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County’s finances get good report

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Shell Mound fees to remain same

By Lou Elliott Jones

Martha Garcia-Baker got Tuesday's Levy County Commission meeting off to a good start delivering her audit of their finances and praising the commission for taking the steps to keep the county on solid financial footing. 

Garcia-Baker, who is with the accounting firm Carr, Riggs & Ingram, LLC, brought the board's attention to the county's financial statements. 

“This is good news and I actually jumped up and told Sheila 'good job',” she said. “Sheila” is Sheila Rees, the deputy clerk for finance. 

The good news was due to “primarily a function of cutting down expenses,” the auditor said. “Your revenue base was relatively stable but you were able to cut down on expenses.”

“I know last year some hard decisions were made but it's a healthy thing.”

She also praised the county for maximizing its ability to obtain federal and state funding where possible. 

“It is nice to stand here and say its a good report,” she concluded.

She delivered the good news just hours before the commission was set to hold a second budget workshop where it was decided to not increase fees for the county's parks and where possible increases in building department fees were considered. 

At the same time, Commission Chair Ryan Bell of Chiefland (R-District 4) commended Sheriff Bobby McCallum and Supervisor of Elections Tammy Jones for cutting their original budget proposals. 

Rees presented a budget with anticipated revenues of $23,553,786 for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. That is an increase from this years' budget of $22,703,842. 

Bell said the revenue estimate is about $54,000 short of what the county needs to cover expenses. 

“I hate to say we have to possibly raise the millage.” The property tax millage is at 8.01 mills and brought in $12,426,776.94 for the general revenue fund, that was down from the 2011-12 revenues of $12,959508.70. One reason for the drop in property tax revenue is that the county did not go with a rollback rate last year — a figure that keeps property tax revenues at the same level — preferring instead to shift the burden for funding the fire and emergency medical services to assessments. 

If the millage stays the same, the county could expect to receive an estimated $12,518,799 in the next year, according to the clerk's office.

Rees provided the commissioners with possible millage levels and the revenue that each would bring in ranging for keeping the current level of 8.01 with $12,518.799 ranging to 8.75 mills to bring in $13,675,343. 

A mill is equivalent to $1 for every $1,000 of property value, so a $100,000 assessment on a home would cost $801. In Levy County, over 40 percent of residential properties do not pay any property taxes as homestead exemptions reduce the liability to $0.

In the discussion on the park fees, Parks and Recreation Department Director Matt Weldon presented a report comparing the county's fees to neighboring areas. The county charges $1 per person to enter and  swim at Blue Springs and Henry Beck parks. Children under 5 are admitted free. Season passes are $20 for individuals and $35 for families. 

The daily entrance fee for nearby parks for an individual are: 

• $4 at Hart Springs and Otter Springs,

• $5 at KP Hole

• $6 at Manatee Springs State Park, and 

• $12 for an adult and $3 for children ages 7-14 at Ginnie Springs.

Camping fees at the county's Shell Mound Park are $15 per day for an RV with two occupants, while it's $24 with a hook-up at Hart Springs and Otter Springs, $20 at Manatee Springs and $20.40 at Ginnie Springs. 

Weldon said Henry Beck Park averages 75-135 swimmers at the park while Blue Springs has hosted as many as 861 people. He said the parks are also attracting visitors from other neighboring counties. 

He said his recommendation was to hold the fees at the same level for the rest of the year. “A lot of families that can't afford to go to the beach come here. I see kids scraping up change,” Weldon said. He said an increase in fees would “put a hurt on some of these people.”

He said the swimming holes “helps our type of community here. It's one place to go and still have a good day.”

In his presentation, Building Department Director Bill Hammond said the county has some of the lowest fees for permits. He said he was proposing an increase in fees based on the value of the construction, rather than the square footage because some homes can be simple, while others with the same area can have vaulted ceilings, fireplaces, spa baths and other amenities that require more time for review and inspections. 

While also proposing the increase, Hammond recommended a decrease in the plan review cost. He said he found that fee to be high — as much as 50 percent of the permit cost. He felt that 20 percent would be adequate. 

The minimum building fee is $30 and would rise to $50 after Oct. 1 if the change is adopted. Other proposed increases are:

• Screen rooms, carports, pool enclosures, gazebos, etc. from $8 per 100 square feet to $40 base fee and $10 per 100 s.f.,

• Pools from $75 to $200 for residential and from $125 to $500 for commercial,

• Manufactured home move-on permits, would remain the same

• Zoning determination from no cost to $75.