By: Dale King Contributing Writer
Boca Raton City Manager Leif Ahnell has done it again.
Working with city department heads and municipal finance staff, he has come up with a budget proposal for the 2018-2019 fiscal year that not only covers all government expenses, but does so without increasing the tax rate.
Each year, the city of Boca Raton sponsors the August breakfast meeting of the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce to give the mayor and city manager a chance to explain the overall spending proposal for the coming year a month before citizens get the opportunity to comment on it at two public hearings held in September.
Budget meetings are tentatively scheduled for Sept. 13 and for Sept. 24, both at 6 p.m. in the Council Chambers of City Hall, 201 West Palmetto Park Road.
The council must approve Ahnell’s financial spending package in time for it to take effect Oct. 1.
When Ahnell addressed the Chamber crowd at the Boca Raton Marriott last month, he said the total city budget for the coming year is just over $858 million, with an operating budget of about $500 million. To cover the expenses sheet, the tax rate has been set at $3.68 per $1,000 valuation. That, he said, is the same as last year, or “a few pennies less.”
The city’s millage rate has been virtually the same each year since 2013. The rate remained static from 2008 through 2010, then increased slightly in 2011 and 2012.
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.
Opening for Ahnell, Mayor Scott Singer quipped: “[Today], I get the chance to sing the praises of the city – as I’ve been a ‘singer’ all my life.”
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.”
The 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.
Singer and Ahnell shared a list accomplishments from the 2017-2018 fiscal year, reviewed goals and initiatives for the coming year and explained “your tax dollars at work in our city.” A three-minute video highlighting this past fiscal year’s events and milestones was also shown.
The city leaders said residents should have received a leaflet in the mail, Your Property Taxes Explained, along with a fire assessment fee notice. Ahnell said the city’s fire fee is going up $10 a year to $135 for residential customers in fiscal 2018-19. For businesses, the fire fee is determined on a separate, sliding scale.
Mayor Singer said Boca operates according to four principals: a financially sound city, world-class service, a strong partnership with the community and a vibrant and sustainable city.
He explained that Boca streamlined some of its permitting processes this past year, decreasing the number of days it takes to get a permit from 31 to 21, a 32 percent drop. Local officials also rewrote the sign code and made restaurant permitting faster.
Singer 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.
In his presentation, Ahnell noted among 2017-18 accomplishments were 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.