Shared from the 2016-09-07 Palm Beach Post eEdition

PALM BEACH COUNTY BUDGET HEARING

Proposed county budget leaves tax rate unchanged

Property owners will pay more if it passes due to rising values.

PROPOSED 2017 BUDGET BASICS

Proposed property tax rate: $4.78 per $1,000 taxable property value, same as this year

Proposed debt service rate: $0.13 per $1,000 taxable value, down from $0.15 in 2016

Proposed combined rate: $4.91 per $1,000 taxable value, down from $4.93 in 2016

Proposed property tax revenue: $786.7 million, up $56.8 million from 2016

What’s included:

• $6.3 million for 3 percent cost-of-living pay increase for county employees

• 62 new county government jobs

• Boosts PBSO spending by $27.9 million to $594.1 million

• $31.9 million for repairs and replacement of county assets

• Increases reserves to $99.5 million from $85 million

SOURCE: PALM BEACH COUNTY

WEST PALM BEACH — Palm Beach County commissioners moved forward Tuesday night with a proposed 2017 budget that does not reduce property tax rates.

If commissioners approve the proposed budget during a final public hearing on Sept. 19, tax rates will remain the same for a sixth straight year. But because property values are rising, county taxpayers would end up paying more.

Including debt service, the county’s tax rate is slightly above $4.91 per $1,000 in taxable property value. At that rate, the owners of a $250,000 house with a homestead exemption would pay $991.50 in property taxes, about $6 more than they paid this year.

Commissioner Paulette Burdick has supported some of the initiatives the county has undertaken in recent years to address problems such as homelessness and the scarcity of affordable housing. But she wondered aloud when it would be time to reduce tax rates.

“As property values continue to increase, what would be the trigger for us to lower that (tax) rate?” she asked.

County Administrator Verdenia Baker has said she and her staff will have a better idea of whether a rate reduction would be a good recommendation next year, once voters weigh in on a proposed sales tax hike that could generate $2.7 billion over the next decade.

The Palm Beach County Taxpayer Action Board has urged commissioners to reduce tax rates now. Two county residents who frequently attend county meetings, Alex Larson and Christine Schwartz, echoed that call to roll tax rates back.

“You should definitely be rolling it back,” Schwartz said, arguing that commissioners have not spent county money wisely. “I would implore you to please be penny-pinchers.”

The proposed budget includes money for 62 new county positions and a 3 percent raise for county employees.

Still, commissioners and county staff members say the $4.3 billion budget is, in fact, a lean one.

Commissioner Steven Abrams said no one should get the wrong idea from those new staff positions.

“It’s been a steady increase, but I don’t think we’re anywhere near where we were,” he said.

Baker agreed, saying the county workforce is still down compared with levels seen before the Great Recession.

“We’re still down 722 positions from where we were,” she said.

Much of the discussion among commissioners Tuesday night dealt with what is not in the budget rather than what is in it.

None of the projects that would be paid for with money from the sales tax hike are funded in the 2017 budget.

If the sales tax increase is approved by voters in November, the budget would have to be adjusted so the first projects could get underway next year.

If the sales tax increase is rejected by voters, Baker said commissioners could adjust the budget so property tax money would be used to pay for road, bridge and building projects that are the most urgent.

Outgoing Commissioner Shelley Vana, who backs the sales tax increase, took heat for supporting what her critics called “the largest tax increase in Palm Beach County history” during her unsuccessful campaign for property appraiser.

She warned commissioners that approval of the sales tax hike is no sure thing.

“I’m pretty sure you’re going to have a hard time passing that,” Vana said.

Larson unloaded on the proposed sales tax increase, telling county residents: “If you vote for that, you’re an idiot. We have enough money.” wwashington@pbpost.com

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WHAT’S NEXT?

Sept. 19: Second and final public hearing on proposed budget

See this article in the e-Edition Here