At least two Palm Beach County commissioners said today they want Sheriff Ric Bradshaw to try to cut $4.5 million from his budget proposal — a move county administrators said would allow them to hold the countywide tax rate flat this year or set aside money for other county projects.
At the commission’s first budget workshop, County Mayor Steven Abrams and Commissioner Paulette Burdick said the cut would amount to less than one percent of Bradshaw’s $510.1 million budget request. Bradshaw did not attend tonight’s meeting.
“I think it is doable,” Abrams said. “I would hope we could ask him to sharpen his pencil and not have the taxpayers sharpen theirs.”
County Administrator Bob Weisman has proposed raising the countywide tax rate by 3 cents, to $5.02 for every $1,000 of taxable value for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The tax rate includes a separate levy for voter-approved debt.
Under the proposal, the county would bring in $624.9 million next budget year, $25.3 million more than it collected this year.
Weisman said the tax-rate hike was solely needed to cover Sheriff Ric Bradshaw’s growing budget. Bradshaw has requested an additional $38.8 million to run his office next budget year.
Weisman’s budget proposal includes Bradshaw’s entire request. But Weisman warned commissioners that it will become harder to fund other county projects as Bradshaw’s budget continues to grow.
“The sheriff’s budget is increasing about twice the annual rate that the county budget is increasing,” Weisman said.
For the tax rate to remained unchanged, Weisman said Bradshaw would have to cut $4.5 million from his proposed spending plan.
County Commissioner Jess Santamaria stressed that even if the seven-member board kept the tax rate flat this year, the county would still collect more in property tax revenue this year because of rising home values.
Preliminary estimates released last month by Property Appraiser Gary Nikolits show that the county’s tax base grew by 3.7 percent last year. Taxable values rose in 34 of the county’s 38 cities and towns. Only Belle Glade, Briny Breezes, Loxahatchee Groves and Palm Beach Shores saw values fall.
Homeowners who saw the value of their property rise last year would likely see the largest property tax increases. Those who saw their values fall could pay less in county taxes, depending on the severity of the drop.
At the $5.02 property tax rate, a homesteaded owner with a house valued at $250,000 in 2012 would pay about $1,026 in county property taxes and debt payments in the coming year, compared with $998 this year, an increase of 2.75 percent in county taxes. That assumes the assessed value of the home grew by 1.7 percent last year – the maximum allowed under state law.
Several residents at tonight’s workshop urged commissioners to keep the county’s tax rate flat this year, while others asked the board to set aside money for projects, including road resurfacing, public transportation, and a sand transfer plant to renourish the county’s beaches.
Weisman has recommended the commission not set aside money for several budget requests from county department heads. They include $5 million for road resurfacing projects, $300,000 for the county’s homeless resource center and $547,000 for the county’s youth empowerment centers for at-risk children and teens.
Commissioner Shelley Vana said the youth empowerment centers have helped keep kids out of trouble.
“The youth empowerment centers are at least one place for the kids to go,” Vana said. “I think it is going to be a minute amount of money to keep us safe and to keep our kids on the road to a good future.”
Commissioners will discuss the budget proposal again on July 16.
Proposed county budget
Estimated revenue: $624.9 million, $25.3 million more than this year.
Proposed tax rate: $5.02 per $1,000 in taxable value, an increase of 0.6 percent.
Upcoming public meeting: County commissioners will set the maximum tax rate that the county can charge at their July 16 meeting. Once the maximum rate is set, local officials can lower the proposed rates with a simple vote before finalizing their budgets in September, but can raise the rate only if they first notify all county taxpayers by first-class mail.