The new funds will help pay for 25 new patrol deputies and corrections officers, including an environmental control deputy. The additional money also helps the Sheriff’s Office expand into the former Department of Juvenile Justice facility.

MILTON — For the first time since the housing market plummeted around 2007 and caused about a 35% drop in property values, Santa Rosa County property tax revenues for fiscal year 2020 climbed back to levels reached 13 years earlier.

Santa Rosa County Commission chairman Sam Parker explained Florida’s Save Our Homes amendment, which took effect in 1995, allows only a 3% increase or the change in the Consumer Price Index, whichever is lower.

“Save Our Homes has great intentions but it doesn’t stop property values from going down,” Parker said at Thursday night’s budget meeting. “It does stop them from coming back.”

However, because the county experienced an average of about 1,050 new homes during the past 10 years, property tax revenues have increased. Fiscal year 2020 property tax revenues actually rose about 8.6% or more than $775 million over last year.

Just in case property values slump again, the county plans to create a Revenue Stabilization Fund for future shortfalls.

Despite the gains, county officials still, though, had to cut the preliminary budget by $9 million. They reached it by adding $1.7 million in revenues from property taxes, state-shared revenues and the Electric Franchise Fees; moving $4 million of unassigned funds; putting in $1.9 million from the Gas & Oil Fund; and cutting back expenditures by $1.4 million.

Santa Rosa County Administrator Dan Schebler noted that about $1 million of the cutbacks came from the Sheriff’s Office budget.

However the Sheriff’s Office turned out to be a winner this budget year. It received an additional $5.3 million or 12% increase over its fiscal year 2019 budget.

The new funds will help pay for 25 new patrol deputies and corrections officers, including an environmental control deputy. The additional money also helps the Sheriff’s Office expand into the former Department of Juvenile Justice facility.

Schebler said the increase in recurring funding is offset by improved service by the Sheriff’s Office.

“Public safety is a priority of this board,” Parker said.

In addition, the county plans to provide $1 an hour raises to its employees earning less than six figures, which range between 2.16% to 9.84%. In total, the raises cost $1.3 million.

Schebler told commissioners that salary surveys have also adjusted pay of county employees, too, to be more competitive with surrounding counties. He was particularly proud that an equipment operator at level one went from $10.24 an hour to $13.33 per hour or about a 30% increase.

Commissioner Lane Lynchard, who represents Gulf Breeze, applauded the raises.

“Looking at this budget, you can tell what our priorities are,” he said. “I’m glad we were able to do the salary raises.”