By Jane Smith
Delray Beach kept its tax rate the same, but increased property values will give the city slightly more cash in the budget year that began Oct. 1.
The city’s tax rate — $6.66 per $1,000 of taxable value — is the same as last year’s when the pandemic shut down cities nationwide. The rate for debt service is down slightly to 17.9 cents per $1,000.
The city is using about $4.6 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to help balance the $152.3 million budget, leaving $873,660. That use is allowed by the U.S. Treasury, John Lege, finance director, told city commissioners at the Aug. 24 budget workshop.
Sixteen vacant positions, totaling $1.2 million, will be filled in January, saving 25% of their salaries or an estimated $291,635 in the budget year. The positions include five firefighters, three police officers and a lifeguard.
City Manager Terrence Moore did his part by eliminating the position of legislative affairs manager held by Jason King, whom previous manager George Gretsas hired. King was notified in August that his job would not be funded.
Mayor Shelly Petrolia suggested at the August workshop that it might be a future savings measure for the city to no longer handle building permits for Gulf Stream. Because of the contentious nature of some of the town’s residents, the city’s building clerks must spend time pulling records for the town when there is a public records request. Petrolia asked Moore to look into the Gulf Stream permit situation.
The current tax rate for Delray Beach will bring in about $80.5 million in property tax income. The city’s contribution to its Community Redevelopment Agency is $16.1 million, leaving about $64.4 million in the city’s general fund.
At the first budget public hearing on Sept. 13, Petrolia pointed out an item to remember when discussing next year’s budget. “We are always told that the tax rate set in July can be lowered. But think about all the work that the staff did and how difficult it would be to change in September,” she said.
To plan for future shortfalls, such as if the investment rates fall for the three pension funds the city must pay, new revenue sources must be found.
To that end, the police department received permission to buy a patrol boat for $65,000. Chief Javaro Sims told commissioners that with the boat purchase, his officers will generate income by ticketing boat operators for speeding and other violations.
At the second budget hearing on Sept. 23, Commissioner Juli Casale said, “I’m excited because this is my first year with actual items in budget.”
She pushed for the Coastal Habitat Conservation Plan, which will inventory all the plants on the municipal beach.
The Beach Bucket brigade is a more modest project that she suggested. She envisions canvas bags hanging on a vertical pole. Beachgoers could take a bag and use it to help clean up the beach.
Both projects are in the city’s beach management fund of $510,050.