By DOTTY NIST
For the new fiscal year, Walton County has approved a budget of slightly over $98 million and a millage rate of 3.5563 for county government operations.
The Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) approved the fiscal year 2010-11 budget and millage rate in two 4-1 votes at the county’s final budget hearing on Sept. 27 at the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs.
The public hearing was well attended, and half a dozen citizens took the chance to address the commissioners prior to the decisions on the budget and millage rate. All attendees were afforded the opportunity to speak, but there was almost no response to comments and little discussion among the commissioners. The meeting lasted less than 30 minutes.
While the budget proposed and approved on Sept. 27 represented a reduction both from that of the current year and from the amount that had tentatively been approved at the July 15 budget workshop, the budget was the same as presented at the county’s first official budget hearing two weeks ago, on Sept. 13. At that time, citizens had called for further spending cuts, and on Sept. 27 they continued to ask for additional reduction of the budget—and for keeping the millage rate the same or lowering it.
One mill equals $1 for each $1,000 in taxable property value.
As has been the case for the past few years, due to a decrease in property values in the county, keeping the millage rate the same for the new fiscal year would have resulted in fewer ad valorem taxes being collected than were collected in the current fiscal year.
Also entering the picture during these recent years of falling property values have been new impacts of the 1995 “Save Our Homes” amendment which have resulted in an increase in taxable values of many homesteaded properties.
In conjunction with his recommendations for the new fiscal year budget and millage rate, Walton County Finance Director William Imfeld displayed a graph showing comparisons of yearly budgets since the 2006-07 fiscal year. The document showed year-by-year reductions in the budget over that time period, from the $137.5 million of fiscal year 2006-07 to the amount proposed for the new fiscal year, $98,041,000.
Imfeld commented that $30.5 million is spent on public safety, including law enforcement, fire rescue, and animal control. He said his office had “tried diligently” to find ways to further reduce costs but had been “stymied.”
Local realtor and county commission candidate David Kramer commented that, in his opinion, Imfeld had “not worked hard enough” to reduce the budget. Kramer pointed out that the proposed budget did not represent nearly as large a reduction as those of recent years.
“It’s just not your money,” he told the commissioners.
Representing the Walton County Tea Party, Bob Sullivan recalled that he had asked the commissioners two weeks ago “to find a way to lower our taxes.” Sullivan told the officials that there is no middle ground, “you’re either conservative or you’re not….”
Read the full story in the September 30, 2010 edition of the Herald Breeze.