By Mary Thurwachter
The tide is turning in Lantana, where the tax rate has remained at $3.24 per $1,000 of taxable value for 10 years. At its July 10 meeting, the Town Council set the proposed rate for 2017-2018 at $3.50.
The lone dissenter in a 4-1 vote to raise the rate was Mayor Dave Stewart, a staunch defender of keeping the rate flat.
Stewart said Lantana would be the only one of 39 municipalities in Palm Beach County to raise its tax rate and he didn’t want to be any part of it. He said raising the rate wouldn’t bring in that much more money.
But Vice Mayor Lynn Moorhouse, who consistently proposed raising taxes in the past, led the charge for the increase.
“By leaving the tax rate flat we’re deteriorating,” Moorhouse said, adding that he agreed with Chamber of Commerce President Dave Arm, who said there was nothing wrong with raising the rate.
“It’s time to consider raising revenues to meet the needs of the residents,” Arm said at the meeting. He said more police officers and code enforcement officers are needed.
Ed Shropshire, the newest council member, said, “We need to get more support for our police and code enforcement because our town is looking terrible. I’ve been here since 1979 and it ain’t the seaside village it was.”
Shropshire said he would prefer the tax rate be raised to $4 per $1,000 of taxable value but voted with others for the $3.50 rate. He said Lantana had the lowest tax rate in the county, but Stewart said that wasn’t true.
Stewart said the town’s rate added to the fire-rescue rate brought the total to “between $6-$7, our effective rate.”
Stewart said he would rather take money from reserves for necessary one-time purchases.
Raising the rate to $3.50 is about a 15 percent increase over the rollback rate of $3.04, the mayor said.
Priorities for the money collected by the tax increase, council members agreed, are for code enforcement, enhancing employee salaries and additional police.
Lantana will have public budget hearings at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 11 and Sept. 25. The proposed rate cannot be raised from $3.50 but could be lowered.
Anticipated property tax revenues for 2018 are $2,941,319, up $187,834 from 2017’s $2,753,485.
Property taxes are projected to account for 26.6 percent of the anticipated revenues in 2018 compared to 24.3 percent this year.
Lantana received notification from the Palm Beach County property appraiser of a 7.4 percent increase in the value of taxable property within the town, from $889.9 million to $955.7 million. Based on new property values, each $1 in the tax rate generates revenues of approximately $904,924.
Projected general fund revenues for Lantana also include $560,000 from the 1-cent sales tax increase (although that money can be used only for infrastructure such as roads, bridges and drainage, and amenities such as parks), $568,000 from grants, plus a $100,000 transfer from the town’s insurance fund.
Workers compensation insurance and general liability, property and casualty insurance is expected to go up about 10 percent, and health insurance is anticipated to go up about 5 percent.
One of the biggest expenditure increases will be from pension costs for police officers, which jumped about a half million dollars, from $489,398 to $904,992. The state will kick in $119,700 from insurance proceeds.
The budget calls for 2.4 percent cost-of-living increases for employees, as well as merit increases up to 5 percent.
Lantana would like to spend some money next year building a 6-foot wall to surround the town’s operation center, replace a police motorcycle, and add a police officer, dispatcher and part-time assistant at the library.
By Mary Thurwachter