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PSJ commissioners poised to approve final budget

By Tim Croft
The Star

The massaging has been completed and the final product is on the table. 

Port St. Joe commissioners will hold a final budget hearing on the 2020-2021 fiscal year budget 5:01 p.m. ET Tuesday in their meeting room on Garrison Ave. 

The first budget hearing was held last week with the sole public comments revolving around the increase in utility rates. 

Prior to the budget hearing, commissioners had approved ordinances that, per a rate study conducted earlier this year, locked in utility rates for the next decade. 

Utility rates will climb roughly 2 percent per year until 2031 when the rates will be tied to cost of living increases. 

A pair of residents at WindMark Beach complained about the high 

water bills and said they opposed any increases. 

As it would happen, a large part of their problem was that they were unaware that the sprinkler systems in their new homes were tied to the main water line. 

Therefore, they had been running sprinklers daily without realizing that the cost was piling into their water bills. 

In addition to the increase in water bills, residents will also see a 3 percent increase for garbage, an automatic clause in the contract with BCC. 

But, as several commissioners have noted, while utility bills climb the millage rate remains the same it was more than a decade ago. 

The city has levied 3.5914 mills for at least 13 years, said Commissioner Scott Hoffman. 

Through various boards and commissioners, the Commission has maintained the same millage in part due to the lack of flexibility in rising water rates to pay down debt. 

A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 in taxable personal property. 

The budget includes a cost of living salary increase of 3 percent for all employees and there are various merit bonuses for employees who have achieved certain certifications. 

Contributions to the Florida Retirement System increased 1.5 percent and commissioners approved increasing the match for employee health insurance by $42 per month per employee. 

That roughly reflected the 4.92 percent increase in employee health insurance. 

Commissioners are exploring incentives for employees to leave the city’s health plan for another to reduce costs to the city. 

The budget includes two payments from other governmental entities. 

The Port Authority of Port St. Joe has a $190,828 note from the city due in May and the county will make the first annual payment of $408,000 as part of an agreement for the city to sunset the original community redevelopment area. 

Commissioners also created a recreation department, adding a part-time project coordinator and a part-time recreation staffer for a combined $50,000 in salary. 

The city is also projecting $26,000 in revenue from the Frank Pate boat ramp as the city moves to ramp up enforcement of ramp rules pertaining to free usage for locals and a payment system for non-locals. 

The city has purchased new stickers and signs and is examining options for a payment machine at the ramp. 

Other revenue sources include the lease for Capital City Bank to use a portion of city property while building its new facility and payments from BCC for use of the city’s transfer station off Industrial Road. 

The list of capital improvement projects to be undertaken in the upcoming year is lengthy though none are currently in the budget. 

The one that is in the budget is the long-anticipated (no pun intended) Long Ave. project. 

The city forecasts receiving a State Revolving Fund loan/grant package of over $5 million, 80 percent grant ($3.5 million) and 20 percent loan ($1.9 million) for water and sewer line replacement under Long. 

Commissioners, who would also bring in $1 million from the general fund, have sought the water and sewer line replacement prior to repaving the road.