As cities plan to raise taxes, Volusia decided to go against the grain.
As cities such as Ormond Beach and Port Orange begin budget talks to raise their millage rates, the Volusia County Council decided to do just the opposite: the Council moved to set next fiscal year's millage at the roll-back rate of 5.6944.
At the Council's meeting on Tuesday, July 24, Tammy Bong, County director of management and budget, outlined the Truth in Millage Rates for the upcoming fiscal year where estimated taxable values, which Bong said have not recovered since 2007, equate to almost $34 million. Residential property makes up 67% of that, with 60% of the residential property valued under $100,000.
The tentative millage means that the average homeowner will pay about $622 in taxes for 2018-2019. Since 2007, Bong said the County has been at roll-back four times, and under roll-back another four. The County's operating budget is estimated at $768,755,651.
Interim County Manager George Recktenwald said Volusia's millage rate will help the cities.
“We roll ours back in and that’s what allows us to run these things in a way that we have money for when we need to help out," Recktenwald said.
Since the County is going to zero debt, all the Council members seemed to be on board with setting the millage at the roll-back rate — save for one.
County Council Chair Ed Kelley said he was concerned about going to the roll-back rate due to the possible Homestead Exemption that may or may not pass in the upcoming ballot, as well as the County's emergency reserve funds going to 7.5%. With the County still awaiting $30 million in FEMA funds, he worried what would happen if another hurricane hit.
“You’re going to have the mother lode of all tax increases that we will face with the right scenario," Kelley said.
County Councilman Fred Lowry said those circumstances might occur regardless if the County raises taxes now or not. Reacting now in anticipation, would result in two years of raising taxes, he said.
“To me, having gone to zero debt gives us great potential, and also being able to tighten our belt now gives us a potential of being able to loosen it maybe later on if we do have an unforeseen thing," Lowry said.
County Councilwoman Heather Post also cited the County's zero debt as a reason she was comfortable with going with not raising taxes. She said there is always going to be something the County could be spending money on, and they should be mindful of that.
“But we can’t be mindful of that in the backs of our citizens," Post said.
County Councilwoman Deb Denys also mentioned that there are other funds available that the County could move money around in case of an emergency, such as the vehicle maintenance fund which she said has about $20 million. County Councilwoman At-Large Joyce Cusack said it was the right time to go into roll-back, but that Volusia will need to be cautious of how they spend money going forward.
The County's first budget hearing will take place at 6 p.m. on Sept. 4.