County Commissioners Tentatively Vote to Raise Property Tax

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PANAMA CITY-- After more than 20 years living in unincorporated Bay County, Ken Thorndyke knows change is coming.

"If my taxes go up, I would expect more services or a service such as tree limb and debris pickup," said Ken Thorndyke, Panama City Beach Resident.

But Thorndyke will most likely be disappointed.

County budget officials say commissioners will have to raise taxes this year, just to pay for current services and obligations.

They're recommending about a 1-mil increase to 4.65 mils.

"I hope it's not that much, I hope it's not even a mil. But if it is, it's still going to be a mil less than it was 10 years ago," said George Gainer, Bay County Commissioner.

That 1-mil would increase taxes on a $150,000 home by about $100 a year.

Commissioners say the county needs the money.

"We have some serious problems here right now, in crime, and in other areas, in our roads. We got to look at that real close and we just can't lose the ground that we have," said Gainer.

The proposal also includes .0475 mil increase for mosquito control and a .38 mil increase for fire services.

Fire Chief Mark Bowen says without the increase he'll have to lay off about 22 firefighters.

"We would drastically reduce our level of service. The county fire that would be more than half of the staffing for the fire service," said Mark Bowen, Bay County Chief of Emergency Services.

Besides keeping staff, Bowen says the increase will go to equipment, including the breathing tanks firefighters wear.

"Those are about $5,000 a piece," said Bowen.

It does not include long term issues, like renovating, replacing or relocating fire stations.

"Our staff presented a case, where our road and bridges equipment needs updating. The fire department, a third of its trucks is having problems and meeting pumping status that they need. It's time to spend some money," said Mike Thomas, Bay County Commissioner.

Commission will hold several public hearings before deciding on a final millage rate.