By Dan Moffett

Manalapan’s high property values likely won’t be enough to insulate the town from a modest increase in the tax rate for the next fiscal year.
Like all Florida munici-palities, Manalapan faces a reduction in state and county revenue streams because of economic damage done by the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the biggest hit to the town’s budget comes from its neighbor to the north.
This year South Palm Beach’s property values shot up 22% because of the opening of the $70 million 3550 South Ocean building and its 30 luxury condos. While South Palm had the county’s highest valuation increase, Manalapan had the lowest at a mere 1.23%.
The impact of the South Palm condo opening on Manalapan is a significant increase in the cost of paying for fire rescue services from Palm Beach County. The town and South Palm Beach partner on the same contract with the county, and it has an annual price tag based on property values. So, next fiscal year, the two towns’ taxpayers will have to split evenly a bill for about $3 million from the county. For Manalapan, that $1.5 million represents a $274,402 increase over last year. “I have no control over the fire rescue cost,” Town Manager Linda Stumpf told commissioners during their July budget meeting. “There’s nothing I can do about reducing that number.”
To cover the fire rescue increase, the Town Commission is considering raising the current property tax rate of $3.03 per $1,000 of taxable value to about $3.17 and taking roughly $175,000 from reserves to balance the 2020-2021 budget.
“My personal preference is not to raise the millage rate at all,” said Mayor Keith Waters. “I call that the September goal.”
Waters and the commis-sioners grudgingly approved a tentative millage maximum rate of $3.30 per $1,000 of valuation and set the first public budget hearing for Sept. 18 at 5:01 p.m. The commission held no meeting in August.
Stumpf anticipates Manalapan’s final rate to come in significantly lower, probably at around $3.17. The rollback number, the rate that would hold taxes flat year-over-year, is $3.01. She expects the current budget year to end with a surplus of about $370,000, so there should be plenty of cash on hand to patch the holes in next year’s fiscal plan.
The new proposed budget includes a 3% raise for town employees and covers the full staffing of the Police Department, which has undergone a major expansion over the last two years.
In other business, commissioners unanimously approved an ordinance that revises the town’s rules on signs.
The changes set new requirements for the size and placement of signs and satisfy constitutional concerns, said Town Attorney Keith Davis.
“The main thrust of the ordinance is to deal with temporary signs,” Davis said.
Commissioners wanted to complete the changes before the election season, when the placement and size of campaign signs have often raised complaints in previous years.

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