Navarre resident Debbie Gunnoe was one of many residents who addressed county commissioners during last night’s final budget hearing.
Notice of a proposed $2.1 million property tax increase published Sept. 14 prompted nearly 50 people to attend Santa Rosa County’s final budget hearing Tuesday night. But despite pleas from the crowd, commissioners approved the levy — and a $15.4 million budget increase.
Following the 2007 housing market crash, Santa Rosa County’s property tax revenues have been rebounding since 2014 — rising from $44 million in 2013 up to a projected $51.2 million in 2017.
However, the millage rate of 6.0953 has not been “rolled back” since 2008 to offset any tax revenue gains.
And the State of Florida requires counties to publish such property tax increase notifications when that occurs.
Citizens at the hearing called on commissioners to roll back the millage rate, considering the board also doubled the local gas tax in January and voters Aug. 30 approved half-penny local option sales tax.
“You’ve all become a bunch of (Republicans in name only) tax and spenders, and you should be ashamed of yourselves,” said Navarre resident Debbie Gunnoe.
Other residents asked the board to “reign in” new County Administrator Tony Gomillion’s requested 9.2 percent increase in his department’s budget, which is rising from $27.5 million to $30 million.
Embedded within Gomillion’s budget are nearly 20 staff positions, including five new positions, 13 vacant positions slated to be filled, and the conversion of his former $111,000 Public Services Director position, which has been empty since he was named County Administrator in January, into an $115,000 Assistant Administrator position.
Commission Chairman Lane Lynchard said the county is operating with 69 fewer employees while serving more residents than in the past. “Santa Rosa County is one of the fastest growing counties in the state,” he said.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the county’s population has grown from an estimated 151,372 in 2010 to 167,040 in 2015.
Many of those who spoke out at the meeting advocated for the commission to address the need for more Santa Rosa County law enforcement officers and increase the deputies’ base pay.
“We know (their) starting salary is low,” Lynchard said. “We’re gonna work on that.”
Although the board did not make any changes to the proposed 2016-2017 budget, at the close of the meeting Commissioner Bob Cole recognized how multiple speakers requested the board revisit the budget request for the Sheriff’s Office and asked fellow commissioners to work with him toward that end.
Commissioner Don Salter said approval of the half-penny local option sales tax provides another source of dedicated revenue which can “hopefully” be leveraged to address unmet needs for the Sheriff’s Office.
Other budget increases
Additionally, there were increases in the budgets for several constitutional officers, including a 4.3 percent hike for the Sheriff’s Office, which an agency representative said was $200,000 less than originally requested, resulting in a cut of overtime pay for deputies.
Supervisor of Elections Tappie Villane explained that a 24 percent increase in her office’s budget from to $1.62 million is related to the upcoming Presidential election and an update to election management software. “This software was originally purchased in 2006 and the software will need to be updated prior to the 2018 election cycle,” she said.
“The increase of 14 percent includes one new employee for BOCC support and step increase for all 97 Clerk employees,” said Clerk of Court Don Spencer.
Budgets for the property appraiser and tax collector are approved by the Florida Department of Revenue, not county commissioners.
Other county news
During their regular commission meeting Thursday, the board is expected to approve a new advertising firm to take over the county’s tourism marketing.
Paradise Advertising, based in St. Petersburg, Florida, was recommended by staff. Tourist Director Julie Morgan said the firm has experience marketing “coastal” communities. The existing marketing contract for Davis, Barnett, Smith and Patrick, a company based in Mobile, Alabama, will be extended to cover the transition.
Additionally, the following items are on tomorrow’s agenda:
– approval of a $10,000 sponsorship of Young Entrepreneurs Program using electric franchise fees;
– a $10,917 grant for designing, printing and dissemination of educational materials supporting increased compliance with the county’s Sea Turtle Lighting Ordinance;
– a Derelict Vessel Removal Grant Opportunity to remove a vessel located at the northern shore of Santa Rosa Sound west of Navarre;
– a landscape contract with Escape Lawn Care for maintenance of Highway 98, Navarre Beach, and the Visitors Information Center;
– a $57,000 Agreement with Genesis for Professional Services to develop the Navarre Park Master Site Plan, using District 4 Recreation Funds.
– A Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office Request for $17,983.30 for implementation of Police Priority Dispatch at the agency’s dispatch center, utilizing 911 funds.
The regular commission meeting begins at 9 a.m. and will take place at the County Administrative Complex, located at 6495 Caroline Street in Milton. Video of the meeting may be accessed for live streaming or replay via www.santarosa.fl.gov.