The Coastal Star

Highland Beach: Town starting with same tax rate, but could still lower it

By Rich Pollack

    As town property values rise to a record high, Highland Beach residents are likely to see their tax rate drop for the third consecutive year.
    Town commissioners late last month set a maximum operating tax rate for the 2017-2018 fiscal year of $3.25 per $1,000 of assessed property value, the same rate as the current fiscal year.
    Commissioners, however, gave every indication they would lower the rate before determining a final number by the end of September.
    This year, property values in Highland Beach reached slightly more than $2.4 billion, exceeding a record $2.3 billion set in 2007, according to the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office.
    During a special commission meeting last month, in which the public got its first glimpse of the proposed $13.8 million budget, Mayor Carl Feldman hinted that commissioners might consider dropping the tax rate to as low as $3.08 per $1,000 of assessed value.
    That rate, the rollback rate, would generate approximately the same amount of tax revenue as the current tax rate, plus an additional $180,000 brought in from new construction.   
    “If we go down to our rollback rate we can keep the town running smoothly,” Feldman said.
    Included in the tentative budget is a transfer of about $2.5 million from the town’s reserve funds for capital improvements, with the bulk of that money expected to pay for a proposed renovation to the town’s 3-mile walking path.
    Voters in a March referendum must first approve the spending for the improvements due to the town’s spending cap, which requires voter approval of any expenditure over $350,000.
    Feldman has proposed using an expected $200,000 per year from Palm Beach County’s 1-cent sales tax increase to replenish the reserves over 10 years.
    Other highlights of the proposed budget include a 5 percent salary increase for town employees based on performance and the addition of one police officer.
    During their meeting, commissioners praised town staff for coming up with a reasonable budget, with Vice Mayor Bill Weitz pointing out the town has reduced its tax rates while many others have opted for increases.
    “We’ve been very astute in coming up with reasonable budgets while maintaining quality services,” he said.
    The town has scheduled public hearings on the proposed budget for 5:01 p.m. Sept. 7 and Sept. 19.

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