By: Dale King Contributing Writer
It’s pretty much a certainty that Boca Raton homeowners are getting the most bang for their buck in the municipal budget, and it’s been like that for nearly a decade.
Folks attending last month’s breakfast meeting of the Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce got the lowdown from city leaders about what Boca Raton will spend to operate community services and cover debt during the 2019-2020 fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
More importantly, property owners with a financial stake in their homes learned the tax rate for the coming year will remain the same as it’s been for about the past eight years — $3.68 per $1,000 of property valuation – $3.6787, to be exact.
City officials said the tax rate will bring in sufficient money to cover Boca’s operating budget and debt service. Residents will pay about $441.7 million. The city gets $87.4 million and the rest goes to other taxing agencies in Palm Beach County.
The city council has already solidified the so-called “millage rate” for the upcoming year. A public hearing will be held at 6 p.m. Sept. 9 at City Hall to discuss the budget. Council members can trim dollars from the spending package or move money around, but can’t add to the overall financial array.
Normally, a second hearing is held this month to take a definitive vote on the spending plan. At press time, only the date for one hearing had been set.
Each year, the city of Boca Raton sponsors the Chamber’s August breakfast meeting to give the mayor and city manager a chance to explain the overall spending proposal for the coming year about a month before citizens get the opportunity to comment on it.
This year, the presentation was led by Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers. City Manager Leif Ahnell was unable to attend, and Mayor Scott Singer, who was out of town, offered his comments to the audience by way of a video.
Another on-screen presentation, one showing the city’s accomplishments, preceded Rodgers’ talk. It highlighted programs and events such as Art in Public Places, directional signs installed along sidewalks, the holiday boat and street parades in December, the annual Boca Bowl football game, the new Hillsboro El Rio Park in the south end and a proposed new elementary school to be erected near Don Estridge High Tech Middle School. Singer mentioned it in his video along with a new train station that may be located in Boca Raton by Brightline/Virgin USA rail service.
“These all took place in the past year,” emphasized Rodgers once the video ended.
He noted that council members met in April to set goals for the coming year. In the end, it was decided to strive for a financially sound city with a streamlined permitting process. Rodgers said Boca completed 12 beautification projects this past year and is working to finish two more, including the replacement of trees around City Hall.
In that same vein, city officials are trying to create a municipal campus to include City Hall and some of the buildings around it such as the police station, the new downtown library and a City Hall annex created in the former library building.
“We have spent $7.4 million on the resurfacing of roads,” said the deputy mayor, “and the renovated Camino Real Bridge has just reopened.” He said officials are rewriting the city’s sign code and revisions to the land development code are in the offing.
The budget pamphlet listed only one fee increase in the coming year. The city’s fire assessment charge is going up $10 a year to $145 for residential customers in fiscal 2019-20. For businesses, the fire fee is determined on a separate, sliding scale.
The aforementioned goal-setting sessions yielded three top-ranked priorities: A plan for traffic and connectivity, school safety and making the city a tech hub. Rodgers said the creation of a performing arts center is “a potential. We also want to bring a golf course. The city just sold its municipal course.”
A list of new city employees is still forthcoming, but Rodgers noted that Boca has added an innovation strategist and a new sustainability director to the city staff that numbers nearly 1,900.