This year’s budget process was unique for the Board of County Commissioners.
In year’s past, department heads and constitutional officers would submit what amounted to a Christmas list and county commissioners would follow with scythe eliminating expenditures the budget could not absorb.
However, this year, the BOCC, as with the two cities and school district, accepted grant funding from Triumph Gulf Coast to offset any shortfalls in ad valorem taxes.
One of the primary provisions placed o the grant funds by the Triumph board were that millage rates would remain the same.
“The first time we’ve had a fixed millage rate,” said County Administrator Michael Hammond during a special meeting Monday to adopt a tentative millage rate.
“Your commitment when you accepted the Triumph funds is that you would not raise the millage.”
Therefore, with not much in the way of debate, the board approved keeping the millage rate at 7.100, with fire districts each levying an additional half mill.
A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 in assessed taxable property value.
“It is a prudent, no-frills budget,” Hammond told commissioners, adding that new expenses included increases in insurance and an across-the-board 3 percent cost-of-living raise for employees.
There are no newly-created workforce positions in the budget, but there are 12 current vacancies, nine of those at Public Works.
“We are hurting and we are really hurting ourselves, especially in Public Works, without filling these positions,” Hammond said.
However, he added, he was cautious to move ahead for several reasons.
One, he said FEMA still owes the county at least $1 million, there is another $1 million, at least, in insurance deductible it is hoped FEMA will eventually pay and no decision yet on a state grant that would provide $500,000 for a new solid waste transfer station.
“Those,” Hammond said, “keep me up at night.”
In addition, the Triumph Gulf Coast money is non-recurring funding; the county is using roughly half of the $2 million grant it received this year to help balance the budget.
And the county is benefiting for the time being from a grant program from CareerSource Gulf Coast which is paying $15 per hour for 35 employees the county hired since Hurricane Michael and have helped supplement shortages in Public Works.
Hammond said this was the first of what he believed would be “two lean budgets” due the impacts of Hurricane Michael.
The county already saw a 7 percent dip in property values this year.
“I think with growth we should be back to normal in two budget cycles,” Hammond said.
Overall, property taxes fell by more than $800,000, the general fund took a hit of over $735,000, bed taxes are projected to fall 20 percent and EMS is projected to lose $130,000.
The fire control districts will lose a combined $825,000 in revenue.
As for the three Municipal Services Taxing Units for beach restoration, millage rates will fall slightly bayside and gulf-interior while increasing slightly gulf-front due to damages from Michael.
Under the bonding for the MSTU funds, the county must pay $400,000 per year for 10 years.
The restoration project, in the works for over three years, is slated to start next month.