News Column

Things in Palm Beach Gardens' budget proposal that may surprise you

August 15, 2014

By Tony Doris, The Palm Beach Post, Fla.

Aug. 15--PALM BEACH GARDENS -- Palm Beach Gardens' proposed budget reflects a city shaking off recession and investing in its future, with catch-up capital projects, a handful of new jobs, modest raises, dwindling debt and growing reserves.

The Fiscal Year 2015 spending plan drafted by Finance Administrator Allan Owens, will be the subject of a public hearing Sept. 3, at 7 p.m. in city hall.

"The city's sound financial position is due to the difficult decisions taken over the last several years that were necessitated by the recession, a currently improving economy and real estate market, and pro-active financial management," Owens said. The city's five-year forecast also looks "extremely positive," he said.

A combination of increased property values and an upswing in construction is putting extra property-tax money in city hands, allowing:

--An additional $1.1 million to establish an enhanced repair and maintenance program for city facilities.

--An increase in infrastructure spending, to $7.2 million, from $3.6 million the year before.

--And raises, as set forth in recent union contracts.

The $135 million spending plan holds the tax rate flat, keeps $23.5 million in unassigned reserves and puts the city in position to pay off its bond debt by 2020, Owens said.

If approved by the city council, it also makes good on a pledge by City Manager Ron Ferris to set aside $45,000 for a camera system to upgrade Internet streaming of council meetings, in the interest of government transparency.

"The budget being proposed is the best effort of staff to carry out the council's vision of completing capital projects, conducting repairs, and maintaining infrastructure that we were unable to fund during the economic downturn," Ferris said Thursday.

The council's policy has been to keep the city's operating tax rate at a constant level since 2011, he said.

"This policy has kept the city in a financially sound position and with this proposal, it is projected to continue for five more years," he said.

The city has proposed a tax rate of $5.90 per $1,000 of assessed value. With property values up, that means the typical homesteaded house worth $200,000 would see its taxes rise by $19.76 next year. A $400,000 house would see a $35.09 increase, according to the city's calculations.

The city's still playing catch-up from the recession, which cost it nearly $7 million in lost property tax revenue and forced its infrastructure maintenance to minimum required levels, Owens said.

"Even with three years of moderate growth," he said, "the city's total property valuation is down over 11 percent, from a high of $9.9 billion in 2008."

But the proposed budget sets aside $500,000 a year for storm water system mapping and improvements, and raises for union and non-union employees.

The budget proposes 458 full-time jobs. That's an increase of four positions, three of them by turning part-time employees into full-timers, and one, a new fire code compliance officer. Personnel costs take up 69 percent of the budget.


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Source: Palm Beach Post (FL)

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