By DOTTY NIST
Walton County commissioners have approved a preliminary budget of slightly over $94 million for the new fiscal year, almost a $4 million reduction from the current year budget, and the commissioners also approved a tentative millage rate with no increase.
The approval took place at the July 11 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) budget workshop at the county courthouse in DeFuniak Springs.
County Administrator Greg Kisela, on board just since late June, presented the proposed budget to commissioners and citizens at the well-attended meeting. He explained the reasons for the $4 million shortfall that faced the county as the 2011-12 budget was being prepared–and how it was addressed to balance the budget.
Again as has been the case for a number of years, there had been a decline in the assessed value of properties in the county (4.6 percent), resulting in a reduction in ad valorem tax revenue of $1.8 million at the current year millage rate. There was a $600,000 decline in gas tax revenues as compared with the current year, Kisela reported. Also, an increase in employee health care cost that had been projected at 11 percent turned out to be a 16-17-percent increase, adding approximately an additional $300,000. The source of the remaining $1.3 million of the shortfall was cost-of-living (COLA) and merit pay increases for hourly and salaried employees, who have not received a pay increase in several years and will be impacted by the new state requirement to pay 3 percent toward their retirement plans.
A 2-percent COLA was proposed for hourly employees, along with a merit increase of up to an additional 1 percent. The proposal for salaried employees was a 1-percent COLA and a merit increase of up to 2 percent.
Kisela said $1.2 million would be saved during the new fiscal year as a result of more than 15 early retirements, mainly from public works. The voluntary early retirements of three additional employees, approved as part of a new recently-adopted plan offered to all county employees, had not yet been factored into the budget, he explained.
There were $900,000 in cost reductions as a result of the budget scrub process, Kisela commented. To address the additional $1.9 million in shortfall and balance the budget, the proposal was to transfer that amount from county landfill reserves to public works to fund road work.
Kisela said he did have “angst” about using those reserve funds because doing so would deplete approximately one-third of landfill reserves. He was in favor of identifying measures other than using reserves to balance the budget in the future.
The millage rate proposed along with the budget was 3.5563 mills, the same as the rate for the current fiscal year. One mill equals $1 for each $1,000 in taxable property value.
Kisela said he thought the same level of service to the public would be possible without an increase in the millage rate despite decline in the county’s revenue stream….
Read the full story in the July 14, 2011 edition of the Herald Breeze.