After leveling off last year following 4 years of decline, property values seem to have turned a corner and have ticked up 3.7% this year, easing pressure on county and municipal budgets. As the county has cranked up the millage rate as the valuations fell, will they now start to decrease them? Apparently not.
The June budget package, to be discussed at the first hearing next Tuesday at 6:00pm, proposes an increase in the millage from 4.7815 to 4.8164. This would generate $624.9 million – $25.3M or 4.2% more than last years adopted tax of about $600M.
The additional funds are allocated about $19.5M to the Sheriff (see note below regarding Sheriff’s budget), and $7.3M to the countywide BCC departments. (note: these add up to $26.8M not $25.3M, but that is how it is described in the Weisman cover letter). Much of this will go to pay increases for employees (3% to county workers, 2% to PBSO in addition to their contracted longevity and step raises). The “personal services” (ie. employee) budget for the Sheriff increases by over 6%.
Many commission priorities were NOT addressed in the new spending, including $300K additional funding for the homeless resource center, $5M for road resurfacing, $2.7M for Palm Tran service enhancements and $547K for Youth Empowerment Centers. It will be interesting to see if a constituency emerges to fund these things and raise taxes even further.
Library and Fire/Rescue millage is expected to be unchanged.
We think that raising the millage this year in the face of improving valuations and economic conditions would be a mistake. Yes, there is pent-up demand for additional spending (isn’t that always true in government?), and some growth is justified, but flat millage would already provide some $20M in new revenue. Raising the millage now is a slap at the county property owners, many of whom are still struggling along with the economy. The incremental revenue to be had with the proposed hike is small – surely a way can be found to defer that much until next year and keep faith with the taxpayer.
Come to the meeting next Tuesday and let the commissioners hear what you think of this proposal. The special interests who want spending increases for their programs will be there. Don’t let them be the only voices.
The meeting will start at 6:00pm in the commission chambers, 301 N. Olive, 6th floor.
NOTE: The Sheriff requested a gross budget of $510.1 million or 8.2% ($38M) over the FY 2013 gross budget. The net ad valorem funded budget is up $19.5 million (4.8%). Subsequent to his budget submission, the proposed budget was revised to assume his capital request of $10.6 million will be financed in FY 2014. The estimated debt service has been included in the proposed budget.
The audit found areas of significant savings, both in county operations and in the constitutional offices (except the Sheriff who evidently refused to answer any of their questions), estimated in the range of $29M. They looked in four areas: operating efficiencies, outsourcing, staff reductions, and additional sources of revenue. (It appears that only the outsourcing will be discussed in 5a2, and 5a3 addresses efficiencies regarding the constitutional offices).
These savings involve the elimination of 921 positions, mostly through outsourcing, and the bulk of the savings comes from reduction in benefit obligations.
With the county facing a potential $15M shortfall in the 2013 budget to be discussed at the first workshop on June 12, searching for areas to reduce spending is sorely needed and this study is an excellent move in that direction. Staff should be commended for both commissioning the study and for bringing it to the board for direction.
We are not overly optimistic that this initiative will be warmly embraced however. Already, the counter-arguments have begun. Chairman Vana says “My goal was never to try to get rid of a million people”. OFMB Director Bloesser warns that “it was unlikely that many of the findings could be put into effect before the budget year begins on Oct. 1″. Clerk Bock says that the proposed savings in her office are “incorrect and irresponsible”.
Nevertheless, this is the kind of direction that TAB has been calling for for several years, and we ask partners and supporters of TAB to attend the Tuesday session in support of the consultants proposals, or communicate your views to your commissioner.
The full content of the report can be found in the attachment for item 5a2 and the initial reactions are captured in the Palm Beach Post: Consultant: Palm Beach County can save $32M with 1,000 job cuts, add $3M with rate hike.