Highland Beach tax rate may see slight decrease

By Rich Pollack
While Highland Beach residents are likely to see a slight reduction in their municipal tax rate on their property tax bill in the next few months, the amount of taxes they pay for municipal services could actually increase.
    A proposed budget presented to town commissioners last month recommends keeping the town’s operating tax rate at $3.95 per $1,000 of assessed property value for the third consecutive year.
    Thanks to a retirement of a 20-year-old bond, however, Highland Beach’s proposed debt service tax rate will drop by 19 percent. As a result, the proposed overall tax rate could drop from the current $4.80 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $4.64 in the coming fiscal year — nearly a 3.5 percent drop in the overall tax rate for town services.
    An increase in property tax revenue of about $430,000 over last year — resulting in large part from an increase in property values throughout the town — is helping town officials keep the tax rate from increasing.
    While the tax rate may go down, many property owners may see the taxes they pay to the town go up as a result of higher assessed values.
    “This proposed budget gives us the opportunity to do some capital projects that have been put off for many years without having to raise the tax rate,” said Town Manager Kathleen Weiser.
    Among projects included in the proposed budget are the enclosure of the town library’s terrace, replacement of some older town vehicles and enhancements to the town’s water meter reading system that will make it easier to detect leaks.
    “This budget makes it possible for us to address a lot of issues that have been on hold because of reduced property values,” says Vice Mayor Ron Brown. “Now, we have the ability to improve our town and the quality of life for our residents.”
    The town’s proposed $11.35 million general fund budget shows a decrease in expenses of about $360,000 from the current $11.72 million budget due in large part to the retirement of a 2004 $2 million bond used for library improvement.
    The proposed budget also shows a drop of $557,000 in capital expenditures from the current budget, which included $850,000 for Town Hall renovations.
    The proposed budget reflects a 5 percent increase in personnel expenses due in part to merit raises for town employees. It also reflects increases in retirement and health insurance costs.
    “This proposed budget is balanced without any major spending cuts to personnel or operations,” Weiser said.
    The town has scheduled a budget workshop for 6:00 p.m., Aug. 5 and a tentative workshop, if needed, for Aug. 26 following a regularly scheduled Town Commission workshop meeting.
    Public hearings on the budget are scheduled for 5:01 p.m., Sept. 9 and Sept. 23

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