Boynton Beach: Fire-rescue budget increases to keep up with services

By Jane Smith
    Ocean Ridge and Briny Breezes residents will not have to worry about fire-rescue response times next summer, thanks to a directive given to Boynton Beach’s city manager at the city’s annual budget workshops, held July 21-22.
    City commissioners directed Lori LaVerriere to find $44,000 to pay for three firefighter salaries July-September 2015.
    A grant the city was using to pay those salaries runs out on June 30, 2015. Without that money, the city’s fire chief said, he would have to shut down Station 1, which also serves the barrier islands, next summer.
    “The response time would increase by 20 to 30 seconds all over the city,” said Fire Chief Ray Carter.
    Vice Mayor Joe Casello was against cutting those positions. “If you take a man out of a truck the mission is compromised,” said Casello, a veteran firefighter. “I ran on public safety and I firmly believe in my heart that we have to keep it up.”
    The city’s fire-rescue budget increased by 7.9 percent because of higher pension costs, higher health care costs, a 3 percent raise carried forward for firefighters and equipment that needs to be replaced, he said.
    But the police chief said losing five vacant police positions would not compromise public safety.
    City commissioners put off a discussion on the proposed new police headquarters until they hear from Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, which led a May workshop on the town center. The Planning Council staff will present its findings to the City Commission an an Aug. 5 workshop. The May workshop focused on municipal buildings, including the Police Department headquarters.
    Boynton Beach commissioners will then decide between two methods to pay for the new police facility, estimated to cost at least $24.5 million. The first calls for covering the cost by borrowing $27.9 million over 25 years. It would be repaid with pledged revenue, raising the city’s debt annually by $1.2 million or 0.35 percent.
    The second method would be to take the question to the city’s voters. In that case, the ballot wording would have to be ready by January for the March 2015 municipal elections, the city clerk said. Voters would decide whether to approve borrowing $25.3 million for 25 years, increasing the debt service annually by $1.6 million or 0.48 percent.
    “That would be a considerable raise in the millage,” said Mayor Jerry Taylor. “You might want to think about going out and asking the public.”
    Also at the budget workshop, the city utilities director discussed his department’s plans to lay pipe under the Intracoastal Waterway to allow St. Andrews Club access to recycled water to irrigate its golf course greens by May 2016.
    That project is part of a five-year, $9.85 million expansion of the city’s reuse system, said Colin Groff. It would conserve water and reduce costs for customers.
    As an example, the utilities director said, a water customer outside the city would pay $2 per 1,000 gallons of potable water monthly; the recycled water would cost 34 cents for 1,000 gallons.
    “Plus it has nitrogen, so the greens would need less fertilizer,” Groff said.
    Throughout the budget workshops, City Commissioner Michael Fitzpatrick warned that a day of reckoning was coming.
 “We are approaching the end game on budgets. We can’t keep dipping into reserves,” he said.
    Commissioners approved a preliminary budget of $73.3 million, a 2.9 percent increase.
    They kept the tax rate at $7.9 per $1,000 of assessed value, the same as the previous year’s, although most property owners will pay more because their taxable values increased.
    The City Commission is to adopt the 2014-15 budget on Sept. 16.

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