By DOTTY NIST
Operating budgets for Walton County government have followed a downward trend since 2007, and plans are for the county budget for the new fiscal year to follow that trend.
This was evident from discussion at the May 15 Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) budget and capital elements workshop at the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs.
County commissioners have plans to reduce the budget by $2 million for the 2012-13 fiscal year. This is despite the expectation of property values remaining at near the same level as for the current year rather than falling as has been the trend since the mid 2000s.
Property values and the millage rate set by the county determine the amount of ad valorem taxes collected, and ad valorem taxes make up a large part of the revenue that fuels the county budget.
Billy Bearden, Walton County building official, reported that an average of 50 building permits are now being issued per month as compared with the previous level of 18 per month. During 2007 and 2008, Bearden said, 175 to 200 permits were issued per month. Most of the permits now being pulled are for single-family homes, Bearden said.
County Commission Chairman Scott Brannon labeled “very positive” a report from Walton County Property Appraiser Patrick Pilcher that property values are expected to remain at the same level, with a possible increase or decrease of 2 percent. Brannon was cautiously optimistic that a “plateau” had been reached in which economic recovery would be reflected in ad valorem tax revenues.
District 3 Commissioner Larry Jones commented that in recent years the BCC had learned “that we can do more with less.” He said it was his hope that the commissioners would draw upon the lessons learned during those years and, rather than beginning to expand government, continue in their efforts to “run the leanest government we can run.” Jones added that economic growth would enable the county to reduce taxes, fees and other costs currently paid by citizens.
District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander was in agreement, saying that one reason visioning is so important is that it puts planning in place so that the county does not spend on “frivolous” items but on important items that have been prioritized.
For the current fiscal year budget, the commissioners had opted to use $2 million from the solid waste reserves account in order to balance the budget without raising the millage rate. At the May 15 workshop, Walton County Administrator Greg Kisela told the commissioners that, although the county replenishes those funds to the account, members of the Walton County Taxpayers Association had expressed concern about the budget being balanced in this manner.
Moving into the new fiscal year, the county has identified almost $2 million in new revenue or savings. Items on the list range from harvesting timber at the county landfill to increased recycling efforts to more voluntary early retirements, delayed replacement of employees, and not filling some vacant positions. However, depending on the property value numbers to be provided by June, an additional amount may still be required to balance the 2012-13 fiscal year budget.
The county is eying an operating budget of slightly over $91.3 million for the new fiscal year. The gasoline tax, another funding source for the budget, is expected to yield essentially the same amount as for the current year. The local option sales tax that supports the Solid Waste Landfill Fund could go up or down by five percent. In June, there is to be a 4-percent increase in the contract with Waste Management in connection with the landfill.
In late June, following a Florida Supreme Court decision, county employees were required to contribute 3 percent toward their state retirement. Litigation on the question has continued, and there will be a potential a $1 million cost to the county involved, depending on the court decision. On the other hand, a possible increase in retirement rates could mean a positive $1 million for the budget.
Kisela said that yet to be determined is whether it will be possible to give county employees cost-of-living and merit pay increases….
Read the full story in the 5/24/12 edition of the Herald Breeze.