'A small change': Millage rate to increase from 1.455 to 1.500

Matt Algarin

As city leaders prepare for a new budget cycle, a proposedincrease to the millage rate is on the books.

"We are at a point where we had to make a small change," City Manager Maryann Ustick told The Log. "It's something where it's hard to maintain a certain level of service with less revenue coming in."

The tentative rate is set at 1.500 mils, which is an increase of 3.1 percent compared to the fiscal year 2013 and the current 1.455 mils. The change in rates represents an additional $153,229 in revenue to the city coffers.

The increase is the first change in the city's millage rate since 2008 and is the same rate residents paid in 2007.

Essentially, the millage rate is the amount per $1,000 that is used to calculate taxes on property after exemptions are factored in. In Destin, the city's charter caps the millage rate at 2.0 mills.

So, what does the rate increase mean to residents? Well, it depends on the value of your property.

For a property with a homestead value of $100,000, a resident would see their tax payment increase by $2.25 under the 1.50 mils, according to city documents. A property valued at $200,000 would see an average increase of about $6.75 to tax bill.

While the numbers fluctuate, city Finance Director Bragg Farmer told The Log that a property valued at $200,000 would pay about $300 annually in taxes compared to about $290 based on the current rate.

"We discussed this pretty extensively and talked about how it's going to affect the average household in Destin," he said.

The city's proposed budget for the fiscal year 2014 is $12,994,034, which is very similar to where it stood in FY2013, excluding an $8 million contribution from the Okaloosa County Tourist Development Council for beach restoration.

Looking at the actual budget, the city has some big ticket items that will eat up a majority of funds.

"The number one issue is the Town Center CRA," Ustick told The Log.

The city will make an $860,938 payment towards the debt in the town center, which is an increase of $282,642. Overall though, Ustick said part of the city's financial goals are to "invest in our older infrastructure," such as sidewalks and stormwater facilities.

"We're constantly looking at ways to help ease traffic and get people safely across the street," Farmer added.

City leaders will also consider a 3 percent cost of living adjustment that would total $89,000, as well as employee raises, which could be funded out of the current budget.

With budget hearings set for Sept. 3 and 17 at 6 p.m. at the City Hall Annex, Farmer told The Log the city is ready to present a balanced budget to city leaders for review and recommendations. The public is welcome to attend.

As for whether or not the city of Destin is in "good financial shape," Farmer said they are "in a very good" position.

"We recognized the downturn in the economy early and we adjusted things," he said. "From a stability standpoint, Destin has weathered the storm well."

And since property values fluctuate throughout the city, not everyone is going to be affected by the increased millage rate.

"Some people will actually see their taxes go down," Ustick said.