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Palm Coast Tuesday, Jul. 3, 2018 4 months ago

County prepares for tax hike, budget cuts

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The County Commission wants to preserve planned employee raises.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

County Commissioners agree that Flagler County will have to raise taxes this year: The only question is how much, and what will get cut as commissioners try to keep the budget lean?

Commissioner Nate McLaughlin laid out the dilemma: “At budget time it’s always, ‘Don’t raise taxes.’ After budget time, it’s always, ‘Why aren’t you doing this?’”

County Commissioners don’t want to eliminate planned raises or cost-of-living increases for staff. But they might be willing to eliminate some hiring that had been proposed for the coming year.

“I think we have a good obligation to the employees that we have today to continue to support them, and … I still think that we might shave off some of the new hires,” Commissioner Charlie Ericksen said.

Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey had at a previous meeting proposed raising the millage by .25 mills, or 25 cents per $1,000 in taxable value, to raise an additional $2.1 million to cover an expected budget shortfall. For a property with a taxable value of $100,000, that increase would raise taxes by $25 a year, not accounting for property value increase.

By a July 2 budget workshop, with new numbers in on property values, Coffey had determined that a .25 increase wouldn’t be needed — a .22 increase would., to cover a shortage of about $1.8 million instead of $2.1 million

County Commissioners said during the workshop that they weren’t willing to do a .25 mill increase, but may be willing to get close — to an increase of .20 mills over the current rate of 8.1167, bringing the total rate to 8.3167.

Commissioner David Sullivan suggested .20. For a home with $100,000 in taxable value, the difference between Sullivan’s proposal and Coffey’s would be $2.

County Commissioner Donald O’Brien suggested keeping the county at its current rate, 8.1167, by cutting all new capital projects positions, eliminating spending on a planned emergency radio system and eliminating all salary adjustments except for cost of living increases.

That would save about $1.5 million, he said. He was the only one to suggest staying at the current rate, prefacing his remarks by saying, “I’m going to be the. ... jerk in the room.”

Coffey said that the county can’t cut the radio spending: It’s already committed.

And if it cut all the raises planned for staff, he said, it will have to deal with another form of expense when staff members who have cost money to train leave for counties or cities that pay more.

“I will have a tough time managing and not losing droves of people,” Coffey said. “If (raises) get cut out … I think we’re going to see a mass exodus if I can’t bring back something to slowly bring this back to what other jurisdictions are paying.”

Commissioner Greg Hansen suggested asking the county’s constitutional officers to pare back: Much of the expected budget increase this year comes from the Sheriff’s Office, which is requesting $2.9 million more this year than last; the Supervisor of Elections office, which is requesting $107,000; the Clerk of Court’s Office, which requesting $170,000; and the Property Appraiser’s Office, which is requesting $345,000.

Hansen said he’d gone thorough the budget and found $535,000 he thought could be saved in the constitutional officers’ budgets, and $1.2 million overall.

The departments under the purview of the Board of County Commissioners are expecting an additional $714,000 in costs this year, including an increase in contributions to the Florida Retirement System.

“If we’re showing our commitment to try to pare things down, then we could ask (the constitutionals) for some additional help,” O’Brien said.

County Commissioner Charlie Ericksen asked if the county had any property it might be able to sell to make up the expected shortfall, but Coffey said the board needs to come up with a budget within a month, and selling property takes much longer.

Hansen said he could support Sullivan’s proposal for a .20 mill increase to 8.3167.

The board directed Coffey to come back with some numbers that would work with a .20 mill increase at the next budget workshop, on July 9.

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