The Coastal Star

Highland Beach: Tax base rises along with new buildings

By Rich Pollack

    Completion of a new luxury condominium complex as well as several large new homes has helped push property values in Highland Beach to record levels, surpassing those set prior to the economic downturn that began in 2008.
    The Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office estimates the total 2017 taxable value of property in Highland Beach at $2.39 billion, surpassing the previous record of an estimated $2.3 billion in 2007.
    The $2.39 billion appraisal this year represents a 7.84 increase over 2016, when taxable property values in town reached $2.21 billion, surpassing the $2 billion mark for the first time since the Great Recession.
    One reason for this year’s increase, city leaders say, is the completion of 3200 S. Ocean, a 20-unit, luxury condominium complex with units starting at $1.4 million. In addition, there have been several expensive new homes built near the Intracoastal Waterway, or facing the ocean on sites where smaller homes were torn down.
    “We’ve had a lot of new construction in town,” Mayor Carl Feldman said.
    There has also been an increase in remodeling of older condominium units as new owners move in.  
    New construction and additions accounted for close to $52 million of taxable value, according to the property appraiser.
    The increase in property values could result in an additional $542,137 in tax revenue coming into town coffers if town leaders choose to keep the tax rate at $3.25 for every $1,000 of assessed value, according to Finance Director Cale Curtis.
    That is a big if, however, since the town is just starting the budget process and a final tax rate won’t be set for several months. How much the town will spend is still to be determined.
    “We don’t have all the final figures in yet,” Feldman said.
    In the past two years, as property values have increased, Highland Beach commissioners reduced the tax rate. In 2015, commissioners dropped the rate from $3.70 per $1,000 of assessed value to $3.50. Last year it dropped to the current tax rate of $3.25.   
    The Town Commission will hold budget planning sessions in the next few months that are open to residents.  
    In other news:
    Highland Beach commissioners voted to disband the town’s volunteer Code Enforcement Board and replace it with a special magistrate — who would act as a judge — to preside over contested code violation cases.
    Last month, commissioners voted to hire attorney William Doney, of the West Palm Beach firm of Caldwell Pacetti Edwards Schoech & Viator, to serve in that position at a rate of $185 per hour.
    The commission selected Diane James-Bigot as the alternate special magistrate.
    Doney, a member of the Florida Bar since 1977, specializes in municipal government and currently serves as a special magistrate in Lantana and Haverhill. He has previously been a special magistrate in Wellington, Mangonia Park and Loxahatchee Groves.
    Town officials say they expect the number of cases coming before Doney to be minimal since most residents and visitors comply with code-violation citations.
    Highland Beach is continuing to search for a full-time code enforcement officer, a newly funded position.

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