By Steve Plunkett
Gulf Stream will lower its property tax rate to just below the rollback rate for the second time in two years.
At their July 13 meeting, town commissioners set the tentative tax rate for the 2018-19 budget year at $4.05 per $1,000 of taxable value, down from $4.36 in the current year and 0.99 cents under the rollback rate — the rate that would produce the same revenue as the previous year, using current assessments.
The first public hearing on property taxes and the town’s budget will be at 5:01 p.m. Sept. 14.
Town Manager Greg Dunham’s proposed $5.58 million budget includes $531,383 for the first year of Gulf Stream’s 10-year capital improvement plan. The money will be spent on designing and getting permits for rebuilding roads and improving drainage in the worst part of town, the northern core area. Construction, which has an estimated price of $3.7 million, would follow in 2020.
The northern core includes Bermuda Lane from Sea Road to the south end, Gulf Stream Road from Sea Road to Banyan Road, Old School Road from Gulf Stream Road to the cul-de-sac, Oleander Way from Banyan to the north end, Polo Drive from Old School to Banyan, Wright Way from Old School to the cul-de-sac, Sea Road from Ocean Boulevard to Gulf Stream Road, North County Road from Ocean to Sea Road, and Banyan from Ocean to the cul-de-sac.
Projects in Place Au Soleil, the southern core, the water main on State Road A1A, and work in Hidden Harbour and Pelican Lane would come in later years.
Dunham also said he and town accountant Rebecca Tew expected to add at least $1 million to Gulf Stream’s reserves, pushing the total cushion to $4.8 million or more. The reserves dropped to $752,858 in the 2013 budget year as the town wrestled with requests and lawsuits over public records.
The tax rate topped out in fiscal 2016 at $5 per $1,000 as commissioners rebuilt the reserves.
Dunham also recommended that Gulf Stream pay 80 percent of health insurance premiums for the families of town employees. The Police Department recently lost a promising job applicant to Highland Beach, which pays the entire family premium, he said.
“Towns and cities really compete for the labor force,” Dunham said.
Gulf Stream pays all the health premiums for its 20 employees but nothing for family coverage. Only two employees pay extra to cover their dependents, Dunham said, an amount that in one case equals half of each paycheck.
The additional benefit would cost Gulf Stream $246,000 a year, Dunham said.
Commissioners noted that the town already gives employees a $3,000 flex benefit to offset health deductibles and co-pays and decided to discuss the idea further.
“I think there should be some give-and-take” between the flex benefit and family coverage, Commissioner Joan Orthwein said.
Dunham also said he will promote Tew from town accountant to chief finance officer. Tew started working for Gulf Stream in 2014. At the commission meeting the Government Finance Officers Association gave her its Distinguished Budget Presentation Award for her work on the 2017-2018 budget.