Okaloosa County’s Board of County Commissioners voted in their first budget hearing to tentatively approve their next fiscal year budget.
In total, the budget will require $561,367,758 from a variety of revenue areas to accomplish the Board of Okaloosa County Commissioners’ goals for the next year.
But the money management isn’t over quite yet. The County Commissioners will meet again at 5:01pm in Shalimar on September 20th to determine the budget once and for all.
Here are the details:
The rate at which properties in Okaloosa County will be taxed will remain the same for the fifth year in a row, should the budget stay the way it is now.
The total amount of money will increase, though, due to the fact that plenty of construction and homes sales have continued in Okaloosa County.
“The county’s economy is experiencing substantial growth,” wrote County Administrator John Hofstad in his letter to the commission explaining this years budget, “The County’s population has grown from 180,822 in 2010 to 213,255 in 2021, an increase of 18%. Nationally, new job growth fluctuates monthly. The April data indicates Okaloosa County’s unemployment rate is 1.9%, compared to the State at 3.0% and the United States at 3.6%.” Hoftstad continued, “For existing homes and new home sales, the median home cost is $370,000, and increase of 27% over last year.”
All in all, the Commission will have an increase of 14.1% in property value to tax. A total of more than $92,260,442.
Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel, newly-reelected, stayed true to her campaign promise to ask the rest of the board for a reduction in the tax rate to mirror the county’s budget for the previous year.
“Our constituents and I’ve heard from many of them in this campaign – and I’m certain you’ve gotten many of the same letters that I’ve gotten are being hit hard with rent, affordable housing, gas, groceries, utility costs and I think they would appreciate it if we would even consider dropping our millage rate by a tenth,” said Ketchel.
Commissioner Paul Mixon brought up some statistics to back up his argument that the budget should remain as is. “The statewide average [for property tax] is $709.66 per capita. When you go to Monroe County [home of the Florida Keys and constantly near the top of the list of Florida Counties with the lowest tax rates $1,281.29. Bay County is $552.62. Escambia County is $481.10 and Okaloosa County is $392.99,” said Mixon.
“Say that number again,” said Commissioner Nathan Boyles.
“392.99,” Mixon said. “I believe we are in a great position where we are. I don’t want to see us set ourselves up for the future to have to come back and have to fix something that we did this year, which, if I have the average number for homeowners right, would save them about $30 per year this year. I don’t want to have to come back next year to make it higher. Or, even have to bring it back to the same, because then we are raising [taxes] potentially in the midst of a downturn in our economy that is evident enough for all of us to see.”
Should this budget pass at the final budget hearing near the end of the month, raises for county government and sheriff’s office employees would take effect on October 1st.
County employees would receive a 5% raise across the board and sheriff’s deputies would also get a pay bump.
A total of 21 additional positions would be approved for the County Commissioners’ ranks. Positions in the County Administrator’s Office, Human Resource Department, Office of Management and Budget, Growth Management Department, Information Technology Department, Facility Maintenance Department, Road Maintainance Division, County Parks Division, Water and Sewer Department and Airports Department would be approved.
The increase would not change the County’s position as the fourth-largest single employer in Okaloosa County. According to OneOkaloosa only the Okaloosa County School District (3,294), Fort Walton Beach Medical Center (1,341) and Publix (1,092) employ more people in Okaloosa County.
In addition to personnel, were several notable items to check out in the budget. The county will work toward purchasing a new jail in the next couple of years. The county allocated $1.5 million to design a master plan for a new jail facility – to avoid the vicious and expensive cycle of patching the old jail.
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