BONIFAY – Holmes County Commissioners unanimously voted January 9 to let voters decide whether the county will impose a five percent utility franchise fee.

The issue is slated to appear as a referendum on the August 28, 2018 primary ballot.

Established by a legal process outlined in Florida statute, the fee is a contract between the county and area utility companies Gulf Power and West Florida Electric Cooperative that outlines the companies’ use of the county’s public right-of-ways.

Cities can also set the structure of franchise fees. In both cases, the fees only apply for customers within the boundary of each government’s respective jurisdiction and appear as a separate item on customer bills. The utility companies then typically collect the fee from utility customers and remits it to the appropriate government entity.

Currently, the only Holmes County municipalities charging utility franchise fees are Bonifay at 3 percent and Ponce de Leon at the state's 6 percent cap.

Comparatively, Jackson County charges companies the legal cap at 6 percent, and Washington County imposed a 5 percent franchise fee in late 2017. Washington County Commissioners stated in August that the decision was made to increase the county's revenue without increasing the millage rate.

Currently, there are no franchise fees in place for in Holmes, Calhoun, or Bay Counties.

In other business, the County Coordinator position job description and salary was on the agenda for discussion and vote when the board met in a separate special session on January 9.

In a 3-2 vote against advertising the position's description and $45,500 to $58,500 annual salary range, Commissioners Mickey Locke, Phillip Music, and Clint Erickson effectively stopped the motion made by Commissioner Bobby Sassnet.

Commissioner Locke stated the position is a strain on the county's already strapped resources.

"Every year we have had a Coordinator, I have watched our budget get tighter and tighter," said Locke. "I don’t believe we need someone in this position to make our tight budget even tighter."

Erickson made another motion to advertise for the position for the same salary range with the added caveat that it would be the County Coordinator's responsibility to save the county 30 percent of that salary in the budget each following year. The motion passed with a 3-2 with Commissioners Locke and Music being the dissenting votes.

"It has been my experience in business that you don’t hire someone if you can't pay them," said Music. "I am all for having a coordinator, but I worry that we have agreed to pay [a certain amount], and that we won't be able to do so if the person in the position cannot find the funds to [save the additional 30 percent]."

Immediately following special session, the board convened in regular session and took action on the library cleaning service contract.

Inter-State Commercial Services, which already holds contracts for cleaning other county buildings, was awarded an extended contract to clean the library for an additional $310 a month. The additional funds will be paid out of the library's cleaning fund.

Commissioners also addressed maintenance issues, agreeing to place a maintenance contract for Florida Department of Health Holmes County out for bid and approving maintenance at the Council on Aging to be performed through the use of inmate labor.

The board also approved a measure to pay the Town of Noma $1,500 for the county's share of damage sustained by a manhole cover during roadside maintenance.

Holmes County Board of County Commissioners will meet again in regular session at 6 p.m. on January 23.