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County keeps millage rate

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By The Staff

Levy County's property tax millage rate will remain at its current rate - 7.4212 mills - for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.

That's good news for property tax owners. But the bad news for Levy County is that employees won't get a raise and it will have to spend its entire emergency reserve fund, to balance a reduced budget at that tax rate.

The decision came at a sometimes contentious budget workshop Tuesday night where department heads and agencies detailed how they were making cuts to meet the Board of County Commissioners request. Some departments were asked to cut as much as 15 percent of their budget from this year.

The county budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 will be $56,765,490. That's down from about $70 million from this year's budget.

County Finance Supervisor Sheila Rees told the commissioners they had limited options in raising the millage rate under legislation passed after voters approved a property tax cut in January. She said they could keep the same rate, or they could raise it to 8.1754, or raise it to 9.3661 with a two-thirds vote of the board.

"I am not in favor of increasing people's taxes," Chairman Sammy Yearty said. Other commissioners, except Commissioner Nancy Bell, echoed that view. Bell made a motion to lower the millage to 7.2. "We're experiencing hard times and businesses are closing all over the county," she said. "Maybe we should look at contracting out services." She suggested outsourcing the planning department, consolidating functions in other departments and giving up a $1,800 a month lease for office space that the commissioners had approved at its regular meeting earlier in the day.

"We have been having fund balances at the end of the year, moving forward," she said, noting that some departments have not spent all the money they received in past years. "Maybe we're moving back to what the budget actually should be."

Commissioner Danny Stevens disagreed with Bell's motion. "We're not going to be able to fund services at a reduced millage rate," he said.

Yearty argued that the county needed to stay at the same rate while also being aware that it was rapidly spending its "rainy day" fund to cover daily expenses.

Rees also warned the commissioners, "Your revenues are actually less than you're spending."

"I'm all for giving citizens a tax break, but when they call the sheriff's department they want a dispatcher to be there," said Commissioner Tony Parker.

Commissioner Lilly Rook said more cuts could be coming in future budgets. "On the November ballot is Amendment 5 which would replace the school board (property) tax with a sales tax. And sales taxes are down. Next year is going to be critical."

County Coordinator Fred Moody said his office is also looking at other options that have to be taken in the coming year - including a 32-hour work week.

Bell's motion to reduce the rate died for lack of a second.

Stevens moved to keep the current rate, seconded by Rooks. It passed 4-1 with Bell dissenting.