The Bay County Commission plans to use its $9.7 million BP settlement to boost reserves and offset previous spending cuts rather than spend it on new projects.
"We're definitely going to be able to put some money back in holes we made for the last two or three years," said Chairman George Gainer. "I think everybody agrees that what's best for Bay County is to put this money back where we took it out of."
Commissioners view the settlement as a way to make up for the effects of declining property tax revenues. Over the past few years, the county has cut about 100 staff-level jobs, reduced budgets and reprioritized projects. What commissioners haven't done is raise taxes.
"It's no secret that we have gotten close to running out of money," said Commissioner Mike Thomas. "We've used our reserves up to keep from raising taxes."
The start of Fiscal Year 2013-14 budget workshops is less than 60 days away. Although previous revenue shortfalls led to budget reductions, Thomas doesn't think a windfall will justify a reversal. "I'm not anticipating increases, I'm anticipating not having cuts," he said. "We know we've got to build our surpluses back up... and we're going to start doing that."
Gainer, who boasts of never casting a vote in favor of a tax increase, said the BP funds all but guarantee there will be no increase in the millage rate in the FY 2013-14 budget.