By DOTTY NIST
Walton County’s budget for the new fiscal year was finalized on Sept. 24 with no ad valorem tax increase and minimal discussion.
The Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) approved the budget on that date, at the second of two budget hearings for the year, at the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs.
The commissioners voted to set the 2012-13 countywide millage at 3.5563 mills, the same as for the 2011-12 fiscal year, and at 0.4912 mills for the North Walton Mosquito Control District, also the same as for the current fiscal year.
One mill equals one dollar on each $1,000 of taxable property value.
The millage rates set represent a 1.28-percent decrease below the rolled-back rate, the rate that would essentially generate the same ad valorem tax revenue as for the current year.
A total budget of slightly more than $97 million was approved, representing an increase of slightly more than $3.5 million over the total budget for the current fiscal year.
Wanda Quimby, interim finance director for the county, said that while the total amount of the budget did increase, the ad valorem tax portion did not. She noted that much of the increase was in the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) budget.
The TDC budget increased by almost $2.5 million as compared with the current fiscal year. It is funded by bed taxes collected on the rental of short-term accommodations in south Walton County. The use of bed tax revenues is limited by law to purposes that promote tourism.
Only one member of the public came forward to comment on the budget at the Sept. 24 hearing. This was Carla Hunt, a teacher and a member of the Walton County Library Advisory Board.
Hunt objected that the budget for the county’s libraries took the funding for staffing and books back to the 2009 level. She lamented the condition of the books and computers in the public libraries.
“You’re not listening to us at all,” she told the commissioners.
Gerry Demers, interim county administrator, pointed out that the library budget had been increased rather than cut for the new fiscal year. He added that no cuts to library staff or hours of operation were being proposed from the current status and that no library branches were being closed. The library budget was increased by $61,601 for the new fiscal year, putting it at a total of $712,792.
Still concerned, Hunt stated that that budget was still $150,000 less than the library budget for 2009.
“Where do you want your public libraries to be?” she questioned the commissioners.
“It’s painful to have to cut anything;” District 4 Commissioner Sara Comander responded, “but when the money isn’t there…”
Comander added that by law the BCC must prioritize funding for public safety purposes such as fire and police.
“This is the price we pay for the down economy,” she remarked. Comander was hopeful that the economy would pick up in the coming year and that it would be possible to provide more funding for the libraries.
The proposed budget was approved by unanimous vote without further comment.
The budget is available for viewing on the Walton County web site, www.co.walton.fl.us, under the heading “Departments,” by selecting “Finance” and then “Budgets.”