Carrabelle city commissioners plan to keep the city’s millage rate unchanged at 9.0 mills.
Because of growth in the tax base of about 2.8 percent, up $$3.1 million from last year’s $110.1 million to $113.2 million, the millage is expected to yield about $40,000 more in property taxes, giving the city about $990,000 in ad valorem revenues to spend.
At a Aug. 22 budget workshop, commissioner reviewed a proposed budget which will see the city spending about $1.32 million next year. A healthy $1.18 million balance forward combines with other income sources to form a roughly $2.5 million general fund budget.
Commissioners did not back a proposal by Mayor Brenda La Paz to consider rolling back the millage to 8.71 mills. In addition, they did not factor in any raises for city employees, although Commissioner Tony Millender briefly made mention of that possibility.
The biggest change in expenditures was a tentatively approved plan to add a third fulltime employee to the streets and roads department, to supplement the two current employees, William Massey and Dustin Putnal. The new hire would put the department’s budget at about $284,000, a $40,000 boost from this year.
Because of the addition of a small administrative fee for building permits for new construction, and a $10 fee for notary services, the city plans to receive close to $7,000 more in license and permit fees. The growth in rents and royalties, expected to climb to $40,000, do not include any monies from a proposed lease to Little Custom Homes, because terms of that deal to rent them the former Greensteel building at the airport have not yet been finalized, La Paz said.
Administration costs are expected to climb from about $419,000 to a little more than $427,000, mainly because of a climb in code enforcement costs to $13,000. This is because commissioners tentatively agreed to, but were not happy about, a request to shell out $7,000 to help fund an additional fulltime officer with county animal control.
The city of Apalachicola has balked at paying the additional costs, deciding on Tuesday night to seek additional information from the county on how much animal control gets in property tax money and how much it expends.
“All of us feel our hands are tied,” said La Paz. “Everybody feels like we’re paying already.”
Carrabelle Police Chief Gary Hunnings has said the city cannot always comply with the country directive to have a police officer accompany animal control on calls within the city limits. The city is planning a workshop in October on dog issues.
On Tuesday morning, county commissioners scaled back their request to the cities, asking them for just $3,500 this next fiscal year. and $7,000 in 2020-21. County Coordinator Michael Moron, with the blessing of Animal Control Director Fonda Davis, also asked that a change be made in the formal agreement with the cities that all animal complaint calls would go to the sheriff’s dispatch, and that after a city police officer responded, he or she could determine if an animal control officer is needed.
"That process might reduce the amount of calls that require an animal control officer, there would be a source to determine how many calls are from each city versus the unincorporated areas for future discussions, and a law enforcement officer would be at the call location to address any human conflict," Moron said.
Commissioner Smokey Parrish said by going through dispatch, the county will have the data to determine the volume of calls and where they are coming from.
"From the staff I talked to, sometimes the human contact is worse than the animal," Moron said. "They're not there to arrest anybody but they're subject to verbal abuse."
Chairman Noah Lockley agreed. "People love their animals and they get crazy," he said. "You say something and they're willing to fight our officers and all they're doing is his job, to keep a situation from going bad.
"Their dog is never wrong," Lockley said. "Right now the animals got control of the town. I'm not against anybody having an animal, but they sure ought to keep them in their place. (But they say) 'My dog didn’t do that, they're in bed asleep'."
The budget for the Carrabelle police department is expected to drop from about $460,000 to about $452,000, due in large part to a $19,000 drop in health insurance costs.
The city also is taking steps to spend $1,000 on a separate electric meter at the Carrabelle History Museum to account for power used by Lulu’s Cafe next door. La Paz said the city this year paid for both, which led to that bill being higher than the power bill at the new City Hall.
The city plans to spend monies next year to complete soundproofing at City Hall, and to install seamless gutters there.
The city also plans to spend $12,000 to contract with a human resource firm, that they could pay either hourly or on retainer.
“What we need is our personnel policy reviewed by a professional and make sure we’re doing things by federal and state guidelines,” said the mayor. “We want a salary cap on different positions. We have a lot of unwritten rules that the staff practices.”
The city plans to spend about $70,000 more in its water and sewer budget, making total revenues and expenditures each about $2.1 million.
The city plans to buy reuse filters, a new alarm system at the Lanark vacuum station, a vacuum trailer, replacement parts for the Sands Park lift station, and a new crane truck, at a $111,000 costs funded over three years.
“We want to keep the water and sewer system in the best shape we can,” La Paz said. “We just want to keep the system in good working order. We’re trying to plan in advance.”