Maximum Millage to be set Tuesday, 7/21

The county commission will act to set the maximum millage for fiscal year 2016 on Tuesday, 7/21, as part of a regular agenda. Staff recommends holding the county-wide millage flat at 4.7815.

Since the June budget workshop, where the flat millage would have generated $724.8M in taxes on $151.6B in valuation, the property values have been adjusted upward to $152.7B. With flat millage, that will provide another $5.1M in taxes, or $729.9M.

Compared to last year’s adopted tax of $667M, this represents a 9% tax increase, and the largest proposed tax in county history.

The $5.1M windfall since June could have been used to reduce the tax rate, but only Commissioners Steven Abrams and Paulette Burdick have even suggested that as a course of action. Other Commissioners scoffed as they have plans for that money.

Most disappointing was Commissioner Hal Valeche. A founding member of TAB (see: BCC 7/20/10), his interest in restraining the growth in the budget seems to have vanished, showing that once elected to office, one’s priorities change. Commissioner Valeche favors taking all the windfall and (since all is never enough) later floating a bond issue for “infrastructure” spending. Quoted in the Palm Beach Post as the countywide spending soars above $1B, he remarked: “Government has to eventually spend some money on some basic things. This isn’t fluff.

It should be noted that the area of “infrastructure” – roads and bridges, where it has been repeatedly claimed that more money is needed, saw no significant increase in the budget. The Engineering and Public Works department actually saw a decrease of $1.2M. Remember this when later in the year there is a discussion of the bonds and/or raising the sales tax to pay for basic maintenance of roads, bridges and parks.

As previously noted, the taxable value increase on homestead property is limited this year by the Save Our Homes statute to about 0.8%, so this increase will be mostly borne by non-homesteaders – businesses and second home properties. As a result, homestead owners may feel they have no dog in this fight, but they are wrong. As we saw throughout the downturn, Save Our Homes just delays the tax hikes. Eventually, taxable valuations will catch up – even if market values decline.

The agenda item on 7/21 is not expected to generate much discussion – they will set the maximum millage and go on. In the September public hearings (9/8 and 9/21) though, the Commission will have the opportunity to adopt a lower number – but don’t hold your breath.

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