By Jane Smith
    
Without seeing a budget, city commissioners agreed to lower the property tax rate slightly for the financial year that begins Oct. 1 while still expecting to take in an estimated $4.6 million more in tax revenues.
    Delray Beach finance staff recommended in early July to drop the tax rate from the current $7.21 per $1,000 of property value to $7.09 per $1,000 of value, or 7.4 percent more than the rolled-back rate of $6.60 that would have generated the same amount of tax revenues as this year.  It would be the fifth consecutive year that Delray Beach has reduced its property tax rate.  “We have the $31 million bond from the penny sales tax proceeds and $37 million in reserves,” said Commissioner Shelly Petrolia. “We are in decent shape to give [something] back to the taxpayers.”
Most Delray Beach property owners won’t see a reduction in their property taxes because property values increased by an average of 9.5 percent, the county property appraiser determined. Homesteaded properties will see their property values increase by 2.1 percent.
    Mayor Cary Glickstein agreed that the city is financially healthy. He added that the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency will pay for all public projects in its district, which covers about 20 percent of the city. The agency receives a percentage of the city property tax dollars over a base rate set in 1995. Commissioner Mitch Katz and Vice Mayor Jim Chard said it was hard to cap the city’s property tax rate without knowing what the expenses would be.
    “We don’t need the whole book, just the basic department budgets,” Katz said.
    In the end, the four agreed to reduce the tax rate.
    Deputy Vice Mayor Shirley Johnson, who voted against the rate decrease, said the city had too many public works needs. She cited a recent water main break under the Intracoastal Waterway.
 “Costs for everything are rising,” said Neal de Jesus, interim city manager. “We will get there by doing absolutely what we have to do.”
 That focus will be on public safety, parks and recreation and public works projects.
    He proposes using the city’s reserves this budget year for one-time expenses, such as the estimated $1.2 million needed to replace the eight lifeguard stands and the estimated $810,000 needed for the new 100-foot Christmas tree.  
    The city’s proposed tax rate has two components. The operating tax rate is $6.86 per $1,000 value and the debt service rate is 23 cents per $1,000 value.  
    The tax rates had to be set by the end of July in order for the county property appraiser to mail notices in mid-August to every property owner. The notices cover assessed values and proposed tax rates. The rates can be lowered but not raised during the city’s budget hearings in September.

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