By Tim Pallesen
Delray Beach commissioners have dipped into reserves to prevent an increase in the city property tax rate.
The decision prevents job cuts or a fire fee to make up for a $4 million shortfall in the city’s $97 million proposed operating budget.
Commissioners will finalize the budget and set a property tax rate this month.
“A significant amount was taken out of our surplus funds,” Mayor Woodie McDuffie said Aug. 28 after three difficult budget workshops.
Delray tries to keep an amount equal to 25 percent of its budget in reserves in case of a hurricane or other emergencies.
City staff had cautioned at an Aug. 16 workshop not to take too much of that money, recounting how much Homestead ’s taxable property value dropped after Hurricane Andrew.
“What are you going to do if a Category 4 hurricane goes down Atlantic Avenue?” McDuffie asked other commissioners at that workshop.
But commissioners agreed to cut reserves to 19 percent after assurances from Commissioner Tom Carney, a tax attorney and former banker who studied the city’s reserve accounts.
“This is the year to do this,” Carney said. “We can afford to do this.”
Commissioners hope to keep the city’s current property tax rate of $7.19 per $1,000 of assessed value, which equals $7,190 for the owner of a home valued at $1 million after exemptions.
They were still $200,000 short of balancing the budget after their Aug. 28 workshop.
“I say let the staff work on it. We can probably close that gap,” City Manager David Harden said. “We’re very close,” McDuffie said. Public hearings will be held on the budget and tax rate at 7 p.m. on Sept. 4 and Sept. 20.
Commissioners dipped into reserves after they couldn’t agree on ways to cut expenses and increase revenue to close the $4 million shortfall.
McDuffie and Commissioner Adam Frankel were unable to get a third vote to impose an $85 annual fire fee that would have raised $4.6 million.
Proposals to sell the Delray Beach Tennis Center and eliminate many special events were rejected.
Commissioner Angeleta Gray’s suggestion to cut jobs received no support from other commissioners. “I can’t look someone in the face and get rid of them,” Frankel said.
Current tax rate: $7.19 per $1,000 of taxable property
Proposed tax rate: $7.19
Public hearings: 7 p.m. Sept. 4 and 20