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Williston millage rate expected to be unchanged

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By Pat Hibbs

There was good news for citizens of the city of Williston at city council’s first budget hearing, held on Thursday, July 9.

The millage rate will remain at its current level of 5.9025.

That means that homeowners will pay less than $6 per thousand dollars of the appraised value of their homes. A resident’s taxes will change only if the value of the property has changed. That is the city’s rate; county rates also apply.

The roll-forward rate, which represents the percentage required to collect ad valorem taxes equal to those received last year was 6.3686, but the city elected to maintain the current millage rate.

City manager Marcus Collins, with finance director Mark Schiefer by his side, presented the first cut of the budget to city council at the workshop. Some of what was said was not clearly heard by the large audience, as Collins and Schiefer sat facing the council, and there is no amplification system in the city council chambers.

Although some decisions were made, they will not be official until city council votes on them in a regular advertised city council meeting, according to city council president Debra Jones.

During the presentation of the budget, Jones acknowledged that Collins had met individually with every member of the city council to explain his rationale for the decisions reflected in the budget.

Collins recommended that the city’s contribution to the employee retirement plan remain at its current level of 14.2 percent. Schiefer later explained that the retirement plan has a substantial surplus and that there is no reason at this point to increase the city’s contribution.

The greatest controversy had to do with the three employees formerly working in solid waste activities. Council had asked Collins and Schiefer to prepare budgets including – and also not including – those employees. The one that was presented was that which didn’t include those employees.

The Public Utilities Department has been three employees short for three years, and director James Arrington was asked to keep those positions open pending a council decision on outsourcing the solid waste collection function, which Emerald Waste Services assumed on June 1 of this year.

This despite statements from Collins at the Jan. 20 meeting of the city council. According to the minutes, "City manager Collins stated that the city needed to keep all of its employees. He stated that the Public Works Department is carrying a heavy load. The Department is working with skeleton crews."

Councilman Steve Holcomb urged the council to keep at least one of the men in order to cover the mowing of city properties. These include the many city parks and retention ponds. In addition, the city agreed at its last council meeting to mow the fields at the WYAA complex. The council agreed.

Former councilman Cal Byrd rose from the audience to point out that $109,332 is allocated for street resurfacing, an increase of nearly $80,000 over the current fiscal year’s budget. Byrd said that he would rather have the Public Works Department fully staffed, saving two jobs in a very difficult economic climate, and have to drive over a few potholes on the private streets of the city. (The state and the county maintain major arteries through the city.)

Collins warned that the city "could only ignore the infrastructure for so long."

Jones said in a subsequent interview that she thinks that "we [the council] need to reconsider it [the decision to let two employees go]. Jones pointed out that this was only the first budget review and that changes may be made before the final budget is approved by council.

She said that maybe some actions that had been approved needed to be reconsidered at the next budget hearing.

Nonetheless, the two affected employees were informed on the same day as the meeting that their services would no longer be required after Sept. 30.