The Okaloosa County Commission has all but decided to keep your tax rate for county services at the same level as last year – but you will likely see a slight bump on your bill.
All five Okaloosa County Commissioners voted to keep the same millage rate, 3.8308, that they’ve levied on property taxes since the 2018 fiscal year. Thanks to new home construction and increasing property values throughout the County, that number will net the County an additional nine percent over last year – a total of $10.5 Million. The County reports that more than 2,800 homes are approved to be built in Okaloosa County soon.
An annual increase in property taxes is not new in Okaloosa County. Since 2015, property values in Okaloosa County have almost doubled from $14.4 Billion to 27 Billion. The total effect of inflation trails far behind that increase, at 29% since 2015.
Tracy Jennette, a local realtor with Coldwell Banker says that the combination of the higher interest rates and increasing prices means good news for people who are already living in Okaloosa Countyor want to sell, but it is a disadvantage for those who are looking to buy.
“It’s very good for sellers, but not so good for buyers,” Jennette emphasized, “The buyers buying power has gone down with the current interest rates. Anytime you have more tax revenue, that’s good (for current residents) and people are still buying homes. It’s not like we’ve entered a depressed market here locally. It’s been good for the local economy. Those tax dollars go back into our economy.”
The commissioners also decided not to raise the Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU), which provides areas outside of cities, like Bluewater Bay and East Niceville, small services like Okaloosa County park maintenance.
The commission could decide to change the millage rate between now and the September 19th meeting – but they would have to send a letter to every property holder in the County before the next meeting. Suffice it to say, it’s unlikely the property tax levy will change.
The final decision on the county tax rate will be made on September 19th at 5:01 PM at the Okaloosa County Administration Building in Shalimar.
This year’s budget is about $100 Million, or a little more than 15% of which is property taxes. The rest of the County’s budget gets brought in through, like water and sewer, or from federal and state grants, which are created with your federal and state income tax dollars.
The County has about 1,000 employees. This year’s budget would increase that number by eight employees. The budget would also give all employees a four percent cost-of-living increase (COLA). The pay hike tracks a smidge ahead of the 3.4% inflation rate for the Southeastern United States that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported for the 12 months between July 2022 and July 2023 (their most recent data).
County Administrator John Hofstad’s budget presentation document noted that the County continues to have difficulty hiring and retaining talent, primarily due to what it pays its employees. A study, cited by the presentation shows that the County pays 9.3% below market rate to its employees. The county report also blames their hiring issues on the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and “The Great Resignation” that followed it.
In addition to increased personnel costs – the County will also build a couple of buildings with money from this budget year. This includes a new structure for the Okaloosa County Public Works Department ($3.5 Million), funding for an Okaloosa County Jail master plan design ($1.5 Million), passenger boarding bridges at the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport ($4.5 Million) and the Crestview Bypass road project ($122 Million). The passenger boarding bridges will be purchased through the funds raised from landing fees charged to the airlines who use VPS airport and the money from the Crestview Bypass road project has several sources. Those sources for the bypass include BP Oil Spill money and county half-cent sales tax revenues, to name a few.
Finally, the Okaloosa County Sheriff takes a large chunk of the taxes raised to operate. Sheriff Eric Aden’s Office, which is constitutionally separate from the Okaloosa County Board of Commissioners but gets its funding from the County, has asked for a grand total of about $60 Million to run its operations – including specific contracts to police the Destin-Fort Walton Beach Airport.
All told, the budget for Okaloosa County would increase year-over-year by $64 Million.
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