With signs mounting that Palm Beach County’s economy may finally be on the mend, Clerk and Comptroller Sharon Bock said Monday that county commissioners should focus on building up reserves and paying off debt.
Bock, who serves as the accountant and financial manger over all county money, said that countywide revenues were up for the budget year that ended Sept. 30.
Other economic indicators also showed improvement.
The number of residential building permits issued last budget year was up by 82 percent. Revenue from “bed taxes” levied on all hotel stays grew by 13 percent, according to Bock’s office.
At the same time, county spending was down, Bock said.
“We are healthier this year then we have been in previous years,” she said. “Now is the most opportune time to begin proactively planning for the future and the rise in revenues.”
Bock will appear before commissioners tomorrow morningto give her annual “State of the County” address.
She said she plans to recommend that commissioners use extra revenues to help build back up the county’s reserves. In recent years, commissioners have drawn down the reserve accounts to avoid property tax hikes and cuts in programs and services.
Shannon Ramsey-Chessman, chief operating officer of finance for the Clerk & Comptroller’s office, said the county has pulled more than $50 million from its reserves since 2007.
Bock said she will also recommend that commissioners use additional revenue to pay down more than $1.3 billion in outstanding debt for projects including the convention center and a new jail.
“There was a lot of spending during the go-go years that now we are paying for,” Bock said. “If there was a wake-up call for government, it certainly was these last few years.”
Bock warned that commissioners should be conservative with future spending and focus on projects in key areas, in case revenues begin to slide.
County commissioners will hold their first meeting on next year’s budget proposal on June 11.
Preliminary estimates released last month by Property Appraiser Gary Nikolits show that the county’s tax base grew by nearly 3 percent last year.
County Administrator Bob Weisman said Monday that he wasn’t “in disagreement” with Bock’s recommendations. But he said there likely won’t be enough additional property tax revenue to implement them.
Sheriff Ric Bradshaw is asking for an additional $38 million to run his office next year. At the same time, interest payments on the county’s investments are down by about $10 million because of falling interest rates.
Weisman said the county would likely jeopardize its stellar AAA bond rating if officials were to pull any more money from reserves to cover other shortfalls.
“We have drawn them down as much as we can,” Weisman said.