This is a call to action for next week's county budget hearing, Tuesday evening, 9/13/11 at 6:00pm. The meeting is in the county government center, 301 North Olive in West Palm Beach. Come early as the meeting is expected to be crowded.
As you prepare for the meeting, here are some resources that may be useful:
Also check the "News Articles" tab on the website for the latest budget stories from the Palm Beach Post, Sun Sentinel, and others.
Those on the "receiving" side of the budget will be out in force. Those of us on the "paying" side must also have their voices heard. If you can't attend, send an email. Addresses for the commissioners and administrator can be found on right side of the TAB website, or you can email all at once at: BCC-AllCommissioners@pbcgov.org.
Next Tuesday, September 13, the County Commission will take their first vote on the 2012 millage rate, with the final vote scheduled for September 27. The budget package for the meeting was published earlier this week and is presented as a series of alternatives that bridge from the "maximum millage" 4.8751 voted at the July meeting, down to the current 4.75. Each step has a different arrangement of programs that would be cut or restored, depending on your point of view.
At the last meeting, 3 commissioners (Marcus, Abrams and Burdick) voted against raising the millage, and the others (Vana, Santamaria, Taylor, Aaronson) voter for the higher maximum. Of the latter, Shelly Vana told us she is seeking further savings to prevent the increase in her September vote.
Earlier this week, Florida TaxWatch published their report concluding that Palm Beach County is holding excessive reserves which could be used to fund spending in lieu of a tax rate increase without affecting our AAA bond rating. They also identifed vast amounts of apparently surplus property that could be sold to help cover the current shortfall. (See TAB Synopsis). County Administrator Bob Weisman responded to the report with a letter to the board disputing the claims, but TaxWatch is standing behind their data.
TAB visited with Commissioner's Marcus, Burdick and Vana this week to discuss this study and the budget in general. We suggested that while we prefer to see spending cuts to avoid a tax rate increase, the study suggests that using reserves and/or selling property is another path to that goal.
Chairman Marcus had not read the report in detail but has asked the Administrator to prepare an analysis of the findings for the Tuesday hearing. She is still interested in achieving further cuts from the Sheriff and avoiding a tax hike.
Paulette Burdick is also still in favor of avoiding a tax hike and has some proposals of her own to offer on Tuesday. We attended her town hall meeting in the Vista Center on Wednesday and most of the 30 or so attendees were against the increase. An exception was COBWRA President Ken Lassiter who reported that his organization of West Boynton homeowners associations are willing to pay more to insure the Sheriff does not close their substation. On the TaxWatch study, she would like to pursue it in a workshop but questions whether there is time to include it for the Tuesday meeting.
When we met with Shelley Vana, she was elbow deep in printouts of spending on the department level. Of all the commissioners, she seems to dig the deepest for answers and is still seeking more savings. In her view, our coalition partners phonebank was a success - she heard from many constituents who do not normally get involved (she knows this because many of them thought her name was "Shirley"). COBWRA is also a factor in her district though, so she is still a "swing vote".
Taxpayer Action Board