By Mary Thurwachter

With a deficit of $792,000 in the general fund and $5 million in the utility fund, Lantana will rely on a hefty assist from its reserves to balance its $27.9 million budget for the new fiscal year. However, the town will not raise its tax rate — $3.50 per $1,000 of taxable value.
A few residents expressed concerns about spending during the first public hearing on Sept. 13.
One of them, former Mayor Dave Stewart, said the budget was “not acceptable,” particularly after the past year with residents suffering financial losses due to the pandemic.
“This is a time when you have extra money coming in, you don’t have money going out for a debt payment. You have the sales tax money, you have the Biden money” — $6 million from the American Rescue Plan Act — “and this is the time to go to the rollback rate. ... You have a lot of people, because of COVID, that are in sad shape.”
Mayor Robert Hagerty, during the final public hearing on Sept. 23, said that over the past decade the council had raised taxes only once.
Finance Director Stephen Kaplan said that while it was true the tax rate was raised only once during that time, taxes were higher each year since the town did not choose to go to the rollback rate. For example, the $3.50 tax rate for 2021-22 represents an increase of 5.8% over the rollback rate of $3.30 per $1,000 of taxable value.
Hagerty said the town had not gone to the rollback rate for the past decade or so and “had the opportunity to do so.”
Council member Lynn Moorhouse said he wasn't proud of keeping taxes low the past 10-15 years “because the town went to hell.”
Anticipated property tax revenues for the next year are $4,419,048, an increase of $371,762 compared to 2021’s budget revenue of $4,047,286. Property taxes are projected to account for 33% of anticipated revenues next year, which was identical in 2021.
Moving $792,000 to the general fund will leave about $8 million in reserves, while the utility reserves will drop to about $7 million after the $5 million is transferred.
Why is this year’s deficit so much larger?
“The current draft consists of significant one-time capital improvement projects,” Kaplan said. “Within the utility fund, we have projects pertaining to drainage, water main replacements and water treatment plant improvements accounting for over $3.5 million.”
In the general fund, police communication center equipment upgrades are included at an estimated cost of more than $320,000.
Other expenses include library renovations and furniture, money to fix Sea Pines flooding issues and adding an officer and dispatcher to the Police Department.
The council had hoped to add an assistant town manager but scrapped the idea to save money. Also abandoned were plans to replace the tennis court fence and gate and repainting the veterans’ memorial at the Recreation Center.
Money the town receives from the penny sales tax surcharge, an estimated $1,041,700, is earmarked for projects such as an ADA ramp at the municipal beach, the second phase of the beach walkway railing and paving projects.
The town plans to spend $20,000 on beautification (benches and landscaping) and $90,000 for nets at the Sports Complex to stop errant baseballs from breaking windows at apartments in Water Tower Commons.
Lantana employees can expect 2.6% cost-of-living raises and possible merit raises up to 5% based on annual evaluations.
Pension costs are projected at 45.59% of wages for sworn police officers at a cost of $933,000. Pension costs for other employees are 7% of wages with a matching program of up to 2%. The total cost for this is $363,000. Health insurance rates for employees will go up 4%, but no increase is expected for dental insurance.
The budget calls for reclassifying and promoting several positions in the finance and development services departments.
Also on the expenditures list are increasing part-time staff hours at the library and spending $15,000 for books. The library is undergoing renovations and expansion, much of which was covered in the previous budget and from donations. The remaining costs will come from reserves.
As for how Lantana will spend its money from the federal pandemic stimulus plan, Kaplan said, “We’re still working through developing the details and are anticipating over $6 million,” not the $5 million the town first had heard.
“We currently have project approval for personal and public protective measures, loss of revenue during the pandemic and premium pay for essential workers.”

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