Handed an expanded tax base, Franklin County commissioners plan to lower the millage rate to just a tad above the rollback rate.
By unanimous approval, following a day-and-a-half long budget workshop, county commissioners voted to set the millage rate no higher than 5.9494 mills, about 5 percent below the current millage of 6.2679.
This current millage generated about $11.85 million this fiscal year, and had the county commissioners kept that ad valorem revenue constant – the definition of the rollback rate – they would have set the rate at 5.9040, and raised about $11.99 million.
Instead, they went about $92,000 more than that, still well short of keeping the millage rate unchanged, which would have brought in about $12.73 million, since the tax based grew by about 7.42 percent.
In a series of detailed financial reports by Erin Griffith, the county’s deputy finance clerk, the proposed budget calls for an additional $160,667 in spending to fund a 2 percent cost of living adjustment for all employees.
Health care costs have stabilized, with a modest 4 percent increase in the cost of coverage through Capital Health Plan, an increase of only $58,561 in health care premium costs.
With the exception of Tax Collector Rick Watson, who managed to lower his $620,000 budget by about $2,700, the constitutional officers and department heads managed to keep their budgets at, or just slightly above, last year’s, with most increases due to an increase in retirement costs.
The largest chunk of spending will go to the sheriff’s office, which will rise by about $25,000, from $5.36 million to $5.38 million.
Ginger Coulter, the finance director, said there had been some increase in the cost of inmate meals which were offset. “We cut some areas on the operating side,” I’m taking a chance on that,” she said.
Coulter also unveiled a table of proposed step increases for county law enforcement personnel, which she said Sheriff A.J. Smith was offering for consideration by the commissioners but not factoring in to the new budget.
“It’s not going to happen overnight but we do stand a good chance of losing some employees,” Coulter said. “The sheriff wants to open up some dialogue, to see if it’s something doable.”
She said Capt. David Varnes had researched departments across the state to arrive at the proposal.
Chairman Noah Lockley said the county ought to wait and see what the state does with its pay scales. “Let the state do their thing and not try to jump in,” he said. “I don’t think we want to make a move before the state makes theirs.”
Commissioner Smokey Parrish indicated he was wary of making a sweeping change to law enforcement salaries that would raise costs for years to come.
“If we allow one constitutional officer, why wouldn’t others be afforded the same opportunity?” he said. “You’re talking about 25 years (of increased costs) Ain’t no way the county can fund this particular thing without cutting somewhere else.”
Commissioner Bert Boldt said the sheriff has been careful with his spending, drawing on free or used equipment options. “He is very resourceful, he knows more people than I can imagine,” said Coulter. “He does have a lot of focuses, he is very resourceful and definitely visionary.”
Coulter said the new generator, purchased for about $250,000 is functioning properly, after there were some complaints it took about eight minutes before it kicked in after a lightning strike. “Other than that I have not heard any complaints,” she said.
The commissioners moved quickly through the constitution officers, granting temporary approval on budgets that were nearly the same.
The clerk of courts remained unchanged at about $348,000, and the property appraiser climbed just a whiskey, from $667,000 to $669,000.
But the supervisor of elections went up by about 16 percent, from $350,000 to $408,000. This though was understandable, because next year is of course a presidential election, and so budgeting had to be compared to 2016.
“We’re coming into one of the biggest election cycles,” said Supervisor of Elections Heather Riley.
She said costs have increased for cyber security and costs have decreased for printing ballots directly and for absentee ballots.
Riley said the spring primaries can be expensive as well, since county and state offices are also on the ballots.
She said the office does need more room, and Boldt underscored her point. “You have voting machines inside utility rooms,” he said. “It was crowded and uncomfortable during recounts.”
Landlord Harry Arnold has done repairs to the flooring, but no work has been done yet to the building “as far as stabilizing it,” Riley said.
“It’s still an accident waiting to happen,” said Lockley.
“I think you can lean on your landlord as far as your budget and your safety,” said Boldt.
Commissioner Smokey Parrish noted that compared to four years ago, Riley was asking for $55,000 compared to $87,000.
Riley said she assigned some of the costs to other categories and renegotiated some contracts.
She said in this past election, for which her office received an $11,500 reimbursement from the state, her office was busy.
“We work a lot of overtime,” she said. “We worked 21 days straight without a day off. We put in a lot of extra time; I have to pay them to be there. I don’t put in for raises, but they do get paid overtime because they get so many hours."
The budget for the road department remained unchanged at $1.59 million, as did solid waste, at $1.09 million.
The animal control budget will go up from $160,000 to $172,000, a more than 7 percent increase, and that generated a lot of discussion between the board and Albert Floyd, who oversees the duties under director Fonda Davis.
The budget includes a permanent part-time position, two days a week at $12 per hour, Griffith said.
“Doing patrols, we’re having a hard time having all your bases covered,” said Floyd.
“We’re having a lot of problems in the two cities, two people ain’t going to do,” said Lockley. “They keep their animals in until you knock off.”
Floyd said he and his fellow worker are on call for alternate weekends, and respond when it is an emergency. “Every time somebody call they say it’s an emergency,” he said. “He (Davis) asked for part-time, we need a fulltime.”
Lockley said he would like to see each of the cities contribute to funding the position., which they do not currently do. “That’s our fault,” he said. “We can send them a letter and charge them.”
County Coordinator Michael Morón said the situation may call for a memorandum of understanding. “Maybe there is a monetary value to this support,” he said. “We’ve never actually done anything about it.”
Apalachicola had a man and Carrabelle had them years ago,” said Commissioner William Massey.
“With these cities if we’re going to take care of animal control they have to contribute,” said Lockley. “They put it all on us.”
Parrish suggested the two cities split the cost of the part-time position. “It wouldn’t be that much,” he said.
Griffith said the total cost would be about $10,000, and that Davis is trying to make it work by pooling the job with parks and recreation duties, particularly as part of beach cleanup on St. George Island.
“In Carrabelle, the mayor told officers to start issuing citations,” said Floyd. “They’ll still call us because we know most of the laws. The laws of animal control are different than criminal.”
“All they do is write a ticket, you have to pick them up,” said Lockley. “These animals are getting out of control. They’re running all over town, nobody is catching them.
“Let’s get real,” he said, noting that nobody had come forward to claim owner of a pit bull that was shot by a homeowner in Carrabelle after it had mauled its smaller dog to death.
“It’s all right to have animals, but if you’re going to have an animal you need to do the right thing,” Lockley said.
“These cities have to contribute too,” he said. “The train ride is over. They’ve been riding the train for a long time; they got to buy a ticket.”
STAY TUNED NEXT WEEK FOR MORE ON THE COUNTY BUDGET