County commissioners want to reduce the property tax rate from its current $8.2547 per $1,000 in taxable value and hope to cut $1 million to $2 million from the county budget to do it.
"I feel that we ought to at least show ... that as a county and as elected officials, we're looking out for our citizens."
— DAVID SULLIVAN, county commissioner
Commissioners voted unanimously during a special meeting after a budget workshop Aug. 9 to ask county staff to rework the coming year's budget to cut the rate by at least a tenth of a mill. A mill is equal to $1 dollar per $1,000 of taxable value.
Property values have risen about 9% in Flagler County, so the $8.2547 per $1,000 rate is expected to bring in about $6.9 million more tax revenue in the coming fiscal year than it did in the current fiscal year.
Commissioners made their decision after hearing from two constitutional officers — Clerk of Courts Tom Bexley and Sheriff Rick Staly, who's asking for funding to hire 15 more deputies — who were both requesting budget increases. Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart has also requested a budget increase.
Commissioner David Sullivan proposed the reduction, saying taxpayers need a break. He made a motion to ask staff to come back with a proposed budget that would account for a tenth-of-a mill reduction.
"The citizens of this county ... have had a very difficult year," he said. "I feel that we ought to at least show ... that as a county and as elected officials, we're looking out for our citizens."
That would also mean not giving the constitutional officers everything they'd requested, he said.
The suggestion — both the specific amount and the stated reason for it — echoed one made at a July 12 meeting by Commissioner Andy Dance, who'd wanted the county to commit to a tenth-of-a-mill reduction when it set its maximum tentative rate.
Commission Chairman Donald O'Brien said he was willing to support a tenth-of-a-mill reduction, but also wants to fully fund the constitutional officers' request, potentially using American Rescue Plan money.
"I don't believe they waste money, and I think that those budgets are reasonable and they're well thought out and formulated," he said. "My philosophy is to keep the constitutionals funded the way they’ve requested, fully, and figure out other ways to fill the gap."
He said he believed the county is in a good position, financially.
"I think we could find a million dollars, or a million six ... to figure it out, and I think we're within our rights to be able to do that with the American Rescue Plan," he said.
County administrator Heidi Petito warned that county government offices like fire rescue are, like the constitutional officers, dealing with cost increases.
"We all are experiencing a need for increasing personnel," she said. "I agree that we shouldn’t place the burden of balancing the budget on the backs of the constitutionals, but I also feel that it shouldn’t be placed wholly on the County Commission."
Petito suggested that if the county wants to trim its budget, it do so across the board. Commissioners will vote on a final tax rate in September.