Despite pressing needs and cost unknowns, Port St. Joe commissioners locked in the current millage rate as the rate for the coming fiscal year.
During a regular bi-monthly meeting Tuesday, commissioners voted to keep the millage at 3.5914 mills, the same rate the city has levied for a dozen or more years.
Taxing authorities have until Aug. 1 to submit to the Property Appraiser’s Office a millage rate; that rate is reflected in Truth In Millage (TRIM) notices mailed to property owners.
Once submitted, the rate can come down but it may not go any higher.
In recent years, Port St. Joe commissioners had submitted a rate increase of one mill, just to provide flexibility and breathing room in the case of unforeseen costly expenditures.
Every year by the time they finalized the budget, commissioners returned to 3.5914.
However, as City Manager Jim Anderson noted, this year the city received nearly $90,000 in grant funding from Triumph Gulf Coast specifically to address any ad valorem, or property tax, shortfall.
An increase in the millage rate on TRIM notices, he said, could mean the city would have to pay back the grant dollars, subtracting from any addition in revenue resulting from raising the millage rate.
“Staff’s recommendation would be to keep the same millage rate,” Anderson said. “We think it’s appropriate given what we’ve all been through.”
There are still unknowns, the biggest two tied to insurance.
The city has yet to receive any new rates pertaining to employee health insurance; currently an increase of 3 percent is built into the budget, which would increase the city’s contribution to $747 per month.
A decade ago, the city was contributing $500 per month per employee.
The other unknown is property/liability insurance.
The city is coming off a two-year cycle during which rates were locked; financial officer Mike Lacour said the numbers are currently an unknown and likely to be for much of August.
All full-time employees would see a 3 percent cost of living increase in salary under the current budget and commissioners have established merit and certification raises for three employees.
The current budget also includes funding for a long-sought police officer.
And, Commissioner Scott Hoffman noted, utility rates will again increase for the coming year and garbage bills will climb with the transition to BCC Waste Services, which will take over yard debris pick-up.
“We already go up on water and we are going up on garbage,” Hoffman said. “We should not put more of a burden on taxpayers.”
Commissioners will hold their first public hearings on the budget in September.
Government complex grant
The city is in position to receive $312,000 in grant funds through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity as seed money for a move into a new government complex.
City Hall sustained major damage from Hurricane Michael and the cost of rebuilding, especially given the facility would have to be raised based on new flood zones, is currently prohibitive.
Commissioners have debated at length various proposals to at least bring the Police Department back to the Williams Ave. complex from current quarters at the County Courthouse.
Anderson said the government complex grant money would serve to seed the project, examining various options for putting city services into a single new complex while taking the necessary steps to make the project “shovel-ready” and thus eligible for additional grant funding.
“We have the opportunity to make the change now,” said Commissioner David Ashbrook. “We need a high and dry building.”
Lay down yard
Commissioners were presented with a proposal that would lead to the cleaning, grinding and removal of materials on the acreage off Field of Dreams Blvd. the city is using for a lay down yard.
As of the first of October, the city will be getting out of the yard debris business and therefore has no use for the lay down yard across from North Florida Child Development.
A local company will soon undertake the clearing of storm debris from the St. Joseph Bay Buffer Preserve and has approached the city with a proposal to lease a portion of the Field of Dreams property.
In turn, the company would, at the completion of its contract for the Buffer Preserve, clean, grind and remove the city has placed in the yard.
“This is a great opportunity to have that property cleaned by the end of the year,” said Public Works director John Grantland.