The Board of County Commissioners held its first public budget hearing Tuesday, approving an overall $54 million budget that does not change millage rates.

The Board of County Commissioners held its first public budget hearing Tuesday, approving an overall $54 million budget that does not change millage rates.

But they did so only after hearing from two agencies pleading for additional funding to help offset the rising costs of operating the public libraries and aiding seniors in the community.

The county-wide millage will remain 7.2442 which, due to a rise in property values, is 6.39 percent above the rollback rate.

Property values grew to $1.6 billion this year, an increase county-wide of $141 million, or 8.69 percent.

The rollback rate is the millage at which the exact same number of dollars would be collected as in the current fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.

A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 in taxable property tax.

The board is collecting $12.8 million in ad valorem taxes, an increase of nearly $3 million from five years ago.

Clerk of Courts Becky Norris cited several drivers for exceeding the rollback rate, including an increase in the cost of professional services, increases in budgets at the jail and county parks, salary increases for staff and the board and increases in insurance.

The board approved a 3 percent cost of living increase for all employees.

Board salaries, established statutorily and based on population, also increased modestly.

The board will carry forward more than $4.3 million in unrestricted cash, Norris said, with another $2 million-plus in cash restricted.

In addition to the county-wide millage, the board approved .5 mills for each of the county’s fire control districts and the rates for the three Municipal Services Taxing Units (MSTU) establish as a local match for beach restoration.

Those millage rates are, gulf-front to bay-side: 1.2542, 1.0869 and 1.0727.

The aggregate millage rate adopted was 7.6357.

The board will hold its final budget hearing 5:01 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 28.

Before adjourning, the board heard pleas regarding the library.

The library is seeking an additional $10,000 to prevent a further constraint of services due to rising costs.

The library could have to cut staff and, almost certainly, cut hours if funding from the county, on which state funding is largely based, is not increased.

This comes at a time when the library has greatly expanded its programs, from writers workshops to STEM classes to concerts, in the past several years.

Two parents urged the board to bolster library funding.

“It would be a real loss for the community if we do not maintain the same hours and same staff,” said Erin Payner, noting the increase in programs for children at the library.

Andrea de la Vega said that in the area of computer science education, so crucial today, the library provides a needed supplement and complement to the efforts of the public schools.

“Our schools can’t do it alone,” she said. “That’s where the library comes in. It is the cornerstone of our community.”

Russ Scholz, executive director of Gulf County Senior Citizens, Inc., said the agency is seeking $12,000 to accommodate two seniors transitioning from a waiting list to a client of the agency.

That means access to a host of services, from meals to respite care and home care.

“The state and federal governments keep cutting our budget,” Scholz said. “We have any number of seniors who are waiting for our services.”

Commissioners responded to presentations advocating both agencies with silence.

In other business:

*The board approved Public Works performing a one-time county-wide debris pickup the week of Sept. 25 in the wake of Tropical Storm Irma.

The pickup would be for leaves and limbs, yard debris, nothing more, commissioners emphasized.