TAB View of 2013 County Budget Proposal

In preparation for the first budget workshop of the 2013 cycle next week, the county has published their proposal. The workshop will be held on Tuesday, June 12 at 6:00pm in the county building at 301 N. Olive, WPB.

Unlike the last few years which Administrator Weisman has called “the most difficult budget year the county has faced”, bottoming valuations have created a less austere outlook. With the expectation of a barely perceptible 0.39% drop in property values reported by Property Appraiser Gary Nikolits, (See: Has free-falling Palm Beach County real estate finally hit bottom? ) the days of trying to save programs and spending levels by big hikes in the tax rate may be coming to an end.

The county proposal is therefore modest – a 0.4% hike in the county-wide millage rate to 4.7984 (up from 4.7815 last year), and a 0.6% or $3.9M hike of taxes collected. There are no projected cuts to “vocal constituent” programs like the nature centers, lifeguards or Palm Tran Connection, and even though the Sheriff is asking for an increase of $4.7M in ad-valorem revenue and $8.8M in appropriation, it is mitigated somewhat from a “return of excess fees” of $10M.

What had been expected to be a $15-30M problem this year, was positively affected by smaller than expected costs associated with FRS, and the use of “one-time” sources such as sweeping funds from Risk Management, capital project and Fleet Management reserves. Given TAB’s emphasis last year on using reserves to cover shortfalls in the difficult times, we are glad to see this development.

The entire proposal is good news, considering how hard everyone worked last year to bring the initial proposal (3.6% increase in rates) down to the final 0.6%. Although we think that it would be an appropriate gesture for the board to keep the millage flat (at a cost of the $3.9M hike), as they are doing with the Library and Fire/Rescue MSTUs, if this proposal was approved as submitted we would not object.

That said, there are some cautionary statements in the proposal. It is mentioned that 35 positions (half of them filled) will be eliminated without a service impact, by various good management practices and the expiration of grant funding of temporary positions. It is also stated that general county employees have not received a raise since 2008. There is also interest in some quarters to increase spending on some programs.

We ask that the commissioners not try to address these things in this budget year. The private economy has not yet fully recovered, even if property values are leveling off. Consequently, we call on TAB partners and supporters to stay vigilant, attend the budget meetings, and let your commissioners know you don’t support any increases above the submitted proposal.

For the Post’s view of the proposal, see: County budget proposal: less gloom and doom

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