Boca City Council approves 2019-2020 budget; Will maintain, improve municipal-operated trash pickup

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By: Dale King

When you get right down to it, one municipal budget is pretty much like every other.

Boca Raton’s spending package for 2019-2020 approved by the City Council after a two-hour-plus public hearing and vote the night of Sept. 23 includes lots of things that homeowners have seen before: No increase in the tax rate – again; about two dozen new employees coming onto the city payroll; pay raises for all city employees and the like.

But this year, the council made a leap, deciding to maintain city-run trash pickup, and to pump more taxpayer money into the service to make it work better and more efficiently.

During the lengthy budgeting session, council members scrapped the idea of farming out trash pickup to a private hauler, as it considered doing earlier this year. Instead, the city recommitted its support for expanding sanitation services.  Improvements include newer technology for safety and customer service.

But taxpayers will have to reach a bit further into their pockets to make the waste pickup program work. In the budget, councilors decided that as of Oct. 1, the cost of residential curbside collection would increase by $3.99 to $21.59 a month. Residents in multifamily units faced a hike of $2.42 to $13.07 a month.

City dwellers will see these charges on their bi-monthly water bills.

With more than 50 employees, the city’s Sanitation Division is considered some of the hardest working folks in the city’s employ.

As stated by City Manager Leif Arnell in his message to the council, “The growth of the city has created a need to expand the sanitation operation. In order to implement the City Council’s direction to retain sanitation services in-house, the FY 2019-2020 budget includes increased costs for vehicles, personnel, equipment and an expansion of the city’s sanitation vehicle maintenance and storage facilities.”

By the end of the budget hearing on Sept. 23, the council had adopted a total operating budget of $526.3 million, with a millage rate the same as last year — $3.68 per $1,000 valuation. “Boca Raton continues to have one of the lowest property tax rates for a full-service city in Florida,” said Ahnell.

But he added: “Although the millage rate will remain the same, some homeowners may see an increase in property taxes because the average assessed home value has increased by 4.94%.”

Mayor Scott Singer was delighted with the budget conclusion. “I’m pleased that in the six years I have voted on the budget that we’ve never had a property tax increase. But we’ve added quite a bit.”

He said the spending plan includes “millions in funding for first responders and enhanced technology; more than a million dollars to better secure public schools and to increase coordination between the school district and city police forces and additional economic development efforts to create more than 10,000 high-paying jobs to date, expanded funding for recreation and our library system, as well as staff for the soon-to-open Hillsboro El Rio Phase II park expansion.

In other areas, the city manager said, “8% of property tax revenues will be allocated to the Capital Improvement Program, which is the city’s plan for infrastructure improvements and equipment acquisitions over the next six years.”

Ahnell said that in fiscal 2016-2017, Boca set up an Infrastructure Surtax Fund to account for the voter-approved one-cent sales tax surtax program. The 2019-2020 budget includes $23,524,700 in projects, including:

  • Pavement resurfacing
  • Streetlight design
  • Off-site school roadway improvements
  • Waterfront master plan.
  • Lake Wyman and Rutherford Park waterfront.
  • Wildflower Park.

The city manager said the general fund includes nearly $10.5 million to pay for salary raises for police, firefighters, other city personnel, equipment, insurance costs and pensions.

Another $348,700 will pay the salaries of 26 new full time workers, including five for the sanitation department.