Apalachicola plans to lower its millage rate during the upcoming fiscal year, and grant employees up to a 3 percent pay hike.

Apalachicola plans to lower its millage rate during the upcoming fiscal year, and grant employees up to a 3 percent pay hike.

At a Sept 6 budget workshop, City Administrator Betty Webb unveiled the revised budget, which would set the tax rate at 9.0090 mills, a tad below this year’s 9.1735 millage rate and a full half-mill below the rollback rate of 9.5090 mills. The rollback rate would keep ad valorem tax revenues at $1.15 million, roughly equivalent to this year’s tax revenue.

The proposed millage rate will bring in $1.09 million, mainly because the decline in Apalachicola’s tax base, which has been in double digits the past two years, is mild this year, a slide of just $3.4 million, or 2.6 percent, from $130.9 million to $127.5 million.

“How can you go wrong in giving tax breaks?” said Mayor Van Johnson, echoing the positive response of the commission.

Because of the city is carrying forward about $400,000 in the general fund, Apalachicola expects to have a budget cushion during the 2012-13 fiscal year, which they expect will be about $388,000 by Sept. 2013.

Highlights of the new budget include the hiring of librarian Caty Greene as a full-time employee with benefits, at her current pay rate, and the hiring of two Workforce employees into regular fulltime employees in city administration.

“I like what you've done,” said Commissioner Brenda Ash. “Caty does a fantastic job, she really goes beyond the call of duty.”

Ash asked that the proposed 3 percent across-the-board pay hikes feature a mechanism that would base some of the raise on supervisor evaluations.

“I would like to see supervisors in each department evaluate each employee and come up with a percentage for the raise,” she said. “Not everybody produces the same. There are some who are more willing and eager and some that will do just what they need to to get by. Those who have performed accordingly will get that 3 percent.”

Commissioner Jimmy Elliott said “I agree with that wholeheartedly. I want to reiterate that supervisors have a duty and obligation to be fair on that.”

Webb said she would come back to the commissioners during the budget process as to a formula that would ensure a baseline across-the-board raise, and a scale for the merit pay adjustment.

“Employees who do their duty have nothing to worry about,” said Elliott.

“As long as they’re getting something, I’m fine with that,” said Johnson. “I want the cost-of-living adjustment to be the same for everybody. The cost of a loaf of bread is going to cost the chief the same as it’s going to cost me.”

Commissioner Frank Cook backed the pay hikes, but suggested it might be done as bonuses and not permanent pay increases.

“I think one of the reasons we have ended up where we are is employees have worked very hard,” he said. “Bonuses don’t obligate you in the next year to remain at that point. We got to realize that it’s much harder to reduce pay then it is to just not give bonuses.”

Highlighting the budget are an estimated $112,000 increase in water and sewer revenues, from $1.68 million to $1.8 million, as well as $4,000 more to be spent on book acquisition and automation, due to the fact that the interest rate return from the Margaret Key estate bequest has dropped. Another $25,000 in local option gas tax expenditures next year is due to the payments on a new loader bought last year by the city. Also, the city will be spending about $5,000 more in loan payments on its new fire truck, because of a drop in donations received from the fire department auxiliary.

Webb said Police Chief Bobby Varnes was able to spend $28,000 that was sent aside this past year for vehicles on completing renovations of the combined police and fire station.

“Are we really budgeting enough for maintenance here, with as many old buildings as we have?” asked Planning and Zoning Board Chair Tom Daly.

Webb said the city has been able to complete most of the repairs in-house with David Wilson’s inmate crew. She said staffer Wilbur Bellew inspects each structure every quarter.

The first public hearing on the budget is this Tuesday, Sept. 18 at 6 p.m.