County to set tentative millage Aug. 3

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By Lou Elliott Jones

The Levy County Commission on Tuesday asked the Sheriff's Office and any department that has not cut its budget to go back to the drawing board and pare their requests.

At the same time, the board put off setting a tentative property tax millage until its Tuesday, Aug. 3, budget workshop to consider new budget proposals. That's  the same day they will hold a workshop to consider joining a public library co-operative with neighboring counties, a regular commission meeting in the morning, and a workshop on solid waste, fire and emergency medical service assessments.

The commission is wrestling with a $57,039,453 proposed budget that includes an estimated $13,886,900 in property tax money based on last year's 7.4212 millage. If they hold to the same rate as last year $7.4212 per $1,000 of assessed property value, the revenue will go down from last year. That's because property values are down by 5.8 percent over last year, according to County Property Appraiser Oz Barker.

Sheila Rees, deputy assistant clerk for finance, presented the commissioners with a list outlining cuts made in budget requests by departments and constitutional officers. The cuts, made in the last week at the commission's request, amount to $253,509.

    But even that was not enough.

    Commissioner Marsha Drew of Yankeetown said, she went through every line item and found over $797,00o in savings, and "that's not counting some constitutional officer's budgets."

    She said the savings would not be achieved by cutting spending. "It's cutting inflation in the budget."

    Commission Chair Nancy Bell of Chiefland said she wanted requests to be averaged over the past three years' spending. "If we stay close to actual expenditures instead of the inflated budget requests" there can be savings.

    While the Sheriff's Office was asking for a budget increase to cover a 3 percent raise in deputies' pay that started in May and state mandated increases in retirement and insurance that started in July, Sheriff's Maj. Evan Sullivan and Maj. Mike Sheffield were told to cut their request.

    "I can't vote for a 3 percent rise for your department if we can't vote for it for other departments," Drew said. She also noted that the department has a ratio of 1 administrator for every 2.54 officers. "Those are making way more than officers on the street," Drew said.

    Bell, who asked for a 5 percent cut two weeks ago, said she was not asking for a specific amount of cuts. "I'm not saying that, but I believe you are going to see you can save money when you go back three years," she said. "You got ll your new vehicles and you got your raise for all your people and our people did not."

    Sullivan said the sheriff has been absorbing handling dispatch duties for various municipalities without charging for the service and mentioned that Williston, which handles its own dispatch duties, is considering saving $400,000 in its budget by shifting the work to the sheriff.  He also said that according to FBI figures the sheriff's office is understaffed for the county's population.

    The commissioners also delivered similar bad news to County Fire Advisory Board Chair Lamar Stegall, fire chief in Williston. The commissioners indicated the board would not get a 3 percent increase that would allow the hiring of a fire director to handle administrative matters and fire inspections.

    Clerk of Courts Danny Shipp, whose office handles county finances, also felt the budget knife when $17,170 was trimmed from his request — including a 3 percent pay raise for his employees.

    Drew also told EMS that they should reconsider putting in money for two new units to replace high milage units in the coming year. EMS purchased two units this year and got approval to buy a third on Tuesday using a $126,000 state grant. Drew said she is worried about buying ambulances all at once because then the service will be faced with replacing the units all at once at some future date.

    Bell said departments need to look at their actual expenditures for the past three years and build their budget on the average expenditures for that time period.

    "These budgets have been very inflated over the years," she said.