By Mary Thurwachter
During Lantana’s first budget workshop on June 8, Mayor Dave Stewart warned residents that the upcoming budget years would be very challenging.
“Property taxes will bring in about $4 million,” he said. “What it costs to run the town from A to Z for everything we do is about $19-$20 million. Your property taxes are very necessary, but they are only about 20% of what it costs to do all the services.”
Other money comes from gas tax revenue, sales tax sharing and revenue sharing from the state.
“The state last I heard, with its almost $90 billion budget, was projecting a $5 billion deficit, and that trickles down to everybody,” Stewart said. “Our sales tax receipts are projected to be considerably less — people aren’t buying in the same manner they were before the virus. And of course, with fewer people driving, there’s less gas being purchased. It’s a good thing to have some reserves, because things are going to be very, very tough.”
Stewart is proud that the town has built up a healthy $9 million in reserves, something he says took 20 years. The account had just $600,000 when Stewart took office in 2000.
“It’s a good thing I’ve been a little cheapskate with spending all these years,” he said.
Finance Director Stephen Kaplan, in presenting the budget, said property values increased by $78 million, or 6.9%, to $1.21 billion for the coming fiscal year. That number includes $14.4 million in new construction.
Property taxes, using the same $3.5 tax rate as the current fiscal year, would bring in $4.05 million. Total revenue projections are for $12.4 million, an increase of $229,000 compared with the current budget.
Kaplan said the town projects receiving $80,000 in federal Community Development Block grants.
The town is planning to give employees a 1.5% cost-of-living raise and possible merit raises up to 5% based on annual evaluations.
Pension costs are projected at 39.51% of wages for sworn police officers at a cost of $932,000. Pension costs for other employees are 7% of wages with a matching program of up to 2%. The total cost for this is $325,000.
Health and dental insurance are expected to increase 20% each for a total cost of $1,720,000.
Money the town receives from the penny sales tax surcharge, an estimated $785,500, is earmarked for projects such as a launch deck at Sportsman’s Park ($9,000), beach walkway rails ($120,000), playground relocation and upgrade at Bicentennial Park ($120,000) and paving projects ($450,000).
The budget calls for adding a dispatcher and a detective to the Police Department; and reclassifying and promoting several positions in the finance and development services departments.
Also on the expenditure list is increasing part-time staff hours at the library and spending $15,000 for books. The library is due for massive renovations and expansion, much of which was covered in the current budget and from donations. The remaining $300,000 will come out of reserves.
The town is looking into costs associated with body cameras for police at the mayor’s suggestion.
“I know we’ve had this discussion before, but when you see all that we see on TV, that officer from the sidewalk, I really think — and you know how I am about spending money — maybe we should spend money for body cameras to protect ourselves,” Stewart said. “I know that’s a controversial thing.”
Kaplan says the town expected to receive certified taxable values from the county’s property appraiser on July 1.
A second budget workshop is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. July 13 — the same night a proposed tax rate will be set. There will also be two public hearings on the budget in September.