The City of Niceville’s staff proposed an increase in property tax of 0.3 mills – or about $200 on the average house in the city per year.
But, if Tuesday (16 August) night’s budget hearing indicates anything – that increase may likely see a reduction.
Most of the city departments, from police and fire to roads and the library, asked for an increase in their budgets for the next fiscal year – which is set to start October first.
To be clear, though, no final decision has been made on property tax rates for the City of Niceville. That will take place after a series of council budget meetings, which take place throughout August.
Here’s what happened:
A letter from the property appraiser’s office went out this week and should have hit most people’s mailboxes, which stated that the city of Niceville was looking at increasing property taxes within city limits 0.3 mills – to 4 mills.
Councilman Nodjimian noticed that several line items in several departments’ budgets were very similar and began to ask staff why the line items appeared to be simply moved from last year to this year – while asking for a property tax rate increase for the year, when the current year budget showed significant amounts of current year funding had not been spent.
“There’s no differences” Nodjimian said of the FY22 budget and the FY23 proposal. “So I have little confidence when that’s being done.” He added that, “It’s hard to sit here and say, ‘we’re gonna raise our citizens’ taxes when that’s the kind of information that we’re looking at.”
“I’ll just put all of my cards on the table,” Nodjimian said, “I don’t like the fact that we went to [a 4.0 millage rate], and that’s why I voted against it. Because, if you’re given [a 4.0 millage rate] you tend to budget to it. So I’m going to be looking for opportunities to get back to the 3.7.”
Both the Fire and Police departments were among the majority of departments and units in the city which asked for an increase to their budget for the next fiscal year.
Niceville Police Chief David Popwell asked for an increase of 21% for the department budget in FY23. While there were increases for salaries and wages – the lion’s share of the increase came from one single line item – a building.
The Chief requested $500,000 from the council to fund the design plans for a new police station to be constructed sometime in the near future. The building would cost, in total, between 10 and 15 million dollars and would more than likely, according to city staff, require a bond issue in order to construct the building.
The other piece of the increase was for an increase in salaries for officers. Members of the Niceville PD received a mid-budget increase in the last year of 10% for officers’ salaries. Still, the department is understaffed – only 26 of the 32 allocated positions are currently filled. While the budgeted increase this year for officers is an additional 3%, which is the same increase as employees for all other departments, Councilperson Alley wants to see more of an increase in pay for NPD.
Alley wants to see another 10% increase in FY23 for Officers. “They can’t afford to live here,” Alley said, “The amount of money they are making, they can’t afford to live here.”
The Fire department is also expected to see an increase in manpower. The department has requested an additional two positions, a firefighter and a training/safety officer. The chief hopes to move a firefighter currently into an assistant chief role and to expand the training and readiness of the department – to include ALS-level emergency medical response.
Councilwoman Cathy Alley noted during the review of the IT department’s budget that she wanted to see included in the budget funding for live streaming capabilities for the city council meetings in the next year’s budget.
“Every other municipality around us is live streaming their meetings. And, I think we need to be live streaming in our meetings as well.”
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