By Dan Moffett
Problems caused by rising seas are forcing rising expenditures to seep into the Ocean Ridge budget.
During the next fiscal year, town commissioners are considering spending roughly $125,000 on new stormwater infrastructure for the flood-prone Inlet Cay neighborhood, $47,000 to maintain and repair existing drain pipes, another $33,000 to install new drains, and $20,000 for swale construction.
There’s also $12,000 set aside in the proposed budget for Geographical Information Systems mapping that will help officials identify the areas in the town that are most vulnerable to future sea rise problems.
“The sea level and drainage problems will always be exacerbated,” Town Manager Jamie Titcomb told commissioners during a budget workshop on July 2. “We live on a barrier island.”
With a 3-2 vote, the commission approved setting the maximum millage rate for the next budget at $5.55 per $1,000 of taxable property value, a number that’s significantly above the $5.05 rollback rate that would keep tax revenues flat and the current millage rate of $5.25.
The commission can decide on a final tax rate less than the $5.55 maximum in the weeks ahead but cannot go above it. Vice Mayor Don MaGruder and Commissioners Phil Besler and Kristine de Haseth approved the ceiling rate; Mayor James Bonfiglio and Commissioner Steve Coz voted no.
Preliminary numbers from the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office show taxable values in Ocean Ridge up nearly 6 percent over last year, roughly in line with those throughout the county.
Bonfiglio and MaGruder have recommended that the commission start advancing projects to improve drainage before their construction costs increase in future years. But the mayor also warned that property owners will have to play a major role in helping the town deal with the rising costs of the rising seas.
“With sea level rise and our water table rising, it essentially makes the land less able to absorb water,” Bonfiglio said. “So as a town we can decide we want to have homeowners help us deal with that potential flooding issue.”
The commission has directed Town Engineer Lisa Tropepe to propose a priority list of possible drainage projects for the next few years. Tropepe said the town could act on two chronic problems without incurring great expense: getting seasonal residents to use moisture-detecting “smart” timers on their sprinkler systems when they leave town and persuading homeowners and contractors to reduce their use of impervious decks and driveways, as well as expanding swale areas.
The mayor said that without cooperation from homeowners and builders, the town is facing the task of developing “a massive drainage system” that is unrealistically expensive to build and manage. The town’s Planning and Zoning Commission is reviewing building rules, and officials are awaiting the results of an engineering consultant’s study of the Inlet Cay neighborhood that should be released in August.
In other business:
• The town got a passing grade from the Palm Beach County Office of Inspector Gen-eral during a routine audit of capital assets completed in June.
“We found generally adequate controls for the capital assets process,” the IG report said, “and physical controls for safeguarding the capital assets.”
The town accepted the auditors’ recommendation that administrators conduct an annual review of assets to ensure that insurance records are accurate. Capital assets are defined as tangible or intangible items that cost $5,000 or more and benefit the town for more than a fiscal year.
• Bonfiglio has submitted his resignation from the Town Commission, effective Nov. 6. The mayor is a Democratic candidate in the state House District 89 race and, under Florida’s “resign-to-run” law, must give up his municipal seat in order to seek the higher office in the fall election.