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The Levy County Commission approved a tentative budget of $62,352,856 and a property tax millage of 8.5759 by a 4-1 vote on Sept. 6 with Chair Danny Stevens of Williston (D-District 5) dissenting.
The lone Democrat on the board who won re-election unopposed last month said he felt there was some “wiggle room” in the millage and it could have been tentatively set lower. But the other commissioners said they preferred to wait until they heard from the public at a public hearing Tuesday on assessments for fire and emergency medical services, solid waste and roads, before making a decision on property tax rates.
“We do have an option to make an adjustment to the millage,” said Commissioner Chad Johnson of Chiefland (R-District 2). “But I hate to make it prematurely before we hear from the citizens on the assessments.”
The tentative millage rate is known as the rollback rate and is meant to bring in as many dollars in revenue as the current rate of 7.8114, despite declining property values.
The final vote on the millage and the budget will be after the second public hearing on both on Monday, Sept. 17, at 6 p.m. In the commission meeting room at the County Courthouse in Bronson.
Four residents addressed the commission asking that it not go with the 8.5759 millage and that it continue cutting the budget.
The assessments are tentatively set to rise from $40 to $110 for fire and from $76 to $119 for EMS. If the commission sticks with the higher assessments, it won't need as much money from the property tax millage to cover its expenses in the budget year starting Oct. 1.
“We have to live on what we have,” said Barney Cannon, who noted that 10 percent of the county's residents are military veterans and military retirees who are living on fixed incomes.
He said even though property values have gone down, residents have seen their assessments go up, thus increasing their tax bills. “Just say no” to any increase, Cannon asked.
He was followed to the podium by his wife, Rentae, who said the fixed income is “what you get when you serve your country.”
She asked the commission to “bring that rate down to where it is now.” She said the couple moved to Chiefland not because they sought a paradise, but because of the low taxes. “If I can't pay the taxes I will have to find a place I can afford to pay,” she said.
Sam Barrett of Bronson said the recession had forced changes on him. “Consequently we have had to adjust our budget down and I think you should do so,” he said.
Jack Schofield of Yankeetown told the commissioners they should bring the budget down and suggested they take a look at the transit, county attorney and sheriff's departments.
Schofield suggested that money be taken from tourism development to help fund business development. However, he was told the trourism development tax is a dedicated tax that is restricted to spending on tourism.
Commissioner Marsha Drew of Yankeetown (R-District 3) said, “I would like to see the (millage) rate also be cut.” But she favored waiting until the board heard from the public on proposed increases in the fire and EMS assessments.
Comissioner Ryan Bell of Chiefland (R-District 4) said the millage is being set “as low as we can function.” And he assured Schofield who questioned whether there would be a last-minute end-of-year “surprise” spending spree by the sheriff's department that it would not happen. “I had a one on one with the sheriff,” Bel said. “I am not expecting any surprise. We have an understanding that it was not acceptable in previous years.”
Johnson said county spending is getting back to the level it was in the 2004-2005 fiscal year and reminded the small audience that at that time the property tax was 9 mills. “I don't remember the deep discussions (on the budget) back then,” he said. “And we couldn't raise that because we were at the maximum.”
Johnson said,” We still got to provide the services. … We need ti have EMS. … We need to have fire.... We need to maintain roads. … And there are requirements to provide these services.”
He did assure those in attendance that “We are on record to increase the assessments so we can reduce the millage.”