County Commission Hikes Taxes Yet Again

Click HERE for Channel 20 Video of the meeting.

On Tuesday evening, the Palm Beach County Commission voted 4-2 to raise county tax rates 9.3%, on top of a 15% increase last year. TAB had proposed specific cuts of $50M (2.5% of the $4B adopted budget) that would have prevented the hike. We also asked the commissioners to defer the Fire/Rescue raises (4% increase on a $140,000 average compensation – costing $14M in this budget), and to defer some capital spending. Fire/Rescue cuts would not have affected the county-wide millage (it is a separate line item) but would have been an acknowledgement that the public sector union employees are not completely isolated from economic conditions affecting those who pay their salaries.

The commissioners, in a not-very-serious discussion of additional cuts of up to $10M, and a contemptuous disregard for Commissioner Santamaria’s proposal to reduce the county car allowance, moved to a vote with very little discussion. There was consensus that any cuts that would not have a major effect on the taxes paid by for the mythical $200,000 house would be no more than pocket change and beneath their consideration. The fact that more than 60% of taxpayers will be paying more (click here for the Sun-Sentinel analysis) was glossed over by the commissioners – “the people want the services more than they want a tiny tax cut” – to paraphase Commissioner Aaronsen.

We at TAB are not surprised at the outcome, having discussed it with individual commissioners over the last week:

  • Commissioner Marcus told us she was pursuing additional cuts of up to $10M, including some from the Sheriff, but did no more than mention it in passing at the hearing.
  • Commissioner Abrams explained to us that while he would like to see the deeper TAB cuts implemented, the votes were not there for it and smaller cuts were not worth the pain they would cause.
  • Commissioner Santamaria thought some token cuts would be good but did not support anything substantive.
  • Commissioner Taylor would not even consider a cut that resulted in a single employee layoff.
  • Commissioner Vana is all for reviewing programs next year (she is calling for “contingency audits”), but would also draw the line at layoffs and is vehemently opposed to outsourcing.
  • We did not speak with commissioner Aaronson – what would be the point? He made it clear that he thinks the 2.5% TAB cuts would “destroy the county”.

A curious thing occurred at the hearing. While the Sheriff did not attend the 9/14 hearing and there was little participation or discussion regarding PBSO, at this hearing his organization was well represented, with over 20 employees coming to the microphone in support of the Sheriff’s budget.

We believe this was a consequence of TAB discussions with individual commissioners over the last week regarding the BCC rights under Florida statutes to request line item detail from the Sheriff. The reason for this line of inquiry was in response to Bob Weisman’s statement on several occasions that the county can not cut any more from their budget unless the Sheriff makes equivalent reductions. If this were to be asked of the Sheriff, having the line item detail would allow a public analysis of whether additional cuts would indeed compromise public safety. The PBSO budget has grown 80% in 8 years – about 12 times the population growth and 3.5 times the rate of inflation. The Sheriff provides to the county only the detail required by statute – which is not enough to understand the PBSO spending. Both Broward and Martin county Sheriff’s provide much more detail, and TAB believes the BCC should require it of PBSO as well.

At the hearing, John Kazanjian, president of Palm Beach County PBA (the police union) made the following statement:

“I hadn’t planned on being here, neither had my members and fellow employees.” … “But it’s our understanding that the commission and its staff are listening and catering to professional and semi-professional anti-tax groups, little circles of characters who would complain even if they were paying next to nothing in taxes. But these are the same characters who march into government offices demanding services and call 911 when trash gets thrown on their yard”. “I’m here… because We’re tired of them bashing the Sheriff.”

Let’s set the record straight: TAB is neither a professional nor semi-professional anti-tax group. We are a coalition of concerned citizen-taxpayers, worried that excessive spending at all levels of government has begun to compromise our way of life and the American Dream for future generations. We have no sources of funding other than our own pockets, and all our work is a volunteer effort. The 15 or so citizens who spoke on behalf of the TAB proposal were at the meeting on their own dime, paid for their own parking, and took time out of their lives because they are concerned about the future of Palm Beach County.

We appreciate the feelings of the PBA and the non-union PBSO employees who spoke at the meeting, and we congratulate Sheriff Bradshaw and his team for their enthusiasm and commitment to the organization. They are however, all employees of the county, and representing their self interest. That is their right – the first amendment doesn’t stop when you put on a uniform or draw a public paycheck. What everyone needs to consider though, is that it is the private sector that provides the source of wealth from which government draws its funding. It is a bargain that works best when it is balanced. At the current time, the alliance of public officials, their employees, and the public sector unions that provide their funding and political support have distorted the private/public compact. This phenomenon has destroyed California and is wreaking havoc in many other states. In Florida we have not yet reached the tipping point, but the pension time bomb is ticking. The situation can be brought back to balance, but only if all parties are willing to cooperate.

For an excellent article on the subject, see The Trouble with Public Sector Unions in the fall issue of National Affairs.

We in TAB are not “bashing the Sheriff”. Rather, we have a lot of respect for PBSO and the work they do. We are asking only for transparency in the budget process, and an appropriate level of spending. The Sheriff, the Chief Deputy, and the COO have all offered to meet with TAB and discuss the PBSO budget. We thank them and will take them up on the offer in the very near future.

As a closing remark, I would remind the Commissioners that TAB is focused on SPENDING rather than taxes. Now that the tax rate is set until next year, the ad-valorem discussion is over, but the spending discussion will continue. We at TAB plan to continue our look at the budget line items, perhaps drilling down to the next level. We also hope to look beyond the county to the other taxing districts and the cities. Our mission is unchanged – “We are paying the TAB and we are keeping TABs on you.”


4 Responses to “County Commission Hikes Taxes Yet Again”
  1. ischeibl says:

    Since the Commissioners comments sounded awfully familiar – I went to re-play the 2nd Public Hearing from September 21, 2009. The comments by Commissioner Aaronson were almost identical; plans for budget workshop the same, department reviews and efficiency – the same; wanting outsourcing/rejecting outsourcing – the same; layoffs of any employees unacceptable – the same; bashing the Realtors – the same; cutting such a tiny amount not worth it – the same, people asking for Scripps and Max Planck – we gave you what you want and now you don’t want to pay for it……

    For your listening pleasure – if you want to sit through deja vu.

    Click HERE

    Of course they discussed how difficult this year was going to be too.

  2. michele says:

    I am more determined than ever that this group must exist and get stronger to pop the bubble that surrounds and shelters departments like the Sheriff . The whole system in general is sheltered from pesky citizens like us because there is not enough of us. We are on the right track. This year the Sheriff reps had to be “inconvenienced” by showing up at a meeting . . . next year we make it substantially harder to ignore taxpayers. This problem is not going away, and neither are we!
    “Throw the bums out! “

  3. Matthew in the U.S.A. says:

    Great writeup. Well written and useful documentation. Love the evidenced union thuggery suggesting that taxpayers are not allowed to use governmental services. How dare we!

  4. Charles Gates says:

    Let’s move forward. To that end, I highly recommend a newly published booklet from the American Institute for Economic Research, “Follow the Money; A Citizen’s Guide to Local Government” by Lynndee Kemmet.

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