By Tao Woolfe

The Boynton Beach City Commission voted unanimously Sept. 27 to approve a $118.6 million general fund budget, as well as a 10% increase in utility rates that also applies to Ocean Ridge and Briny Breezes water customers.

The all-funds proposed budget was $289 million. Besides the approved $118.6 million general fund budget, other parts of the total budget include a water and sewer outlay of about $60 million; a $49 million capital improvement fund; and a solid waste fund of $15 million.

The adopted general fund was slightly less than the proposed budget of $120.5 million, but still represents a 13% increase over the past year’s general fund budget. The general fund pays for the daily operations of city government.

The biggest departmental expenditure is a combined budget for police and fire services, proposed at $76 million, or about 63% of the general fund. Public works, by comparison, is about $10.5 million, or 8.7% of the general fund.

Although some of the final budget numbers were discussed and included in the agenda packet for city’s third and final budget hearing on Sept. 27, city officials said two days later that the actual budget document would not be available to the public or the media for up to 30 days.

This story uses final figures, where available, and proposed budget figures when necessary.

The rates for water, and for wastewater and stormwater management, increased 10% effective Oct. 1. The increase applies to customers inside and outside the city, according to a spokeswoman for the city.

Boynton Beach supplies water to customers in portions of unincorporated Palm Beach County, including the County Pocket; and the towns of Ocean Ridge, Hypoluxo and Briny Breezes.

When discussing the utility rate increases at their meeting on Sept. 27, city commissioners expressed concern about raising rates for residents who may be struggling to make ends meet during economically challenging times.

City Manager Daniel Dugger urged the commission, however, to approve the hikes because the city is going to have to spend hundreds of millions in the coming few years to pay for infrastructure improvements and establish a reserve fund.

“We need to have a balanced plan that meets the city’s [infrastructure] needs over a period of time,” Dugger told the commissioners. “The goal is to exceed depreciation. I am recommending the 10% increase.”

This summer, the city had to pay for emergency repairs to a broken sewer pipe that oozed millions of gallons of wastewater into the Intracoastal Waterway. The accident raised awareness about the city’s aging infrastructure and, although a final report has not been issued, the city could face fines for the pollution from the state Department of Environmental Protection and at least $1 million for repairs. The break occurred on July 3.

The City Commission budgeted $33 million to the water and sewer utility capital improvement enterprise fund and another $15 million for the solid waste enterprise fund.

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