that needs to be repeated.
“This (grant) gives us time to heal for recovery and growth.”
Triumph Gulf Coast is legislatively established and mandated to disburse some $1.5 billion in BP fine dollars to eight Northwest Florida counties impacted by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill.