Santa Rosa County employees will be seeing a salary increase next year after the Board of County Commissioners approved a plan to fund raises without raising taxes in front of a packed commission chamber.

The board adopted a plan to utilize budget surpluses and reserves to provide enough funding to cover a three percent cost of living increase for county employees who have not seen a raise in seven years.

The board voted unanimously, approving a $100.9 million budget for the 2014 year.

The four constitutional officers returned $1.3 million to the county that can be used in the FY 2014 budget, which would cover the entire cost of the raises. However, $578,000 of that had already been budgeted. The remaining $722,000 will be used to fund the raises, with the remaining $700,000 to $800,000 coming from the county’s reserves.

In lieu of raising taxes, the county will take a portion of those budget surpluses, allocating them for raises. A portion of those funds, $578,000, are already allocated elsewhere in the county budget. The county will dip into reserves to cover that cost for employee raises.

“I was somewhat displeased that it took us so long to get to this point, but I’m glad we did,” said Commissioner Don Salter. “My goal when we started this discussion was to make sure we could balance our budget, include that 3 percent raise for all of the employees, understanding that we were probably going to need to dip into a minimum amount of our reserves.

“There’s no reason to raise taxes if we don’t have to.”

The county has had a millage rate of 6.0953 mills since 2008, at which time the commission voted to lower its previous millage rate of 6.6175 mills.

Commissioners had proposed raising the millage rate to collect the additional money needed to fund the pay raises.

The 6.0953 millage rate was originally not enough for the county to include raises to all of its employees. However, the board voted to use the carry-over funds that were returned to the county from fees collected by the constitutional officers to offset the cost of the raises.

Some critical of the original plan to raise property taxes to generate funds for the raise spoke again at the final public meeting, stating support of the new plan.

“This is a win-win the way I see it,” said Sam Mullins, a citizen who was outspoken at the first public hearing. “County employees do a great job. They do deserve a raise. But they don't deserve to do it on the back of property taxes.”

The commissioners left the discretion up to the constitutional officers as to how the raises would be administered within each county department. They can implement the raise in two ways. One would be a merit raise, which would provide a five percent raise to newer employees at the lower end of the pay scale and taper as salaries increase, or give a three percent raise to all employees.

Sheriff Wendell Hall addressed the board, thanking them for finding funding to support a raise.

“I'm very optimistic,” said Sheriff Wendell Hall. “We have a great county with great citizens. We found a way to fund what we have done without a tax increase.”