While trying to reconcile the Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office’s budget request to revenue realities, the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) discussed the possibility Thursday of implementing a Municipal Service Taxing Unit (MSTU) for law enforcement services during the first of their annual budget workshops.
Sheriff Bob Johnson told commissioners that he needs nearly every penny of the $3 million difference between his request and the county revenues. The request includes funding for additional officers, an expanded Santa Rosa County Jail annex, 10 percent raises for current officers and equipment for 26 new state mandated school resource officers.
The sheriff’s office budget, which received a 10 percent increase last fiscal year, currently accounts for 54 percent of the county’s general fund budget. Under the current projected budget for fiscal year 2019, the sheriff’s office would see another 7.4 percent increase, but that still falls $3 million short of their initial funding request
Commissioner Don Salter said the BOCC needs to establish a continuing source of additional funds for the sheriff office due to increasing needs.
“Our first responsibility is the safety of our citizens,” he said. “At some point in time we are going to have to sit down and have a serious meeting about how we are going to keep up with the public safety needs that the citizens are asking for.”
Commissioner Lane Lynchard said he would support the creation of an MSTU for that purpose.
An MSTU is a special tax assessed on property within a given area to pay for a specific benefit, in this case law enforcement services. MSTUs are subject to homestead and other property tax exemptions.
The BOCC has had a long tradition of not raising ad valorum property taxes.
Wiggle room in the budget was also diminished by proposed across the board merit and compensation raises for county staff. County Administrator Dan Schebler said salary increases were emphasized as a budget priority for this fiscal year.
A salary study found that county employees across the board were paid between 25-27 percent less than market average Schebler reported. He said many employees could see up to a 17 percent raise if the increases were approved.
When he asked if the raises should be dropped to make up the deficit the commissioners said no.
Lynchard said if the MSTU were enacted, the overall property tax millage rate could be reduced because those public safety costs would no longer be coming out of the general revenue fund.
District 4 Commissioner Rob Williamson said he supported the idea. Commissioners Bob Cole and Sam Parker also appeared receptive of the idea.
If an MSTU were considered it would not be put in place until the 2020 fiscal year and would require publicly noticed meetings.
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