Nassau Commission to consider property tax hike

YULEE, Fla. - The Nassau County Commission will begin consideration Wednesday evening on a proposed spending plan for the coming year that includes a property tax increase to help fill a nearly $12 million budget shortfall.

The proposal would raise the millage rate to generate the same amount of revenue to the county to make up from falling property values. County officials say it would cost the average homeowner $54.

"Our deficits been growing over the past five years. The first year it was around $2 million. Last year was up to $9 million. This year is $11 million," said assistant county manager Shanea Jones.

Since 2008, property values have decreased 25 percent, but commissioners had held the line on the tax rate out of concern for residents suffering from the weak economy. But officials say it's gotten to a point where they have no choice but to ask for more.

"They haven't increased the millage rate and our expenses grow just like yours," Jones said. "Gasoline, insurance, things go up, so we'll continue to see a deficit until they come to a solution to balance the budget."

The board had filled the gap using revenue from a one-cent sales tax and money from its reserves for operations instead of using that money for its intended purpose -- funding capital projects and maintenance of existing infrastructure.

The county manager and assistant county manager say it's difficult to consider having to raise taxes when they know residents and businesses are still struggling, but that if something isn't done now, things will be worst off in the long run.

"This is similar to families," Jones said. "A lot in our community have, you know, had a cut in pay or lost a job and in similar situation with the county. Our revenues aren't enough to cover our operating expenses, and so essentially we have to do the same thing a family would have to do in determining how they're going to create a replacement income or how they're going to cut services before they've used up all of their savings."

The county has held budget workshops since February to come up the proposal to increase the millage to the "rollback" rate -- the tax rate that would bring in the the same amount of revenue as last year.

That plan will be formally presented to the commission at its 6 p.m. Wednesday meeting.

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