By BEN GRAFTON
On July 27 the Freeport City Council held the first of its budget workshops to prepare for financing city operations in the coming 2011-2012 fiscal year. The final budget must be complete by Sept. 13.
City Clerk Robin Haynes distributed working copies of financial operations summaries to members of the Council and advised them of the following points:
The tentative ad-valorem tax rate of 4.73 mills will produce the same revenue from this source that has been received this year. Most ad-valorem tax revenue is received during the first four or five months of the year. This should be considered when reviewing cost summaries and projections.
Projections on wages are not yet complete. There was general agreement among Council members that if the city has to lay people off because of budget financial restraints, no pay raises would be given to employees still on the payroll.
Water and sewer operating revenues and expenses should remain at the same level as they are at the present. No budget projections are included for revenue or expenses for the North Bay water main project because field work has not yet started and project completion is not expected before this time in 2012.
Insurance costs will remain about the same but the cost of participating in the state retirement fund will drop to about 5 percent of payroll, down from 11 percent, as the result of new rules requiring employees to contribute to the retirement fund.
Utility costs are up a little bit, but fuels are, “…eating us alive.” This statement prompted a suggestion by Councilman Charlie Simmons that the city reexamine installing its own bulk fuel storage tank. Haynes and Councilman Earl King said this option carries large security problems with it and King stated that one unauthorized incident would take away all of the potential savings. At the present the city has no emergency fuel reserve except for that stored in the fuel tanks of the equipment.
As of this meeting, no new information is available from Walton County about its financial support of Freeport swimming pool and fire department operations in the coming year.
In a general discussion about the Freeport swimming pool, Mayor Mickey Marse said that without county financial support, it will be necessary to revise swimming pool ticket prices. A tentative rate structure proposes a daily ticket price of $2 for Freeport residents and $12-15 for non-residents. King said that given the costs of recreation in the area, there are few things you can take a kid to for less than $10 and a $5 resident and $15 for non-resident price would be competitive with other area recreational facilities.
Turning to fire department operating costs: Haynes said that she and Fire Chief Ben Greenslait have been working on several options to use in the event adequate county financial support is not forthcoming. Marse said that he gave Walton County Commissioner Sara Comander notice in writing in March that without county financial support the city would pull the fire department service area back to the city limits. This action would cause fire insurance rate increases for structures outside the city limits. The city is asking the county to pay for $275,000 of fire department expenses.
A second workshop will be scheduled in the near future.