By Steve Plunkett
A whopping $4.4 million increase in the estimate to fix roads and drainage in the town’s Core district led Gulf Stream commissioners in July to propose raising property taxes for the first time in seven years.
The new price for the Core part of the capital improvement plan is $11.1 million, up from $6.7 million a year ago and equal to the originally envisioned cost of the entire 10-year CIP.
“We certainly hope to fine-tune that and have the cost come down when we get into the finer points of the design,” Rebecca Travis of Baxter & Woodman consulting engineers said. Travis presented her firm’s preliminary design of the project on July 8 and said it was on schedule to start construction next July.
But commissioners that day also had to set a proposed property tax rate for the budget year that starts Oct. 1. They settled on keeping the rate the same as this year’s $3.67 per $1,000 of taxable value. That will bring in an additional $551,000 in revenue, an 11.8% tax increase.
The rollback tax rate, which would have generated the same revenue as the previous year, was $3.28 per $1,000. Gulf Stream had adopted the rollback rate or gone below it every year since September 2016.
“As long as the residents, you know, are getting what they want — and the scope of the project, the CIP, the paving and drainage is something everyone’s been after us about — we keep it the same,” Vice Mayor Tom Stanley said of the tax rate.
Mayor Scott Morgan also argued against using the rollback rate.
“We don’t want to be shocking the residents next year or two years from now with a much larger tax increase should that become necessary,” he said.
Public hearings on Gulf Stream’s fiscal 2023 budget and property tax rate are scheduled for 5:01 p.m. on Sept. 9 and Sept. 21 at Town Hall.
The proposed operating budget is $9.3 million, up 8.1% from $8.6 million in the current fiscal year.
Town Manager Greg Dunham said his budget includes a 5% cost-of-living pay raise for employees. The consumer price index for South Florida in April was up 9.6%, he said.
Morgan shot down an idea to also give town workers an “inflation correction” to their pay. Instead, he asked Dunham and Rebecca Tew, the town’s chief financial officer, to compute giving employees a sum to offset the higher gas prices they pay to commute to Gulf Stream.
“I guarantee that the employees will appreciate anything that can help pay for the gas and the food bills,” Dunham said.
He and Tew will come back to the commissioners in August with figures on the fuel offset. Dunham, Town Clerk Rita Taylor, Police Chief Edward Allen and Police Capt. John Haseley, who already receive car allowances, would not get the offsets.
Travis said fears of persistent inflation and shortages of road building and drainage materials forced the engineers to use a 30% contingency for the cost estimate instead of the typical 20%, adding $855,723 to the bottom line.
“The materials availability has really become a problem recently,” she said.
Engineers plan to use “valley gutters” on both sides of the roads in the Core to channel stormwater to outflow pipes. The gutters, which the company recently used in Jupiter Inlet Colony, are concrete, 2 feet wide and slightly V-shaped. They are considered drivable space in the roadway.
Travis’ colleague Jeff Hiscock said he is working with The Little Club to expand one of its lakes to filter more stormwater before it reaches the Intracoastal Waterway. The South Florida Water Management District has indicated it will approve the Baxter & Woodman drainage plan if a lake is enlarged by a quarter-acre.
But the club, Hiscock said, wants to see if the district will OK expanding multiple lakes by smaller amounts equivalent to a quarter-acre instead of adding all the new water surface to just one lake.