Some Leon County homeowners may see the county’s portion of their property taxes increase next year.
During a six-hour budget workshop Monday, Leon County commissioners unanimously approved a $223-million budget for next year, $12.5 million less than this year.
Public hearings on the full budget begin in September, when a final vote will be taken.
The proposal increases the property tax rate from $7.85 to $8.31 for every $1,000 in taxable value.
County staffers said this is not a tax increase because the county’s total revenue from property taxes will still be less than this year, even with the increase in the tax rate. That’s because property values continue to slide in a stalled real estate market.
The amount individual property owners pay, however, will depend on individual circumstances. Some property owners may end up owing more money on their tax bill depending on whether an individual’s taxable value increases, decreases or remains the same.
The change in the property-tax rate will bring in an additional $5.8 million in revenue. That’s part of the commission’s strategy to address a $10.2 million shortfall projected for next year. The board also approved using $4.96 million in reserve money and $3 million in cuts to balance the budget.
The cuts include eliminating 5.5 positions, reducing operating hours at rural waste-collection centers and cost reductions within departments.
County services will largely remain unchanged. Next year’s budget includes no new capital projects.
“It’s very much a maintenance budget,” Leon County Administrator Vince Long said. He added the county has helped create 550 jobs as a result of capital projects currently in the works, such as the new Public Safety Complex.
The recession has meant five straight years of budget cuts for Leon County, totaling $60.5 million in cuts during that time.
In recent years, the county has made deep cuts that include cutting library hours, eliminating 75.5 positions and reducing road-side maintenance. But more burden will be placed on county employees who will have to contribute more to their health benefits. Commissioners did approve a 2-percent raise to employees: 1 percent in October and 1 percent in April.
“The budget is our single biggest item to deal with,” Commission Chair Akin Akinyemi said, stressing the impact of the $10.2 million shortfall. “There were no easy fixes on how we get there. But I think we have a very compromised solution that has minimum, but granted some, increases on citizens and mostly on staff.”
Other notable measures in the proposal include adding $14.7 million in reserves to be set aside for ongoing capital needs over the next five years, such as storm-water improvements and maintenance the courthouse, libraries, parks and greenways.
But talks about ongoing funding issues with mental health court services grew tense, especially when Commissioner Bill Proctor often refused to be silenced.
Commissioners debated on what to do with $100,000 in unspent money identified by the Leon County Public Safety Coordinating Council, made up of judges and legal professionals who monitor the jail population. The council recommended the money go toward funding competency services that are not currently provided to those who are falling through the cracks and sitting in jail longer, especially those with brain injuries or cognitive ailments.
For example, a person with dementia who is facing felony burglary charges will sit in jail for 368 days and experience major medical issues that require monthly admissions to the hospital. The Leon County Jail will end up paying roughly $60,000 to house that person, a county case-study report said.
“That’s why I say this money is an investment as well as a human-rights issue,” Proctor said.
Proctor passionately pleaded for a decision to be made Monday on funding competency services. However there was confusion among commissioners on what was being asked for and what was needed since they received letters from the Public Defender’s Office and the Leon County Sheriff’s Office as late as Monday.
Other commissioners were hesitant about making a decision on the $100,000 without being clear on what’s needed. In the end, commissioners decided to table making a decision for a month and requested more information, along with hearing from members of the Public Safety Coordinating Council at a future commission meeting.
“There are too many questions surrounding this. I’m not comfortable,” Commissioner John Dailey said.
Proctor, chairman for the council, questioned the board’s moral sensitivity to those impacted by the mental health court services.
“I am really tired of being accused of not caring about people when we have challenges in our budget,” Commissioner Kristin Dozier said. “We are dealing with incredibly difficult times.”
Proctor said he refuses to come back before the commission later this summer, noting he believed the level of scrutiny on the council’s recommendation was based on him being the chairman.
“The chairman ain’t coming. You can write that down. I know what Proctor is going to do,” Proctor said.
originally posted on Tallahassee.com