County OKs higher millage — tentatively

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Tax rate can be lowered

By Lou Elliott Jones

The Levy County Commission unanimously adopted a higher property tax millage of 8.5759, up from 7.8144, but that may not be the final word on the property tax rate for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1.Under state law, the millage adopted at Tuesday's meeting for the TRIM (Truth in millage) property tax notices this month — and known as the rollback rate — cannot go higher, but it can be lowered.The rate will bring in $13,862,208, just $1.2 million over last year's $12,626,459 for the county General Revenue Fund.The action comes on top of a proposed assessment for fire service to go from $40 per year to $110 and increase in emergency medical services from $78 to $119 that was tentatively approved in an earlier meeting.Even as the commissioners adopted the rollback rate which is designed to bring in about the same income as last year's tax rate did, the commissioners spent the day chipping away at the proposed $59,035,635 budget.The first big slice came in the budget Sheriff Johnny Smith will be leaving to the winner of the general election in November. As one candidate, Bobby McCallum looked on, Smith said he went over the budget line by line and cut over $500,000 from his proposed $9.95 million budget. His request now stands at $9.45 million. “I am asking you to allow it to stand,” Smith said. Among the cuts for the law enforcement division: $20,000 from the patrol department, $10,000 from  investigations, $5,000 from clothing, $75,000 from worker's compensation, $10,000 from professional services, $20,000 from contracted services, $2,000 from training, $4,000 from travel, $20,000 from communications (cell phones and land lines), $5,000 in postage and $57,000 in utilities.“We have really cut ourselves to the bare bones,” Smith said. Other cuts included $25,000 from the building repair fund, $10,000 in other obligations like food for the K-9 dogs and $45,000 for fuel.When it was over, Smith said $365,517 had been cut from law enforcement.The remaining cuts came from corrections — about $128,000, and the 911 center. One cut will hurt one business as the jail will no longer contract its garbage hauling, instead using inmates to load a trailer to take it to the landfill.Smith said he made the cuts even his office faces as health insurance increases of 11 percent and the future is uncertain for fuel prices or the possibility of an event causing the sheriff's office to put in overtime.The commission asked about the office's vehicles a sore spot between the two. The sheriff has come up with leftover money at the end of the year that he has spent on buying new vehicles — including three years ago when he bought 15 cars for deputies. The commissioners urged Smith to get a fleet management program in place that spreads out replacements in a cycle. “I'm all for fleet management,” said Commissioner Marsha Drew of Yankeetown (R-District 3), better than a surprise at the end of the year.”Smith said that 15-car “surprise” will be coming up for replacement shortly. “They are starting to rack up the miles and the upkeep and expenses to repair are going up.” “I understand the money is not coming in,” Smith said. But he said deputies need to respond to emergency calls. “The patrol car is the biggest single issue for our deputies,” he said. Smith was asked if he will be returning any money from the current budget to the county and he estimated $50,000-$70,000 will be handed in.“The more that you can return the better off you'll be,” said Commission Chair Danny Stevens of Williston (D-District 5). “And you can purchase your vehicles with that dollar amount.”Supervisor of Elections Connie Asbell was next up and she said she “got the message that you wanted $25,000 cut.” But she also said ballots will be longer this year with the amendments running two pages and it will cost her office $3 each to mail the general election absentee ballots. She started sounding a these for the day as she asked the commission to “split the difference” and allow a $12,500 cut in her budget. The commission decided it could do that.The commission agreed to the same for Meridian Behavioral Health Services — the county's mental health services contractor, agreeing to restore $6,000 of the $11,000 it had cut from the $61,000 proposal.But it was not in a mood to split the difference when Lisa Brasher asked to restore half of the $12,000 she sought in order to help bring a part-time employee to full time status to handle the computer systems at the county's five public libraries. “We can't meet everybody half-way,” said Commissioner Mike Joyner of Morriston (R-District 1).