Tax rate unchanged; ‘rainy day fund’ gives back $5M
By: Dale King Contributing Writer
Some city budgets in Boca Raton attract a lot of attention. Others slip by virtually unnoticed.
City Manager Leif Ahnell’s fiscal 2018-19 spending package that became effective Oct. 1 ended up in the latter category, particularly during the final budget hearing on Sept. 24 when the mayor and city council adopted the financial program for the coming year with practically no one from the public in the Council Chamber.
The vote that night saw the tax rate drop slightly, from 3.6788 mills to 3.6787 mills. That means the owner of a home with a taxable value of $300,000 this year will pay $1,103.61 in taxes – a remarkable three cents less than $1,103.64 last year.
“To offset increases in providing fire services,” said Ahnell, the fire assessment fee for homeowners goes up $10 a year, from $125 to $135. In addition, water and sewer rates increased $1.84 a month on average.
Camp fees have increased, too. Camp Boca Days Off and Holidays programs for grades K-5 are $40 a day for residents and $60 for non-residents.
On another budget line, the city saved $5 million this year by eliminating a so-called “rainy day fund,” otherwise known as a retirement sustainability fund, that went back to the days of the great recession. Ahnell said the city has determined the monetary set-aside designed to keep the pension plan from running out of cash, is no longer needed.
When Ahnell addressed the Chamber of Commerce at its annual city budget hearing in August, he said the total municipal spending figure for the coming year totals just over $858 million, with an operating budget of about $500 million.
According to figures from the city, the highest tax rates in recent history were in 1990, when the millage rate nudged over $4 per $1,000 of valuation, and in 1991, when it dropped to an even $4 per $1,000.
The city manager told the audience that Boca Raton residents pay $403 million in property taxes annually, but the city itself gets only $83.5 million, or about 20.7 percent of that amount. In all, “79.3 percent of your tax dollars go to other taxing agencies in Palm Beach County.” Dollars from Boca taxpayers is spread among eight taxing authorities.
Agencies that also get a piece of Boca’s dole are: Palm Beach County Schools, $149 million for operations and debt; Palm Beach County, government and debt, $111 million; Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District, just under $21 million; Palm Beach County Health Care District, just under $17 million; Children’s Services Council, $14.5 million; South Florida Water Management District, $6.6 million and Florida Inland Navigation District, $726,214.
In his presentation, Ahnell noted that 2017-18 accomplishments included road resurfacings, repair of SW 18th Street, completion of the I-95/Spanish River Boulevard interchange and quiet zones for Brightline trains.
Coming in the year ahead, he said, will be “a major update of the land development code, development of a midtown small area plan, Dixie Highway revitalization plan and an Art in Public Places program” headed by City Councilwoman Andrea Levine O’Rourke.
The mayor also cited an economic development program begun in 2010 that has brought 43 companies to Boca along with 10,476 jobs. The city invested more than $5 million in incentives for the effort while the state pitched in $15.8 million and the county added $3 million.
Nonprofit organizations show up every year, hat in hand, to ask for funding assistance from the city. This year, more money was given to the Faulk Center for Counseling, the Wayne Barton Study Center, Boca High’s NJROTC, American Association for Caregiving Youth and KidSafe.
Four charities that hadn’t applied for money before received city grants: Eda and Cliff Viner Community Scholars Foundation, Sweet Dream Makers, The Healing Sound of Music and Debra Weiss Dance Company.
Boca will add a number of new positions in the fiscal year. Six are conversions from part time to full time: Parking enforcement representative, two permit and licensing technicians; administrative assistant, youth services librarian and community events assistance.
Among brand new positions in the budget are a Swim & Racquet Center office assistant, three irrigation technicians, one irrigation technician and two groundskeepers for the beautification maintenance program, four groundskeepers for sidewalks and curb cleaning; two full time positions in the motor pool; four positions in the water/sewer operating fund and one information technology worker.
Ahnell said the city and the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Parks District will evenly split the cost of a recreation needs assessment survey and study that will cost a total of $100,000.