By DOTTY NIST
DEFUNIAK SPRINGS, FL – A final Walton County budget of $138,336,764 has been approved for the 2016-2017 fiscal year, along with a final millage rate of 3.6363 mills, the same rate as for the current fiscal year.
One mill equals $1 on each $1,000 of taxable property value.
The budget and millage rate were approved at the final Walton County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) budget hearing on Sept. 26 at the Walton County Courthouse.
At the hearing, Melissa Thomason, Walton County finance manager, reported no changes to the budget since the first budget hearing on Sept. 12 at which the preliminary budget and millage rate were approved.
Addressing $131,000 that had been added to the Walton County Tourist Development Council (TDC) budget by BCC direction at the Sept. 12 hearing, Thomason said discussion was still underway between TDC leadership and the Office of the County Attorney as to whether the TDC would be able to furnish this funding. Its purpose is to provide for a county partnership with the state Department of Transportation (DOT) for an increased level of maintenance of the medians and rights of way on both sides of U.S. 98 beginning in the spring of 2017. The addition had come at the request of the Scenic Corridor Foundation.
For the funding to proceed would require it coming before the BCC for a legislative finding at a later date, after which it would move through the county’s purchase process, Thomason explained.
Two attendees addressed the commissioners at the hearing.
The first of those, Mike Bourque, said he had recently moved to DeFuniak Springs from Louisiana. Bourque said he is on a fixed income and expressed dismay, saying, “Every time I turn around someone wants to raise taxes.” He told the commissioners that after nine years of retirement he thinks he will be forced to go back to work because of these increases.
BCC Chair Sara Comander assured him that, if so, this was not because of any action of the county commission.
“We have not raised the millage rate this year,” she said.
District 1 Commissioner Bill Chapman told Bourque that the only way his county ad valorem taxes would go up would be if his property value increased.
Bourque discussed an increase in his electric bill related to a franchise fee that he said was passed on to consumers. Chapman responded that the BCC does not set or collect franchise fees.
Representing the Scenic Corridor Foundation, Leigh Moore asked for clarification regarding what would happen if it were determined that the TDC could not provide funding for the previously-discussed $131,000 median and right-of-way maintenance program. She said the foundation’s budget request had been that the program be funded jointly by the TDC and the county.
Thomason responded that BCC discussion at the Sept. 12 hearing had been that, if the TDC were not able to provide this funding, the county would look to contingency funds already budgeted.
With discussion concluded, the proposed budget and millage rate were approved in 4-0 votes, with all commissioners present with the exception of District 5 Commissioner Cindy Meadows. The approvals included a millage rate of 0.4291 mill for North Walton Mosquito Control, the same rate as for the current year, and a $612,986 budget for North Walton Mosquito Control as part of the county budget.