Jimmy Norris

Jimmy Norris, the county’s economic development director, requested funding for the Complete Count Committee in the budget hearing.

LIVE OAK — There were a few last-minute alterations, but the Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved the county’s $94.75 million budget at its tentative budget hearing last week.

The final budget hearing is scheduled for Monday at 5:30 p.m.

In addition to approving the tentative budget at the Sept. 3 hearing, the board also approved the tentative millage rate of 9.0000 mills, the same tax rate the county has used the past six years. The rollback rate, or the tax rate that will provide the same amount of tax revenue as the previous year’s rate, is 8.8340 mills. The proposed rate is a 1.88% increase from the rollback rate.

At the tentative budget hearing, there were some changes, one requested by Economic Development Director Jimmy Norris and the other by District 5 Commissioner Ronnie Richardson.

Norris, who has been tasked with chairing a Complete Count Committee in the county for next year’s U.S. Census, requested some additional funding to help with that committee’s work to try and make sure the county residents are all counted.

“We have to have a few dollars to actually do our jobs,” Norris said.

Norris told the board that the recommendation from the United States Census Bureau is 50 cents per resident, or $22,500 since the county’s population is estimated at 45,000.

The board was in favor of contributing to the census efforts with Norris noting that the turnout could mean millions of extra revenue annually for 10 years for the county.

In 2010, Suwannee County only had an estimated 70 percent of its population counted.

Commissioner Len Stapleton said that at the board’s Aug. 20 meeting, Jennifer Pyle with the census estimated each person could be worth anywhere from $1,450 to $2,000.

“We won’t have to get but a handful of people and we’ll make back what we just spent,” Stapleton said.

Norris said there was not currently a plan as to how the funding would be spent, but it would mainly be promotional and advertising.

“We’re tasked with getting the word out to the communities and making sure everyone is aware,” said Norris, adding the census has ideas that could be used for promoting and advertising, it matters how much the county is wanting to spend.

County Administrator Randy Harris said to him whatever amount the board agreed to pay would be money well spent considering how reliant the county has been on utilizing grants for road projects, which are based in part on those census figures.

Chairman Ricky Gamble added that it doesn’t just apply to the county either, that the Suwannee County School District as well as the Florida Department of Health - Suwannee County get funding based on the population as well.

Ultimately the board agreed to spend no more than $25,000 with $10,000 of that coming from the economic development office’s current budget’s leftover funds for the census with the possibility that the Development Authority and other sources may contribute some as well.

“The fact of the matter is, if they undercount, we still have to service the population,” Gamble said. “We’re still going to have to service 55,000 with the money for 45,000.”

Richardson also asked the board about the possibility of utilizing $20,000-25,000 to clean up a property in Branford that the county purchased last year at a tax deed sale.

Richardson said after discussions with Harris, that amount could fix issues with the house and property, allowing the county to sell it and start receiving tax revenues from the property.

“I just want to get it moving and get it done,” Richardson said.

Harris said the double-wide mobile home on the site needs cosmetic work inside.

“I think if we put $20,000-25,000 into it, we’ll get a whole lot more for it,” Harris said, adding he wants to make sure the property doesn’t end up becoming an issue again in the future.

After a brief discussion, the board agreed to use $20,000 toward that project.

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