Okeechobee County tax rate to stay at 8 mills

OKEECHOBEE — At their July 23 meeting, Okeechobee County commissioners voted unanimously to set the tentative millage rate for fiscal year 2020-21 at 8 mills, the same rate charged in the 2019-20 fiscal year.

This rate will be used in the Truth in Millage (TRIM) notices to be sent out to property owners. One mill equals $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of taxable property value.

Commission Chairman Terry Burroughs said this sets the maximum rate they can levy. The county commission could still reduce the tax millage.

Budget Director Kelly Conrad said the county budget is balanced at 7.8 mills, which will bring in about $19 million, but this does not include any increases for staff salaries.

She said the general fund reserves will be at 25%.

A 3% merit increase for county employees would cost $325,000. She said they asked some of the departments to look at their budgets and trim a little more to allow that increase.

Commissioner David Hazellief said they must also consider future expenses such as the need to add more capacity at the county jail. “The jail will be a big nut to crack very shortly,” he said. “We’re going to have to start making payments.”

“A lot of the department heads have really done a good job at slashing and cutting and adjusting,” said Commissioner Brad Goodbread. “I’m still not real comfortable. We still have this elephant in the room of the jail.”

“I am fine with it at 8,” said Commissioner Bryant Culpepper.

Commissioner Kelly Owens said much of the county’s budget comes from different funding sources. She said they may be able to reduce it to 7.8 mills.

“We’ve got a lot of things that are really undecided,” said Burroughs. “Once we make the final millage determination, it could go down.” Once the TRIM notices go out, the county can’t raise the millage rate, he added.

The commissioners also agreed to raise the fire services and emergency medical services assessments slightly to balance the Fire/Rescue budget.

The fire services assessment residential rate will increase from $108.18 to $113.56 per year. Emergency medical services assessment will increase from $103.53 to106.64 per residence. These increases are needed to balance the budget for Okeechobee County Fire/Rescue.

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