After securing a 2 percent budget cut from nearly all county departments, county commissioners are looking to adopt the roll-back rate and trim the millage slightly next year.
After a daylong budget workshop July 17 that went so smoothly the commissioners chose to cancel a second day on Friday, it was tentatively decided to go with a millage rate for the next fiscal year of 6.4296 mills, just about four-tenths of 1 mill below the current rate of 6.4706, and a drop of about six-tenths of 1 percent.
The commissioners are able to drop the millage rate for the first time since the 2008-09 fiscal year because, for the first time since the 2007-08 fiscal year, the county’s taxable value for operating purposes has increased.
The county’s tax base rose by a tad more than 1.1 percent this year, from $1.63 billion to $1.65 billion, so that each mill next year will generate $1.65 million, about $18,000 more than one mill generated last year.
If adopted by the commissioners in September, the proposed millage rate will generate about $10.61 million in ad valorem taxes, an increase in property tax proceeds of just $51,225 over the current year’s $10.56 million.
In reading prepared opening remarks, Assistant Finance Officer Erin Griffith said the county commission’s mandate of a 2 percent budget cut to all departments, constitutional and non-governmental requests had decreased the budgets by approximately $212,114.
But, she said, this cost savings had been partially offset by a hike in the retirement contribution rates set by the Florida Legislature, which increased the county budget by $80,712.
The county’s health insurance with Capital Health Plan (CHP) renewed with a 5.5 percent premium hike, which amounted to an increase of $40,950 in the overall price tag of $1.05 million to insure the county’s 162 employees.
Griffith said the CHP monthly premium for individual coverage, which the county pays in full, will rise from about $452 to $477, still well below Blue Cross Blue Shield’s renewal rate one year ago of $621 per month.
“Personally I was very relieved with that (CHP rate increase),” she said.
The increase in retirement and health care costs reduced the net effect of the 2 percent reduction down to $95,213, which, together with the slight increase in tax proceeds, gave the commissioners about $146,000 to work with at this budget workshop, Griffith said.
“This is the best news I’ve had since I’ve been elected, and sitting in this seat I hope the citizens will also be happier with our budget process,” said Commissioner Pinki Jackel. “It’s a better starting point than we’ve had.”
“We’ll do our best, that’s all I can say’
The workshop opened with a presentation by Sheriff Mike Mock, whose $4.5 million budget consumes nearly 43 percent of the total property tax proceeds.
Mock included the cost of inmate medical expenses, and managed to pare his budget down 2 percent before about $18,000 in increased retirement costs were added back. His budget will drop from $4.64 million to $4.57 million.
“Let me remind you that over the past six years our budget has been cut $1 million,” the sheriff told commissioners. “My concern is ‘Where do we stop?’”
He said a drug enforcement grant has been reduced by 45 percent, and that he may have to take additional costs for courthouse security from other areas of the budget.
“It’s budgeted for 2.5 (fulltime employees) for security at courthouse but it’s not uncommon to have to have four,” he said. “I have to pull that from my budget and when I do that, I have to cut from another area to make that work. I don’t know where it stops and that’s my concern.”
Mock said while $90,000 is budgeted for inmate medical, “I think most of you commented that there’s no way to do it at $90,000, but we do it.
“The weekend before we had two medical calls at that jail, and they’re going to run every test available,” he said. “We had one where they were going to call Lifeflight in, at $15,000 to $20,000. If medical says we have to do that, we have to do that.
“We’re trying our best to hold this budgets but it’s going to be very difficult to hold to this 2 percent,” he said.
Pressed by Chairman Cheryl Sanders as to whether Mock would be able to meet his budgetary needs, he replied that “We’ll do our best, that’s all I can say. I have looked at cutting some of the non-sworn officers. My concern is it’s going to be very difficult.”
In the event of cost overruns, “you always come back to the board on that inmate medical,” Sanders told Mock.
“The judge works with us but there’s times that can’t be prevented. Sometimes you can’t prepare for it,” he said. “If that’s the way it is, we’ll have to make it work and we’ll find a way to make it work. We have an obligation to do that, but it will be very difficult. If it continues to go this way I’m going to be left with areas to cut.”
Jackel told Mock that “I hope next year will be better. Things are looking positive, I think of your concerns about the downward trend, but I think we’ve hit the low point. If we just hang in together, I think we can make it over this hump.”
Commissioner Smokey Parrish noted that Mock’s cut was even deeper in that he had found $78,000 in his budget for capital outlay, rather than shift the costs for funding three new patrol cars to the county.
Speaking on behalf of the Concerned Citizens budget watchdog group, Allan Feifer noted that the county is covering the cost of utilities at the jail, which last year totaled $114,000. He also noted that the cost of employee compensation had gone up, although Griffith clarified that this was due to last year’s $1,100 countywide raise being applied again next year.
“This is a workshop for the county commission,” Commissioner Noah Lockley told Feifer. “Ain't no one got time to pick this apart.”
At the tail end of the workshop, Lockley pressed for a decision one way or another as to whether county employees would be getting a raise. “Ain’t nobody told the workers if they’re going to get a raise or not,” he said. “Tell them they’re going to get a raise or tell them they’re not. I’m for giving them one.”
Griffith estimated an across-the-board annual raise of $500 would cost about $100,000. Sanders asked that she come back to the board with specifics at its next meeting.
“That’s what we’ll be able to do if we can do anything,” Sanders said.
Millender, Scott press for raises
The commissioners moved quickly through the constitutional officers, all of whom met the 2 percent cut except for Tax Collector Jimmy Harris, who was not present due to a death in his family.
Griffith said she applied the 2 percent reduction to Harris’ figures, so his budget will go from $553,801 to $553,669 once the retirement cost increases are added in.
Property Appraiser Rhonda Skipper’s budget went from $619,550 to $620,370, due to the retirement rate increase. She shifted about $7,700 in postage costs to the county, and noted that she is looking at additional costs ahead.
“I can manage to do without but we have computers that are outdated,” she said. “Six computers in our office are over six years old, and won’t accept new updates for Windows.”
The budget of Clerk of Courts Marcia Johnson will drop from $318,851 to $315,301 while that of Supervisor of Elections Ida Elliott will rise from $305,284 to $308,462, once the retirement increase is added.
Assistant Supervisor Heather Riley, who was speaking in Elliott’s absence due to her having a medical procedure said because there are no special elections schedules, “we do believe we’ll be able to handle it.”
The budget for the solid waste department is set to drop from $924,165 to $908,368, and includes the $28,000 cost of a previously approved loader.
“I don’t think I can stand anymore,” said Solid Waste Department Head Fonda Davis. “Equipment is getting very old and it’s costing more to repair. Every time you turn around, something’s going to the shop. The track loader is in the shop now, running a $5,000 repair now. In the summer months we work that equipment a lot harder, the knuckle boom is constantly running.
“The compacter is getting old also,” Davis said. “A compactor is going to run $1 million when we get ready to purchase one. We can refurbish it for half of that.”
Lockley said that “we’re going to have to have equipment to work. You can’t run the county without equipment. You keep on playing with it and it’s all going to go on you at one time. That’s what’s going to happen.”
Commissioner William Massey agreed. “We got to start replacing some of it because it’s old, old, old.”
Parrish said that “we're just going to have to try and make it. I’m glad we don’t have to replace that compactor today. That’s a lot of money.”
Jackel urged the county to search for possible grants. “(Assistant County Planner Mark Curenton) needs to scour for money. There’s a lot of green money.”
Jackel also asked that the county consider going to bid for fuel. “I’m not saying we would switch vendors. We certainly could look at the cost of fuel and what that expense is. That’s one of the things I think we need to look at, it doesn’t cost anything to go through the process.”
She said that the local vendor J.V. Gander Distributors, “does not get it locally, he goes to Bainbridge. If he has to go there to get it, any other vendor has to go there to get it.”
The budget for animal control will drop from $148,014 to $145,360, while that of emergency management will rise from $196,286 to $197,208.
The biggest debate over budget came with the parks and recreation budget, but it was not over funding.
Director Nikki Millender’s budget will drop from $518,861 to $510,057, and included within it a $5,000 increase for Millender.
“There’s been an issue that’s been ongoing with my salary for six months. It’s been tossed back and forth,” she said. “In that six-month period you all constantly sit there and give employees raises and I’ve always been thrown off. I feel like I deserve to be treated equal and fair.
“I’m the least amount paid employee there is,” said Millender. “I have more years in than some of your directors making a lot more. I thought this (request) may bring you to look. I make $14,000 to $10,000 less than one of your current directors and I have four to five years more than they do. There’s some point I just ask that it be addressed.”
Parrish said he understood her concern, but “my concern is if every director we got puts a raise in their budget, where does it stop? It just keeps going. To me that needs to come to this board, I don’t think it needs to be done during the budget process.”
Jackel said that when the county’s labor advisor, Lucy Turner, had come to the board, “we discussed your increase and at that time the board was willing to support a $2,500 increase and we asked you at that time did you want to accept it. You at that time said you would wait.
“The board did actually offer you a $2,500 increase at that time, six months or so ago. I understand your frustration, but when you left that $2,500 on the table that kind of surprised me. I agree it is a time to bring it before us at a regular meeting,” Jackel said.
Millender agreed that until the matter was resolved, she would transfer to $5,000 to a youth sports line item.
The budget for the road department, overseen by Howard Nabors, will go from $1/50 million down to $1.46 million, and includes $180,000 for repair and maintenance. “Our equipment is doing good,” Nabors said.
The budget for veterans services, overseen by William Scott, will drop from $79,236 to $77,498.
“My office has been in the courthouse going on 25 years, and ever since you’ve hired Miss (Angie) Deane it’s the cleanest I’ve ever seen it,” Scott began. “The bathroom, I don’t hear the complaints you normally hear. I can’t say enough about the job she’s doing.”
Scott then moved on to the issue of pay in his department. “When we start talking about directors’ pay, I think this department should be considered in there today,” he said. “I don't expect to make what the road department. guy makes, but the veterans service department has one of the highest set of standards. We have to have minimum of two years’ experience and experience in counseling and a certification test. There is yearly mandatory training that we have to go to, twice a year one is for training for the state and the rest is updates. There’s some big changes going on in the VA.”
He noted that his office brings in $6 million a year to the county, half of it tax free. “We’ve put close to $750,000 in Carrabelle citizens’ hands and Lanark Village,” he said. “We do work for Wakulla and Bay (counties). We have some people who can’t get in there. We’ve got an excellent reputation. We do some claims for Leon, and even Washington County, people who’ve lived here before and have kinfolk here, in Texas and Tennessee.
“I want you to bear that in mind when we start equalizing department heads,” Scott said. “The veterans service officer should be right in there.”
Jackel noted that Franklin County is “not required to have a veterans officer but we do that because that’s our commitment to vets. We have consistently done that and kept this office funded.
“It’s a shame they (in Wakulla) don’t see the need to fund their own veterans office. I’m glad we have those services available,” she said. “Almost all our county departments require certifications, we feel like the more training and more certifications the better, and we’re glad to do it.”
The budget for mosquito control will drop from $176,394 to $174,273, while that of the extension service will decline from $71,195 to $69,876.
Newly selected Extension Agent Erik Lovestrand said he was able to save money when he selects a successor to Christy Duncan, who left her post as assistant earlier this year.
“It is basically fortuitous that position was vacant, so we had funds to replace needed equipment,” he said. “We are looking at a new desk for the office over there. We have an old metal desk, some storage shelving, and things stacked in the storage room at the Armory. We’re looking at replacing the computer work station. And we want a couple digital projectors, one that’s portable.”
Jackel asked Lovestrand whether a fulltime program assistant position was necessary.
“This program assistant is absolutely essential for me being to do the job,” he said. “I have a lot on my plate running full speed trying to keep my head above water. This person will be the face of extension at that office, to greet the public and help with logistics for my position.”
Parrish noted that when an attempt was made a few years ago to cut the position of Extension Agent Bill Mahan. “the public outcry was overwhelming. I see that as a service the public truly wants, the public truly needs. They pretty much demanded they wanted an extension office.”
Among other budgets, courthouse maintenance will drop from $263,388 to $258,040, and will provide for eight locations: the main courthouse and annexes in Apalachicola and Carrabelle; the Supervisor of Elections office, the public defenders office, the Chapman auditorium, the old jail storage location and the site of the former Bay City Work Camp.
The building department budget will go from $194,567 to $197,088, planning and zoning from $132,922 down to $130,631, administrative services from $91,794 to $91,749, and the county library from $518,861 to $510,057, of which $221,942 is assumed by the county and the rest by the state.
Stay tuned next week for more on the county budget
What the non-govermentals will get
FRANKLIN COUNTY HUMANE SOCIETY $37,018 $36,278
FRANKLIN COUNTY SENIOR CITIZEN'S COUNCIL $18,043 $17,683
APALACHICOLA SENIOR CITIZEN'S CENTER $18,043 $17,683
MEALS ON WHEELS $16,545 $16,214
CROOMS INC. $10,282 $10,077
FRANKLIN'S PROMISE $9,964 $9,765
CARRABELLE FOOD PANTRY $4,982 $4,883
REFUGE HOUSE $4,557 $4,466