By: Dale King Contributing Writer
Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie had reason to boast a bit when she addressed the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce at its breakfast meeting last month.
“We have the highest assessed property value of all the 39 cities in the county — $22 billion,” she reported to the crowd. “And we have the lowest tax rate.”
Haynie offered those figures with confidence. As it turned out, Palm Beach County Property Appraiser Dorothy Jacks was seated in the audience – and gave her affirmation to the city executive’s comments.
Each year, Boca Raton sponsors the August Chamber breakfast to give the mayor and City Manager Leif Ahnell a chance to discuss the city’s spending proposal for the coming year a month before citizens get the opportunity to comment at two public hearings in September.
Chrissy Gibson, communications and marketing manager for the city, said budget meetings are tentatively scheduled for Sept. 11 and for Sept. 25, both at 6 p.m. in City Hall. The council must approve Ahnell’s financial plan for fiscal 2017-2018 in time for it to take effect Oct. 1.
When Ahnell addressed the Chamber crowd at the Boca Raton Marriott, he said the total city budget for the coming year is just over $732 million. To cover the expenses sheet, the tax rate will be set at around $3.65 per $1,000 valuation.
He did note that the city’s fire fee is slated to increase from $100 to $125 a year.
City Councilman Scott Singer offered a hint about the upcoming budget proposal when he issued his monthly online report. “Since I joined the City Council in 2014, the millage rate on your property tax rate has been lower or the same every year. At our last meeting, we confirmed that the millage rate will again decrease slightly. We’ll discuss and finalize the budget at our September City Council meetings – as always, open to the public.”
Commenting on budget history, Ahnell said it has taken close to 10 years to recover from the serious recession of 2008 when Boca had to lay off personnel and cut services for several years to stabilize spending.
In her comments, Mayor Haynie said Boca has become “a world-class city” of 96,000 people, a number that swells to 250,000 each day as people arrive in the city to work, visit or attend school.
Working through its Economic Development Office, aided by the county’s Business Development Board, Boca has retained or added 9,400 jobs since April 2010, and 42 firms have moved into the city. That hike in the workforce, Haynie said, doesn’t include the 800 additional jobs recently announced by Modernizing Medicine, which kicks the total to more than 10,000.
“We have become a southeast Florida employment center,” the mayor noted.
Among programs and projects under way in Boca Raton, she said, are the development of a city campus master plan and a comprehensive waterfront plan. Consultants have already been hired to work on those efforts and public hearings have been held.
The city has also brought in Treasure Coast Planning to come up with a “college town” concept in conjunction with the creation of a university district in the 20th Street area – the road where the original entrance to Florida Atlantic University is located.
Haynie said Boca Raton has a new website – myboca.us – which gets 100,000 visits a month. The city also has a new cell phone app to sign onto and receive municipal information.
As he spoke to the Chamber membership, Ahnell discussed goals for the 2017-2018 fiscal year: Business retention and expansion, attracting new corporate headquarters to Boca, creation of a “smart” city built on a foundation of technological innovation, a downtown traffic alternative study, a proposal for midtown development and a plan for art in public places.
In addition, the city manager listed projects slated to receive funding from the one-cent increase in the state sales tax in Palm Beach County: Lake Wyman and Rutherford Park waterfront restoration, a “complete redo” of the Hillsboro-El Rio Park, extensive pavement resurfacing “which will use one-third to one-half of the money,” creation of a park at the site of the former Wildflower night club, an addition and renovation to Fire Station 6 at the corner of Military Trail and Clint Moore Road, the addition of street lights in areas where there are none and replacement of the communications tower at Florida’s Turnpike and Glades Road.