CRESTVIEW — For a few minutes during Tuesday's millage and budget hearing, it appeared the City Council could disapprove the 2015-16 budget, but it finally passed on a 3-1 vote.
Councilman JB Whitten, who cast the dissenting vote, has consistently opposed millage and budget increases, saying they will hurt business and burden taxpayers. “Despite what some people say, our millage rate does make a difference,” Whitten said. “We already had the highest millage rate in Okaloosa County, Escambia County and Santa Rosa County.”
With the increase from 5.8466 to 6.9466 mills, Crestview moves to the top 20 percent of Florida’s more than 400 taxing municipalities, Whitten said. One mill equals a thousand dollars per a property’s taxable value after exemptions have been applied.
Council President Shannon Hayes said a mill assessed in Crestview does not generate the same amount as a mill assessed in neighboring cities because of Crestview’s lower property values. He also challenged Whitten’s assertion that higher millage will discourage businesses from coming to Crestview. “The largest businesses and corporations don't even consider the tax rate. That's the cost of doing business for them,” Hayes said. “They know they'll make that back in sales.”
After the millage rate passed 3-1, it appeared Councilman Joe Blocker might join Whitten in voting against the proposed $29,593,225 budget. “I’m not 100 percent for it,” Blocker said.
“We've had numerous budget meetings,” Hayes said. “This is not the time to have objections to what has been before us for some time.”
“If you don't adopt these resolutions, then the ad will be invalid and you cannot have the public hearing Monday night,” Roy said, and the city would not be in compliance with state law requiring the millage and budget be in place by the start of the Oct. 1 fiscal year.
“You can always change the budget after it’s adopted,” Roy said, with city attorney Ben Holley's agreement.
The council then approved the tentative budget.