County commissioners have until the end of September to pass a new budget, but they took their first initial swipes at it this week as to how it should be crafted.
And as expected, the COVID-19 pandemic has thrown a curve into the normal budget-setting process.
“We have to look at the budget this year as an anomaly,” County Commissioner Ron Kitchen Jr. said. “You newly elected commissioners (referring to Commissioners Holly Davis and Ruthie Schlabach) have a trial by fire because not only is it your first budget, it’s the first budget that’s got this COVID mess in it. And by that mess, I mean the extra money that’s really clouded the issue.”
An estimated $33 million in federal aid is headed Citrus County’s way as part of the coronavirus relief stimulus package signed into law by President Joe Biden. The county gets $29 million, Crystal River $1.34 million and Inverness $3.12 million.
Kitchen proposed the board look at two separate budgets: One that looks at the recurring budget as if the pandemic never happened. The second, he said, would deal with the “money falling from the sky budget” — a one-time infusion of federal stimulus money.
One common theme that emerged during their discussion was using some of the money to catch up on road resurfacing.
Commissioner Holly Davis said the county needs a continuing income stream to improve roads and resurfacing. Whether that takes a local option sales tax or adjustments to the millage is open for debate, she said.
Commissioner Jeff Kinnard said Citrus County is faced with many road infrastructure needs — not so much new infrastructure but repairs and maintenance of existing ones.
County Administrator Randy Oliver presented the board with two budget options to consider: adopt a rollback rate plus 3% in addition to ad valorem increase for new money, or leave the millage rate the same with the excess dedicated to road resurfacing.
The rollback rate is the millage rate which would generate the same amount of property tax as the previous year. So if the value of taxable property in the county increases, the rollback decreases.
Taxes are calculated through the millage: One mill equals $1 of tax for every $1,000 of taxable value on property. When the millage rate stays the same, anyone who experiences an increase in the taxable value of the property they own will see a tax increase.
Last year, commissioners unanimously approved a $302.9 million budget that kept the tax rate at 7.887 mills.
The fiscal year is from Oct. 1 to Sept. 30.
Here are the key dates in this year’s budget process:
• April 27: Capital Improvement Program (CIP) workshop.
• July 28: Preliminary budget hearing.
• Sept. 9: Tentative budget hearing.
• Sept. 28: Final budget hearing.