Destin City Council sets budget, increases property taxes

Annie Blanks | 315-4450 | @DestinLogAnnie |

The Destin City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the 2016-17 budget, which calls for a 7.6 percent increase in property taxes.

 The $20,650,794 spending plan is based on a millage rate of 1.615. The council had capped the city’s property tax rate at 1.7 mills but a majority of council members supported a lower millage.

The council made its decision after hearing from two citizens, including former city councilman Jim Bagby, who was concerned that the council did not have a solid plan in place to spend the money effectively.

“I would just ask that you keep the taxes of the citizens in this community as low as possible,” Bagby told the council. “That’s what you were elected to do…that doesn’t mean that you don’t do anything. It means that you do it effectively and you do it efficiently and you have a well thought out plan.”

The millage increase generates $460,000 for city coffers. Destin City Manager Carisse LeJeune said the city will use the money in four areas: stormwater and sidewalk repairs, a marine unit with a personal watercraft for the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office and increased law enforcement coverage for spring break.

The sidewalk repairs were initially budgeted at $105,000, but after further review LeJeune said the cost will be $46,950.

Councilman Rodney Braden said he had spoken to members of the community who were largely in support of the property tax increase.

“I think I’ve had four phone calls … of people opposing this budget increase,” Braden said. “I’ve had three times that many people calling and saying that they didn’t care. If we need to do it, we need to do it.”

Councilman Tuffy Dixon was absent due to prior obligations.

The council also voted to move forward with exploring the option of purchasing the city's electrical utility, which Gulf Power currently handles. Gulf Power’s 30-year contract came to an end this year, and the council voted 5-1 to approve soliciting proposals from professional firms to conduct a feasibility analysis. Councilman Cyron Marler voted against the measure.

The council also gave initial approval to a temporary tree cutting ban. After final approval at the council's next meeting, the moratorium will be in place until the city updates its existing tree ordinance.