Jackson County Commissioners were scheduled to have their first public hearing at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday regarding the proposed property tax rate for the coming fiscal year. The meeting had not occurred as of the deadline for this edition.
After several days of budget talk, the board last Thursday afternoon elected to set its proposed millage at 7.44, the same as last year, and the figure that the county’s fiscal officers used in setting a working budget as the county board several weeks ago started deliberations for tax year 2021-22.
The board did consider setting the rate higher during those deliberations, in early August formally setting the tentative tax rate at almost 7.94 for use during the process before backing it down to 7.44 last week.
The public hearing was to be followed by a general meeting of the board. Its “second Tuesday” session is normally held at 9 a.m. but was moved to 6 p.m. in light of the public hearing that was scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on the millage
One of the items on the agenda called for the board to hear and potentially act on a request from Interim Public Transportation Director Rett Daniels to have a third party analyze three possible ways to address a growing-pain the county is experiencing as the new budget year looms.
It’s losing money on its sewer service to residential customers, and that’s the sector of its utility services array that is growing most rapidly. Among those the county provides that service to are some customers along State Road 71 in Marianna, some along the Interstate 10 connector in Cottondale, and the Indian Springs subdivision in Marianna. The subdivision is experiencing enough growth that the county’s aging lift station is stressed under the burden.
It would cost some $1.25 million to update the sewer infrastructure and that same amount to also upgrade water capacity to the customers.
Additionally, it would take an estimated $150,000 to have a truly adequate facility for department personnel. Currently, those workers have two warehouses and an office space, all in different locations, from which they must deploy. Daniels thinks a central location is needed has in mind a couple of places the county owns that could be renovated to serve.
“We are currently losing money on our residential sewer customers, which is the category we are growing the most in our system,” county officials read in their agenda packets. “Now we are to a point where we need to make a substantial investment in our Utilities department or investigate other options. Please keep in mind, due to our current financial situation within the department, we are not eligible for state loans to continue growing the water system,” the narrative stated.
According to the agenda item, the board was to be asked whether they wanted to seek proposals from a third party to analyze the following three options: Maintain the current system in house and perform the necessary changes to become a growing system (at a cost of about 2.5 million); or transfer these assets to the City of Marianna and collect franchise fees for the city to operate the system in the County; or establish a Utility Authority to be split between the county and the city of Marianna and other user-municipalities in the county.
This isn’t the first time the county has tackled the financial stresses associated with its utility systems.
The county has had a consultant look at the water service rates previously, and that company had suggested a 2 percent annual increase per 1,000 gallons of usage for water over a certain amount, as well as an adjusted base rate.
A like study has not been done on the sewer asset.
Also on the agenda in a separate line item was a proposal that the county refinance an already-existing utility system loan.
Gollahon Financial Services has put together a possible refinancing loan that could take advantage of better interest rates now in place, a change the company indicated could save the county in the range of $200,000 over the life of the loan.
See the Floridan online and in the Saturday print edition for information on the board’s vote regarding these and other matters on the table Tuesday night.