October 8th, 2013 12:16 PM by Sherry Lee
Palm Beach County property tax rates stay the same and the Sheriff's Office gets a big spending boost under a $4 billion county budget given final approval late Monday.
In addition to the $30 million budget bump for the Sheriff's Office, the county is increasing its spending on backlogged road repairs and giving employees a pay raise. The budget kicks in Oct. 1.
An improving economy and rising property tax revenues enabled the county for the second year in a row to avoid raising tax rates and to avoid more unpopular cutbacks of county services."We are in the middle of hurricane season and budget season and both so far are calm," Palm Beach County Mayor Steven Abrams said.
The county's operating budget tax rate remains about $4.78 per $1,000 of taxable property value.
At that property tax rate, a home valued at $230,000 and eligible for a $50,000 homestead exemption pays about $861 in county property taxes — not including taxes for schools, libraries, cities and other services.
Even with the tax rate holding steady, many individual property tax bills will be going up because property values rose about 4.19 percent, boosting countywide taxable values to about $130.3 billion this year, according to the property appraiser's office.
These back-to-back years of holding steady on tax rates follow a three-year-period of increased tax rates along with spending cuts and eliminating more than 600 positions to avoid the threat of budget shortfalls.
The Sheriff's Office gets $30 million more for its $500 million-dollar budget, which is the county's largest operating expense.
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw's increase goes for buying more vehicles and equipment as well as providing a 2 percent cost-of-living pay increase for his 3,900 employees.
Bradshaw contends that his budget increase is necessary to pay for the public safety needs of a growing population. Yet county budget planners warn that in the years to come further Sheriff's Office spending increases would likely require cutting other county services or raising taxes.
Road repair funding has been cut in years past to help balance the budget, so the new spending proposal adds some of that money back to start chipping away at the maintenance backlog.
The $3.2 million included in the budget for road resurfacing is twice as much as initially proposed, but is still much less than the projected $10 million to $12 million yearly road improvement need, according to the engineering department.
The budget includes a 3 percent salary increase for employees of County Commission-controlled departments. It's the first salary bump since 2008 and costs taxpayers about $6 million.
Backlash from youth baseball league leaders convinced the County Commission Monday to scrap a proposed parks fee that would have been levied on travel sports teams.
The county had proposed charging $10-per-hour fee for sports fields used by travel teams, which are clubs and leagues intended to be more competitive and exclusive than the recreational leagues that are open to all players.
The travel team fees would have helped pay for staffing expenses to monitor fields and guard against altercations, field damage and other improper use.
But commissioners determined that minimal amount that could have been raised was not worth imposing what many team leaders called an unfair expense. "The $10 is too much," Commissioner Paulette Burdick said.
The county's new spending plan includes a Palm Tran bus fare increase. Starting Oct. 7, the cost of a one-way ride goes up to $2 from $1.50 and the price of standard monthly bus passes increases to $70 from $60.
Comments by Sherry Lee:I guess we are all supposed to feel good that we didn't get more increases, even though this commission did nothing but increase taxes just about every year prior to this one as far back as I can remember. I still can't wrap my mind around the fact that they need a 4 Billion dollar budget for a county where more than half of its population is covered by city government services. Billion with a B. One county in one state. Do you feel like a tax mule yet?