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Commissioners take first look at new fiscal year budget

Jul 19th, 2013 | 0

by DOTTY NIST

A preliminary total budget of slightly more than $109 million has been presented to the Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) for the 2013-14 fiscal year.

Gerry Demers, county interim administrator, provided the presentation at a July 11 budget workshop at the Walton County Courthouse in DeFuniak Springs.

As presented, the new fiscal year budget represented approximately a $12.3 million increase over the current year’s budget of approximately $97 million.

Demers was quick to discuss the reasons for the increase. $6.46 million, he explained, was for the county’s payment on the loan that had provided local matching funds for the U.S. 331 bay bridge project. Funds collected from the half-cent sales tax to pay off the loan are expected to equal or exceed the amount of the payment.

Another $2.61 million was accounted for as an increase in the South Walton Tourist Development Council (TDC) budget, in order to provide for construction associated with the pedestrian bridge to be built across Western Lake, and also for bike path maintenance, new responsibilities taken on by the TDC. Like the increase associated with the bridge loan payment, these expenditures will not affect ad valorem taxes, since the TDC budget is funded from tourist bed taxes.

There is also a $0.21 million increase in the budget for the Building Department, where two new positions are proposed to be added to help with increased work load. The positions are to be funded by fees charged by the department for permitting, Demers told the commissioners.

Another part of the increase, $1.68 million, was accounted for as the addition of 10 new positions in the Walton County Sheriff’s Office (WCSO). Six of those positions are school resource officers to serve in the elementary schools. In addition, the WCSO budget calls for the addition of one bailiff, one human resources person, and two sworn officers. According to Maj. Joe Preston of the WCSO, the WCSO has experienced a 23.8 percent increase in calls over the past year.

The remaining $1.34 million of the budget increase, Demers explained, was due to increases in retirement rates, Medicaid increases, and juvenile justice increases.

The new sheriff’s office positions previously mentioned account for the majority of the addition of positions for the 2013-14 fiscal year budget. In addition to those 10 positions, there are to be the two more in the Building Department, and one, the Special Projects Coordinator position, was filled a few months ago. The Walton County Clerk of Courts also plans to add two positions, one internal auditor position and one courts position.

District 3 Commissioner Bill Imfeld asked for details on the funding of the six WCSO resource officer positions. Demers said that the county had budgeted for 50 percent of the cost of the positions, and that the Walton County School District had agreed to pay the other 50 percent. Imfeld asked if the school district would be able to pay 75 percent.

Preston commented that the sheriff’s office had submitted for a grant to partially fund the positions. It was his expectation that the funding would be received and that the county’s contribution would be reduced to less than 50 percent.

Imfeld proposed for the county’s portion to be reduced to 25 percent with the understanding that any grant funds received by the WCSO would be used to reimburse the county. This was agreed to.

An increase reflected in the budget for pension rates for county commissioners was discussed. Demers said these had gone up by 33 percent. Wanda Quimby, county financial officer, commented that much of that increase was due to unfunded actuarial liabilities. These rates went up, Demers noted, not only for commissioners but for positions considered “special risk,” such as firefighters, jail and sheriff’s office personnel.

Imfeld noted that the increase was not a case of the state increasing contributions on behalf of these officers and employees but instead that it represented the state’s unfunded portion of the existing fund balance being made the responsibility of the local government.

District 5 Commissioneer Cindy Meadows commented that, in order to receive anything, the person has to be vested, which takes eight years of service. “We’re basically subsidizing the state’s pension plan,” she stated.

The total increase in pensions across the board was quantified as $1 million.

A $250,000 Medicare increase was required by statute, Demers said. Included in the budget is also a $3,500 increase in funding for indigent burials due to cost having gone up.

Imfeld was in favor of including $160,000 in the budget to help the Walton County Health Department provide health care services in the rural communities of Mossy Head, Paxton and the valley.

The budget showed a 25-percent reduction for discretionary contributions by the county to a number of nonprofit organizations. There have been similar reductions over the past few years with the goal of encouraging these organizations to become self-sufficient. The exception was for the Economic Development Alliance (EDA), which was funded by $137,000 in the current fiscal year and is proposed to be funded by that amount in 2013-14.

Meadows suggested that the EDA should be funded through revenues from the Mossy Head Industrial Park. There was agreement on this possibility once the park is up and running.

The commissioners discussed whether funds going to Freeport for fire protection in unincorporated areas in the vicinity of the city would continue. The BCC had voted to pursue the construction of Walton County Fire Rescue stations on either side of Freeport in order for the county to take over responsibility for these unincorporated areas.

Imfeld was in favor of discontinuing fire protection funding to Freeport ($260,000) and to DeFuniak Springs ($82,279) if the decision was made on July 16, as proposed, to increase the fire assessment rate by $70 in areas served by Walton County Fire Rescue.

A decision not to approve the assessment increase, it was discussed, would remove revenue of approximately $660,000 from the budget….

Read the full story in the July 18, 2013 edition of the Herald Breeze.

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