Proposed county budget is over $111 million

OKEECHOBEE — Okeechobee County Commission began work on the 2018/2019 budget at its July 12 meeting. The tentative millage rate will be set at the next meeting.

“Your budget right now is $111,252,790,” said County Administrator Robbie Chartier. She said this would require the county to levy 9 mills in ad valorem taxes. One mill equals $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of property value.

If the commission wants to levy less than 9 mills, they will have to make cuts in the proposed budget.

The proposed budget includes $41,890,681 in the general fund; $13,967,255 in the Transportation Trust Fund; $36,724,277 in special revenue; $18,315,097 in capital projects; $264,560 in the enterprise fund; and $90,919 in trust and agency funding.

“In order to balance the budget, I had to use 9 mills,” she said.

The 2017 county millage rate was 7.8684.

The rollback rate is 7.4079 mills. The rollback rate is the tax millage it would take to fund the 2017 fiscal year budget, using the 2018 fiscal year property values.

Property values for the 2018 tax year increased 11.70 percent above the 2017 tax year.

She said they considered using a special ad valorem tax – a municipal services taxing unit (MSTU) – to fund law enforcement, but found it would cost county taxpayers more.

To fund the sheriff’s department, it would require the MSTU would be 7.2135 mills. Funding the rest of the general fund would require another 2.8587 mills for a total of 10.0722 mills.

The reason it would cost county taxpayers more to use a law enforcement MSTU is because the city property owners would be excluded from paying the law enforcement MSTU. City taxpayers fund their own police department.

Mrs. Chartier said the homestead exemptions would apply to a law enforcement MSTU, so there is no benefit to the county.

“We have the MSTU for EMS where we can do the assessment and we can apply that squarely based on the benefit received,” said Commissioner Kelly Owens.

She said they can work at the legislative level to find a way to fund part of the sheriff’s office with a special assessment that would be paid on all properties, regardless of homestead exemption.

Due to the homestead exemptions, many county property owners pay little or no property taxes. The EMS assessment is not affected by homestead exemption.

She suggested they might be able to find a way to pull the expense for the sheriff’s department road patrol out of the county budget and fund it with a special assessment that could be charged to everyone (regardless of homestead exemption) since everybody benefits from road patrol.

Just as EMS benefits everyone, road patrol also benefits everyone, she said.

“Everything the sheriff’s office does benefits the whole county,” said Commissioner David Hazellief.

“That argument won’t hold water at the state level,” said Commissioner Kelly.

She said a special assessment is a longterm solution, but it is worth pursuing.

“I wish you luck, but when they (the legislature) voted in the extra homestead exemption, they pretty much told us what they thought of us,” said Commissioner Hazellief.
Budget presentations are planned for:

• July 18, starting at 1 p.m.: Supervisor of Elections, Sheriff, Crime County Attorney, Agri-Civic Center, Veteran Services;

• July 19, starting at 9 a.m.: Property Appraiser, Senior Services: Parks and Recreation, Planning and Zoning; Building department; Code Enforcement; Court Administration; Economic Development; Transportation Disadvantaged; Board of County Commissioners; County administration;

• July 20, beginning at 9 a.m.: Cemetery Trust, Solid Waste, Landfill Trust, Residential Solid Waste; Emergency Management; Mosquito Control; Soil and Water Conservation; Capital Improvements; Library;

• July 23, beginning at 9 a.m.: Extension Office; Facilities Maintenance; Airport; Tourist Development; Tourism Special Revenue; Health Department;

• July 24, beginning at 9 a.m.: Fire Rescue; CSX; Public Works, Road Improvement;

• July 25, beginning at 9 a.m.: Clerk of Circuit Court; Tax Collector.

The county commission will set the tentative millage rate and special assessment rates at their July 26 meeting.

Publisher/Editor Katrina Elsken can be reached at kelsken@newszap.com

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