Palm Beach County budget proposal includes small tax-rate hike

Palm Beach County’s tax rate would rise by less than 1 percent under a budget proposal released by the county administrator Tuesday, but many long-time homeowners could see their property tax bills climb by more than that because home values have been rising.

Bob Weisman’s proposal would raise the countywide tax rate by 3 cents – or 0.6 percent – 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.

The county would bring in $624.9 million next budget year, $25.3 million more than it collected this year.

The proposal includes revenue generated by rising property 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 their values fall.

An increase in a home’s taxable value, coupled with a higher tax rate, will result in a larger tax bill.

Long-time residents with homestead exemptions and other owners 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 see the property’s 2013 assessed value grow to $254,250, as long as its new market value was $254,250.

The homeowner would have to pay about $1,026 in property taxes and county debt payments in the coming year, compared with $998 this year, an increase of 2.75 percent in county taxes. The amount does not include taxes owed to a city, school district and other taxing agencies.

County Mayor Steven Abrams called the proposal a “starting point.”

“It is not an end point,” Abrams said. “That is why we have a budget process.”

Commissioners will hold their first budget workshop Tuesday at 6 p.m.

In a memo to commissioners Tuesday, Weisman said the tax rate increase was needed solely to pay for the sheriff’s office.

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has requested an additional $38.8 million to run his office next budget year. Bradshaw has said that much of that money will be used to cover state and federal mandates and to replace aging equipment.

Weisman’s proposal includes a 3 percent pay increase for county employees. General employees have not received a raise since 2008.

The proposal would also increase fares for the county’s bus service, Palm Tran. The rate increases have been approved by a county advisory board. Under the plan, the base bus fare would rise to $2, up from $1.50.

Fees for monthly bus bases and the county’s Palm Tran Connection service for elderly and disabled residents would also rise.

In the memo, Weisman pointed to several budget requests from department directors that he did not include in his budget proposal, to keep the county’s tax rate low. 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.

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