By Dan Moffett
When it comes to preparing municipal budgets, Bill Thrasher has seen about every extreme South Florida has to offer.
Before taking over as Briny Breezes town manager in January, Thrasher spent 21 years as the manager next door in Gulf Stream, one of the state’s most affluent enclaves. Before that, he started his career in government as the financial director of Pahokee, a hardscrabble town next to Lake Okeechobee.
Now Thrasher has to deal with Briny’s unusual marriage of municipal and corporate interests as the mobile home community tries to navigate through a period of often uncertain property valuations and unreliable revenue streams.
The COVID-19 pandemic added one more complication. Like municipalities across the state, Briny faces loss of revenue-sharing funds from state and county taxes because of coronavirus damage to the economy.
“We are targeting certain revenues to come in below the actual figures of 2019,” Thrasher said. “I don’t think anybody really has a clear idea of the financial effect this COVID-19 is going to have on all aspects of budgets and forecasting.”
Because of COVID-19, county sales tax revenue is likely to be down from about $35,000 last year to $25,000. Revenue sharing from the state is also estimated lower.
Even with the losses, Briny has some costly repairs to make. The town has seven lift stations that pump stormwater from streets and need a major overhaul.
The work took on new urgency with the construction of the Gulf Stream Views townhouse project along Briny Breezes Boulevard.
Residents in Briny Breezes and the County Pocket say the development has significantly contributed to worsening drainage problems in the neighborhood. In May, thunderstorms sent torrents of rainwater off the elevated property, flooding adjacent streets and yards.
The cost of repairing and rebuilding each lift station runs between $10,000 and $15,000, and the council wants to phase in the work over the next several years.
“It would be nice to make sure all of them are in tiptop condition,” Thrasher said of the stations during the council’s meeting on July 23. “I think this is a priority.”
Briny has maintained the maximum tax rate of $10 per $1,000 of taxable value since 2009. The town counts on a contribution from the Briny corporation to cover its largest operational costs.
The corporation is expected to pay about 36% of the $192,300 bill for police services from Ocean Ridge and 36% of $417,451 for fire rescue services from Boynton Beach.
Briny’s property values were up 11.1% year-over-year, one of the largest increases among Palm Beach County municipalities.
“This is a positive thing we have that’s going to help us offset some of our losses,” Thrasher said.
Briny plans to use some of the $60,000 set aside for legal services to pay lobbyists in Tallahassee to seek grants and persuade legislators to give more relief assistance to smaller municipalities.
“We’re going to have increased expenditures to lobby for things we might get paid back on in the future,” Mayor Gene Adams told Thrasher. “I support the direction you’re moving in fully.”
During the town’s monthly meeting on Aug. 27, the council scheduled a first hearing on the tentative budget for 5:01 p.m. on Sept. 10 and a final budget hearing for 5:01 p.m. on Sept. 25.Ú