Walton County budget advertising issue is resolved

By DOTTY NIST

With thanks to Walton County for prompt attention to advertising errors in connection with the county’s 2018-19 budget, the Florida Department of Revenue (DOR) has signaled acceptance of the county ‘s submitted documents for recently-revised and re-advertised millage certification for the budget.

In a Nov. 2 letter from DOR, Walton County was advised of errors in notification advertising associated with its budget adoption that were deemed to be violations of the state Truth in Millage Law (TRIM). TRIM requires that counties advertise their intent to adopt a millage rate and budget in advance of holding their final budget hearing.

The letter was signed by Brandi Bunder, property tax oversight program director for DOR.

The errors were associated with advertising that had been submitted for publication and had been published in advance of the county’s final budget hearing on Sept. 14.

According to the Nov. 2 letter, “Portions of the property tax levy in the Notice of Proposed Tax Increase advertisement (that) section 200.065(3)(a), Florida Statutes, requires were incorrect…”

“The notice understated last year’s actual tax levy. Understatement of the prior year’s tax levy results in an overstatement of the increase in the levy,” the letter continued, also commenting, “The Budget Summary advertisement did not follow the language required in section 200.065(3)(1), Florida Statutes.”

The county budget approved on Sept. 24 was slightly over $183 million, and the approved countywide millage rate 3.6363 mills, the same as for the current fiscal year. Budget approvals included a millage rate of 0.4912 for North Walton Mosquito Control (NWMC) and a budget of $636,948 for NWMC.

The advertising error, if not remedied, would have put at risk revenue sharing and ad valorem revenues from any millage over and above the rolled-back rate that would normally have come to the county. There had been no millage rate increase for the budget approved in September, but the approved millage rate had been 6.45 percent in excess of the rolled-back rate.

As directed by DOR, Walton County proceeded with the recommended remedy for noncompliance in connection with the advertising errors. The county published a corrected final budget hearing advertisement and held a new final budget hearing on Nov. 20 for re-adoption of the same budget as previously approved by resolution.

In DOR’s Nov. 26 letter, a minor violation of Florida Statutes was identified in connection with certifications sent by the county, in that the public hearing to finalize the budget had been held six days after publication of the final budget hearing advertisement rather than “not less than 2 days or more than 5 days” after publication of the advertisement, the time frame set forth by law for the remedial process.

“However, because this infraction does not materially affect the disclosure requirements of the Truth in Millage laws, the Department accepts the certification,” Gunder wrote.

She indicated that, with the Nov. 26 letter, the Walton County Tax Collector was also notified and directed to “disburse all funds held in escrow,” and that the General Tax Administration Program was notified and directed to begin disbursing all revenue sharing funds under the normal process.