Maximum Millage Adopted

Yesterday, the County Commission set the county-wide maximum millage at 4.7815, unchanged in four years. Reduced payments on county debt have very slightly reduced another line item called the “voted debt” millage, and they are trying to claim a slight reduction by combining the two rates, but I am sure you are not fooled. (See: Rate to ensure tax hikes for many in the Palm Beach Post, and Palm Beach County holds the line again on property tax rates in the Sun Sentinel.)

At this millage, rising valuations will generate an additional $44M windfall for the county over last years take, a hefty increase. It is not enough for some commissioners though – Shelley Vana and Mayor Priscilla Taylor argued strongly that there are so many additional things they would like to spend money on, that we should actually increase the tax rate. Commissioner Berger joined them in supporting Vana’s motion, but it failed 3-3 with commissioner Burdick absent. Hal Valeche and Steven Abrams argued against any increase, and Jess Santamaria joined them to defeat it.

We were surprised by this attempt to raise the rate, given the hefty tax increase already planned, and expected a pro-forma vote, coming as it did at the end of a long and involved commission agenda. As such, we did not participate in the meeting, nor call for others to do so. Only two members of the public spoke against the tax rate, Anne Kuhl and Alex Larson.

The $44M tax increase (more than $63M in aggregate, when Fire/Rescue’s $14M hike is included), is too much, coming as it did after last year’s $22M hike. The September public hearings on the budget (September 8 and 22) are the time to make our voice heard on that subject. Although the maximum millage has been set (required to generate initial TRIM notices), the rate can be reduced in those meetings. Reductions in the rate of growth of some programs, particularly the Sheriff, are warranted.

Maximum Millage to be Set on July 22

Tomorrow, July 22, the County Commission will set the maximum millage rate for FY2015. Staff is proposing the countwide rate stay at 4.7815 – which would be the fourth consecutive year at that rate. Judging by its position in an otherwise crowded agenda (Item 5-I-1), they do not expect much public comment on the action.

The maximum rate is the do-not-exceed rate, and the final millage can be set lower than that in September (as it has been on occasion). As adoption of the maximum rate is all but assured, we do not think opposing it at this time is an efficient use of resources. The September public hearings are a more appropriate time to bring arguments for sharing the valuation windfall with the taxpayers.

Since the property appraiser’s office is projecting that the taxable value will increase for 86% of owners, at this millage, most of these will see an increase in their property tax bill at the end of the year, whether homesteaded or otherwise. (See: Taxable value up for 86% of Palm Beach County properties )

Most of the increase is going into employee compensation increases – 3% for most, better than 6% for the Sheriff’s office, on average. We will soon have an article which compares the compenstation trends in county government – PBSO and otherwise, to the growth in private sector county median income. You will see that it has been a good time indeed to work for the government.

We believe that a $44M increase in taxes this year, returning none of the windfall in valuations to the taxpayer, needs more justification than has been forthcoming, particularly from the Sheriff. Sheriff Bradshaw has refused the Mayor’s request for a workshop on the subject however. The commissioners, who are required to hold public meetings on the budget, must defend the Sheriff’s request as if it was their own, even when many have questioned his numbers.

It is an act of political courage for a commissioner to oppose the Sheriff’s budget, as he can organize large numbers of supporters to flood the chamber and demand that his request be filled. Nevertheless, some commissioners have raised the question. But it would take the votes of 4 commissioners to challenge the Sheriff, and under our system of constitutional officers, all they may do is reduce his overall number, not specify from where the cuts would come. If refused, the Sheriff could appeal the decision to the state level, something he has threatened in the past, and the commission could be overturned by the Governor after the budget period ends, leaving them with a hole to be filled from reserves – a daunting prospect.

Unless the Sheriff is challenged though, we are on a trajectory where all the other county functions will be starved for funds, or much larger increases in taxes are in our future.

The commissioners are there to serve their constituents, and for the most part they do that well. If enough constituents ask for a challenge to the Sheriff’s budget, most commissioners will at least ask the question. Between now and the September public hearings on the budget (9/8 and 9/22), we would like to hear from interested parties. Send us an email at and let us know if you would be willing to help organize support for those commissioners who would be willing to challenge the Sheriff’s budget.