Flagler County commissioners back slight tax rate decrease, look for potential cost savings

Tax revenue will still increase — and locals might see higher bills — because property values are going up.

County Commissioner Donald O'Brien
County Commissioner Donald O'Brien
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After committing to reduce the property tax rate without cutting funding for law enforcement and fire rescue, Flagler County commissioners at a Sept. 12 meeting looked elsewhere to cobble together savings for the coming year's budget.

Commissioners were meeting to determine the parameters of the budget for the coming year, and they had a deadline: The basics of what money will be going where must be determined by Sept. 13, so that the tentative budget can be advertised to the public ahead of a final budget hearing on Sept. 19.

At a previous meeting on Sept. 7, commissioners had voted 3-2 to reduce the tax rate slightly, while still funding Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly's request for $700,000 for deputy pay raises and other Sheriff's Office needs. Commissioners David Sullivan and Andy Dance were the dissenting votes.

That reduction left the county's budget with a funding gap of $1.87 million shortly before the deadline.

"We spent seven months working on a budget, only for it to be blown up at the last minute," Dance said at the Sept. 12 meeting. "So here we are, trying to make things work."

County Administrator Heidi Petito came to the Sept. 12 meeting with some proposals, including pulling money out of the county's reserve fund, letting some vacant staff positions remain unfilled, and cutting back on spending that isn't required by law and isn't part of the county government's strategic plan.

For instance, she said, the county's public transportation bus service has one vacant position, out of its four overall. The county could decide to eliminate that job.

Sullivan, who heads a committee for the public transportation program, thought that unwise. He noted that much of the program is grant-funded, and cutting county funding for it may make it harder to get grants in the future.

Hansen, who'd voted in favor of the proposal to fully fund the Sheriff's Office's request while reducing the tax rate, at the Sept. 12 meeting asked the sheriff if there was anywhere he might be able to save some money for the county. 

"Everybody's feeling the pain except the sheriff," Hansen said, "And I would encourage the sheriff over the next few months to really take a hard look at your budget. And maybe you can cut a [Ford] Mustang or cut an unmarked vehicle or cut some things like that to help us."

In fact, Staly — who'd attended the meeting — did have some potential savings, saying  he'd be returning some money to the county government from the current year's budget.

Kaiti Lenhart, the county's elections supervisor, will be returning some money as well, she said. 

It's not yet clear how much money they might be able to give back: The Sheriff's Office, for example, recently seized a pickup truck and hopes to donate it to the county government, but the seizure has to first be approved by the court system.

Another $600,000 in tax money from new development will also be coming to the county government thanks to an error at the Property Appraiser's Office, Petito said. That money will lower the gap, but the county will still have to find savings in other areas.







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