BCC elevates first responders to head of the line with its new budget

Tax increase to provide CCSO, CCFR much-needed revenue to compete

By Wesley LeBlanc wesley@opcfla.com
Posted 9/29/21

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The Board of County Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve a 2021-2022 fiscal year aggregate millage rate of 8.3406, which represents the first property tax increase in …

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BCC elevates first responders to head of the line with its new budget

Tax increase to provide CCSO, CCFR much-needed revenue to compete

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – The Board of County Commissioners voted Tuesday to approve a 2021-2022 fiscal year aggregate millage rate of 8.3406, which represents the first property tax increase in years.

The BCC voted 4-1, with commissioner Betsy Condon dissenting, during its regular Sept. 28 meeting. Condon said her “nay” vote had nothing to do with law enforcement and fire rescue. She stressed she fully supports those departments getting the money they need, but in reality, the tax increase will go to other areas of the budget, too. Therefore, she wasn’t comfortable raising the property tax millage rate.

Dozens of residents attended the meeting wearing red shirts and blue shirts that said “Support Clay County First Responders” to show their support, and the hallway outside of the BCC chambers were filled with those same people talking excitedly about how the tax increase will help first responders. CCSO Sheriff Michelle Cook, who requested $70,098,070 which represents a 12.03% increase compared to the current budget, said she’s thrilled that she’ll be able to pay her employees what they deserve.

“It’s the beginning of what I hope is an effort to really pay our first responders what they’re worth,” Cook told Clay Today after the vote. “We don’t enter this profession to make a lot of money, but we have to provide a living wage and that hasn’t been the case for a very long time.

“The numbers show that at the end of the day, it costs more to hire and train people who then leave the agency and must be replaced than it does to give people raises. If we can slow the attrition and start recognizing those savings in the long run, it will be cheaper.”

Condon said she feels the money was already there to give first responders the money they deserve without raising taxes, in part due a 6% increase in property values.

“I could talk about the waste that goes on ... we didn’t come back and look at anything [after I asked staff to find ways to save more money],” Condon said. “There’s a road project that occurred in District 4 and it was approved and signed off by county employees over six months ago and it’s still not done.”

BCC chair Mike Cella said it was time for Clay County to raise taxes.

“It bothers me a little bit that we still have questions over our process,” Cella said. “At some point, we have to make a determination as to what’s important in our county. Am I a big tax and spend guy? No. You’re not going to find a cheaper guy than me. At the same time, though, this is deadly serious and as a board, our number one priority is public safety.”

Commissioner Jim Renninger said he hears people in Clay County pay too much in taxes, but he refutes that. He said out of 67 counties in Florida, Clay ranks 62nd.

“You can’t convince me we’re overtaxed. If you don’t take care of your people, you’re dealing with a dying organization. People move in here, get trained and move out, and it’s costing us money. Clay County shouldn’t be an afterthought. It should be a leader in this region. We haven’t raised taxes in seven years...you might pat your back, but I think that’s a sign that we might have missed something. I’m in full support of this budget.”

The final budget looks like this: an aggregate millage rate of 8.3406, which is more than the current year aggregate rolled-back rate of 7.5232 by 10.87%. The County Services millage rate is 5.5727, the Unincorporated Service MSTU Fund rate is .1221, the Fire Control MSTU-8 Fund is .5048, the Lake Asbury MSBD rate is 0, and Challenger Roadway MSTU rate is 3 mills.

In other business, Clay County Florida Department of Health director Heather Huffman said Clay County is currently in a lull period in regards to COVID-19.

“We’re coming down from the Delta surge we had,” Huffman said. “We’ve had 364 cases in the past four days, which is around the same trend [in recent weeks] of 80 to 90 cases a day and 30% of our cases are still coming from 32068 [Middleburg area].”

Huffman said the 5-14-year-olds are no longer leading the way for COVID-19 cases, which likely occurred as a result of the school year starting, and that the 14-24 age group now are the most-affected age bracket.

“We’ve currently had 645 total deaths and 266 have come since July 1,” Huffman said. “Forty one percent of all deaths here are from Delta.” 

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