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Tentative county millage stays the same

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By Sean Arnold

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Staff writer

Levy County was on its way to being unable to pay its bills by the end of 2019, according to budget figures presented by Finance Officer Jared Blanton at the tentative millage meeting last Thursday in Bronson.

Recent moves by the county commission – most notably, an uptick in millage, a new gas tax, department cuts and reallocations, and, going forward, a cap on employee insurance plans – have helped paint a more optimistic financial future for the county.

The board passed a tentative millage resolution at the meeting that will keep the millage rate at 9.0. The resolution passed unanimously, on a motion by Matt Brooks, backed by Rock Meeks.

The final millage rate can be lower than the tentative rate, but it can’t exceed that number. While it’s the same rate, it will generate $641,000 (approx. 3.1 percent) in additional tax revenue – and costs to taxpayers – thanks to rising property values.

Barring severe unexpected additions to either revenue or expenditures, Blanton’s projections suggest the county will boast a budget deficit of $1.39 million in 2018, down from $4.36 million in 2016 – a deficit cut of nearly $3 million. By October, the county’s reserve funds will have been depleted by 40 percent since 2014.

“Most governments that start with a 4.3 million deficit start furloughing people, eliminating portions of departments and cutting services,” Blanton told the BOCC. “We currently got to this point without reducing employee payroll expenditures, so what you’ve done so far is commendable. And if we can get a little more growth, an increase in assessments, and make a couple tough decisions that I don’t see affecting employees, I can see us possibly breaking even next year.

“But that’s without the legislature possibly messing with our revenue stream (through changes to the homestead exemption).”

If Levy County passed the rollback millage rate – the rate required to collect about the same revenue as the previous fiscal year – it would add about $416,632 to the deficit. A millage rate of 9.9 would be required to balance the budget this year.

The millage rate is the amount property owners pay per $1,000 in property value.

The budget is up around $5 million from last year, to $33.32, because the county is including debt service revenue and expenditures in the general fund figures. Around $8.7 million of the source revenue comes from reserves, while $7.31 million is allocated to pay down the debt reserves.

“We’re putting all the cards on the table,” Blanton said. “There are no more pots of money anywhere that we can go into besides the general fund.”

Blanton said the budget has also removed most of the contingency funds budgeted by individual departments, which will require departments to seek financial remedy from the general fund if significant unexpected emergency costs arise.

The county’s beginning fund balance is down nearly $6.6 million from 2014 ($16.5 million to $9.9 million). The budget’s current pace keeps it solvent for at least five years.

“That’s better than what you were doing,” Blanton told the board. “The previous track was to be out of money by November 2019. That’s when the governor appoints a committee to oversee your budget and takes away authority, eliminating staff and departments.

“The actions you have taken have dramatically slowed the trajection you were on. I’m the most optimistic I’ve been.”

The tentative budget is to be amended and adopted on Sept. 5.