Walton's County's millage rate will stay the same next year, thanks to a vote by commissioners last Thursday at a workshop.

With this vote, commissioners can vote to go lower than the adopted millage during a formal Board of County Commission meeting, but they cannot raise it.

The county's total operating budget for 2017 is $138,336,764 and the proposed budget for 2018 is $150,132,627.

The budget was prepared assuming no change in the current countywide millage rate of 3.6363.

A 3 percent cost-of-living increase was budgeted for county employees.

The Sheriff's Office saw the biggest adjustment, budgeted to receive 1.9482 mil for sheriff's operations (the same as fiscal year 2017), and 0.5454 for fire rescue. Cost-of-living increases for Sheriff's Office employees will come from these funds.

The Sheriff's Office has added six deputies and five fire rescue positions. These are in addition to the 99 from North Walton Fire and Rescue that were recently transferred under the sheriff's control.

The Clerk of Court's office is requesting an increase of $273,149 due to adding three new employees, including two internal auditors.

"The Sheriff's Office and clerk's office are the only two substantial changes," Finance Manager Melissa Thomason told commissioners.

To continue monitoring of the county's Coastal Dune Lakes is proposed to cost $100,000.

TIF funding was kept at $4 million.

Legion Park's seawall needs repair at a tune of $500,000 and Thomason is seeking NERDA funds for that project.

Public Works has asked for $163,776 for path maintenance.

The offices of the Board of County Commissioners have 12 full-time employees and they have requested an increase of $429,880. The Tourist Development Council has seven new employees and falls under the BCC.

The county attorney's office has seven full-time employees and is requesting an increase of $15,161.

Thursday's vote to move forward with the budget and millage heard no opposition at the workshop, but Bob Hudson, who is on the Board of the Walton Taxpayers' Association, said it needs more study.

"Setting the millage rate the same as last year is the good part," he said.

However, Hudson compared Walton to Sarasota in terms of compatibility, rural areas, high tourism, and a divided economic base. He also compared funding per permanent resident and found that Walton funds its sheriff and fire departments at a level of $759.57 per resident in the proposed budget opposed to Sarasota's $544.10 per resident.

"Walton has 443 deputies and firefighters and projects a total population of 65,000 people," Hudson said. "Sarasota has 993 deputies and 223 firefighters. Rural areas are basically covered by volunteer fire departments. Sarasota has a projected population of 369,000 residents. Both counties have a large tourism impact.

"Sarasota County is almost six times larger in population but the staffing for fire and sheriff operations is only three times larger," he added. "Why? If the current budget is ultimately approved, the Sheriff's Office and fire will be 32.8 percent of the total budget in Walton County. Sarasota County fire and sheriff is 18.9 percent of the total budget. It appears we are fat and more study is necessary."

The budget will get more discussion at upcoming BCC meetings on Sept. 11 and 25.