County to lower millage rate in coming fiscal year

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Gulf County commissioners last week unanimously approved a budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year that will see a drop in the millage rate for the third year in a row.

At a special meeting July 18, the commissioners voted to lower the 6.8-mill county-wide levy to 6.5 mills, and still raise about $16 million for the general fund, about $2.2 million more levied in new monies.

The tax levy to fund the county’s four fire districts remains unchanged at a half-mill and will bring in an additional $1 million for the general fund.

“Overall, this is the largest county budget total we’ve had – $84,204,219,” said County Administrator Michael Hammond at the meeting. “The positive thing about that is that only $16 million of that is ad valorem taxes, $17 million if you count the fire districts."

“… It breaks down to ad valorem taxes; fuel taxes; sales taxes; federal, state shared revenues; a fee for services; and then the grand total of $84,204,219.” 

The county’s tax base is about $2.503 billion, more than 22 percent over that of the 2020-21 fiscal year.

After budget line items were read, the commissioners took time to address what commissioner Philip McCroan  described as “disingenuous" information circulating on social media regarding the county’s per capita taxes, which are high compared to other Florida counties.

“We have a small population base,” McCroan said. “... If you lump everything together, with the school board, the cities and all, it might look worse, but it’s not. We’ve successfully lowered that millage every year.”

The graphic, which was widely engaged with on Facebook and shared by State Representative Jason Shoaf, listed per capita taxes by Florida county, as specified by Florida TaxWatch using data from the Florida Department of Revenue.

It showed Gulf County had the 10th highest per capita property tax levies in the state.

Other charts produced in the same Florida TaxWatch report showed that Gulf County’s county government levies were the eighth highest in the state, though Hammond argued this was because of high property values and low population.

Further, the report indicated Gulf County’s total millage rate, which includes school district taxes, special district taxes, fire district taxes and municipality taxes, totalled 18.964 mills, the eighth highest in the state. The statewide average was 17.013 mills.

However, this number does not necessarily indicate high county government tax rates. 

The county government millage rate for last year, 6.8 mills, was around the state’s midpoint and lower than most other rural Panhandle counties, as Hammond pointed out at the meeting.

“Escambia County’s higher, and their proposed is higher than ours,” he said. “Okaloosa and Santa Rosa are lower, since they’re rich coastal counties, but Holmes, Washington, Jackson, Jefferson, Gadsden, Leon, Wakulla, Levy, Dixie, Taylor, right on down, all of those are higher than we are.”

Hammond further argued that the high per capita levies reflected large property values divided by a small county population.

Gulf County did have the state’s eighth highest per capita taxable value last year, indicating both that property values are high and that the county’s population is small.

And the preliminary 2022 tax roll from the Gulf County property appraiser’s office shows significant growth from 2021.

Property Appraiser Mitch Burke said in a release that these increases indicate both a healthy real estate market and large numbers of renovations and repairs following Hurricane Michael, which are factored into total property values.

“Some of the economic trends for Gulf County appear to show we are in a healthy real estate market,” the release read. “For example… As of January 1, 2022, new construction and additions accounted for $93.73 million in market (just) value, which equates to approximately $77.6 million of taxable value. This is up 23.45 percent or $14.74 million from $62.86 million of taxable value in 2021.” 

In a motion made by Commissioner Ward McDaniel and seconded by McCroan, the board unanimously voted to move forward with the budgeting process, allowing changes to be made as additional numbers come in in the coming weeks. 

The board set a firm date for the final budget’s first reading on September 7 at 5:01 p.m. EDT.

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