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County Commissioners Again Can’t Agree On How Much To Raise Next Year’s Taxes

| July 9, 2018

County Commissioner Dave Sullivan, left, is willing to increase the property tax rate modestly. Don O'Brien is not. Both agree taxes are going up regardless. (© FlaglerLive)

County Commissioner Dave Sullivan, left, is willing to increase the property tax rate modestly. Don O’Brien is not. Both agree taxes are going up regardless. (© FlaglerLive)

For the third straight budget workshop, Flagler County Commissioners have been unable to agree on what property tax rate to set for next year and what to cut to get there, even though they all concede that a tax increase is all but certain.

Even if commissioners stick to the current tax rate, that would amount to a tax increase under Florida law, because property owners’ tax bill will be greater next year regardless, thanks to rising property values. That much commissioners concede: none is willing to reduce the tax rate to negate that tax increase.

“There’s going to be a large increase in taxes above the rollback rate,” Commissioner Dave Sullivan said, referring to the rate at which taxes would have to be set for there not to be an increase.

But the county administration and constitutional officers such as the sheriff have all requested budget increases, some of them substantial: the sheriff, for example, is trying to pay for the state-required increase in school resource officers. The school board is paying half that share, but the rest is for the county to pay. The county has its own list of needs to pay for. That’s left Administrator Craig Coffey proposing a tax rate increase that would equate to 25 cents per $1,000 in assessed value, or $25 for a $150,000 house with a $50,000 exemption.

Most commissioners have opposed it. Commissioner Dave Sullivan proposed an increase of 20 cents. The debate has hinged on that figure, as it did again at this morning’s commission workshop, with Sullivan and Commissioner Nate McLaughlin favoring that figure, Don O’Brien opposing it (he wants to stay with the current tax rate) and Commissioner Greg Hansen sending mixed signals, at times opposing the increase, at other times—as he did last week—directing Coffey to work up new numbers based on the 20-cent increase. Today Hansen again said he was opposed to the increase. (Hansen and McLaughlin are candidates in the August primary election.)

The tie-breaking vote would have been Commissioner Charlie Ericksen’s. But Ericksen hasn’t pronounced himself one way or the other in the first two workshops, and today he was absent. So the discussion was unresolved even though deadlines loom. Later this month the commission is required to vote on a proposed tax rate that will be mailed to property owners, what’s called the Truth in Millage notice. All governments that levy a tax must tell property owners what their maximum tax rate may be next year. By September, those governments will vote on an actual rate. It could match the rate published in the so-called trim notice, or it could be lower. But it can’t be higher.

Commissioners did not vote on a trim rate today. They couldn’t, this being a workshop. But they at least agreed to let Coffey prepare the trim notice based on the 20-cent rate increase. That doesn’t mean they’ll approve that rate even for the trim notice once they vote on it at a subsequent meeting, presumably with Ericksen present.

It isn’t even certain yet whether the $400,000 Coffey requested in cuts from the sheriff’s budget will all be possible, so even the gap in what can and cannot be paid for is a moving target.

O’Brien discussed various big-ticket items as potential cuts, including the way health benefits are calculated or a previously agreed-to upgrade in software for government accounting. (Health benefits would not be cut. Only the way they’re calculated year over year would affect the bottom line, though later O’Brien conceded that the “tweak” might not add up to the necessary savings.)  But those proposals drew resistance from Coffey or McLaughlin. The commission at a previous workshop had already committed to the software upgrade, a $1.8 million plan to revamp the government’s document-management system. (See the details here.) McLaughlin, as he had in previous workshops, stressed the commission’s responsibility to provide services—and to look out for the near-certainty that next year the budget will start off with a $3.5 million hole.

That’s because voters are expected to approve Amendment 1 in November, a proposed constitutional amendment that would expand the homestead exemption to $75,000, with certain qualifications.

Later in the workshop, commissioners again considered breaking up the $1.8 million commitment to the IT upgrade over several years, drawing a caution from the administrator: cutting one thing will cause ripples elsewhere. “You really are diving and having philosophical discussions on how to approach some of these things,” Coffey said. “Every choice has repercussion.”

The county’s property tax rate today is $8.1167 per $1,000 in assessed value, which works out to a bill of $1,218 for a $200,000 house with a $50,000 homestead exemption. Even if the rate stayed the same next year, homesteaded property owners would most likely see a 3 percent increase in their tax bill, because property values have increased at an average of 7.5 percent across the county. But the assessment increase is capped at 3 percent of that, except for non-homesteaded properties and commercial properties. So the tax on that $200,000 home will go up to $1,266 no matter what. Add to that the possible 20-cent increase commissioners are debating, and the bill rises to $1,297, a difference of $79 from today’s cost.

The rolled-back rate–the rate the commission would have to set for there not to be a tax increase–would have to be $7.7084 per $1,000 in assessed value.

13 Responses for “County Commissioners Again Can’t Agree On How Much To Raise Next Year’s Taxes”

  1. Richard says:

    That’s because the powers at be always like spending other people’s money. Therefore they should have more every year however instead of making sure the money collected goes to IMPORTANT places, it usually gets wasted on frivolous things.

  2. mark101 says:

    Thats ok incompetent ones, Craig Coffey will make the decision for you , like always. Sometimes I wonder why we even have county commissioners that can’t make a decision or stand up to a county administrator, just saying .

  3. John Dolan esq. says:

    Big problem how to spend other peoples money. Love the big stripe ties and clown style shirts. Your lost in the twilight zone fellas.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The taxes don’t need to be raised…..they need to cut some unnecessary expenses. It is absurd that the Kaiti Lenhart-Supervisor of Elections is asking for her second $100,000+ budget increase and that they allow the Sally Sherman deal and all the created $100.000 plus positions when this is relatively a small county and we city residents pay for management of our city through the city council–we have our own building department, code enforcement, legal representation, manager etc. With property values on the rise the county is already getting more…..time to put a pencil to where the cuts can and should be made so taxes don’t have to be raised. Cut off Craig Coffey and Al Hadeed and this problem will go away. These two are being paid more than they should be and with no oversite. Shame on you BOCC!!!! We can only hope for new representation in 2018 and 2020. Looking at filed Financial Disclosure Statements from the BOCC members, it is evident that only David Sullivan even knows how to responsibly handle his personal finances. Why are we trusting people who can’t manage their personal finances handle our tax dollars?????

  5. Atilla says:

    In other words the commissioners don’t know how to do their job. What a disfunctional county this is. They must be the laughing stock of the state.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Once again they try to mess with Sheriff’s Office budget. One that state mandates School Resource Deputies. What is it with you guys? You are old and have no kids in the school system, so you don’t care. Shame on you? How about cutting managers wages. Especially that retired consultant coming back to her old job making more money. Nothing fishy there! Something is wrong if you can’t even pass a tax for 2019. You’re outta here!

  7. Steve says:

    Yea lets spend 7MIL on a bike path

  8. thomas says:

    Let i
    me make it simple for them…..use the RollBack rate.

  9. Just the facts says:

    The fact is that because they are running for office they don’t want to make an unpopular decision. It is all about politics not about what is good for the residents.

  10. The Regulator says:

    Look at those smiles. They are so giddy trying to figure out how to spend all that money. How many more plants can we plant.

  11. tulip says:

    Remember what “Just the facts” wrote and vote these candidates out and, in 2 years get rid of the others, or be suckered in by them again, while they smile and quietly praise themselves that they fooled us again. We have some fresh candidates that are running, maybe they deserve a chance to prove themselves by electing them. It can’t be any worse that what we have now.

  12. Trailer Bob says:

    As a Certified Financial Planner for about 30 years, I can tell you this…Why do we have elected officials putting together a budget WE must pay for when there is such a lack of real concern and understanding of financial realities that result from candidates that in some cases have actually filed for personal bankruptcy in the past??
    If one cannot handle their own personal finances on a tiny scale, why would we ask them to handle our county finances and think that they somehow became different people? You cannot spend what you do not have…I have lived in much smaller counties in this country that are run better. And the Good Ol Boys crap has got to end. As soon as I moved here I found that the county and cities are pretty healthy with names of those who have lived here for a long time. Most are too old and should move on, other are afraid the place will not stay what it was back in the 50’s and 60’s. If ever a place needed a house cleaning, it is Flagler County. I won’t even start with the clowns running Palm Coast…

  13. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    With all due respect to all who do not lie the county’s spending ‘plan’ …. the budget workshops are open to everyone. All the proposals are pre-posted on the county’s ( pathetic , yes) webwsite in advance of each ‘workshop’. The public is given time ( a lousy 3 minutes yes) to speak, to vent, etc but nobody but the same 3 or 4 people show up out of the over 105,000 total county residents!
    The final tax rate will be decided at a pubic hearing – SHOW UP AND SPEAK !
    The final budget for 2018-2019 will be decided at a public hearing – SHOW UP AND SPEAK!
    And remember, God helps those who help themselves. E-MAIL, CALL, LET OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS HEAR FROM THEIR BOSSES – YOU!

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