By Dan Moffett

Conflicted over whether to close a sizable budget deficit with reserve funds or a tax increase, Ocean Ridge commissioners are asking for advice from the people who elected them to make decisions.

The commission has scheduled a special budget meeting beginning at 2 p.m. on Aug. 5 at Town Hall. The public is invited to attend and weigh in on which option the town should choose.

“Let’s float that bubble out and see what residents want,” Commissioner Phil Besler said at a budget workshop on July 15. “When we say we might be going to raise taxes, then a lot of people are going to show up.”

Because of long overdue repairs and upgrades to stormwater systems and drainage infrastructure, the town faces a possible budget deficit as high as about $600,000 — if commissioners decide to maintain the current tax rate of $5.35 per $1,000 of taxable property value.

Commissioners could increase that tax rate to $5.55 per $1,000 to cover the deficit, the maximum rate they approved unanimously during the budget workshop. Or, they could settle on a lower rate and use some of the roughly $4.8 million the town has saved in reserves to make up the difference.

“We’re in a favorable position,” Mayor Steve Coz said during the workshop. “We’ll have at least 50 percent of (annual) operating expenses in reserves, no matter what we do.”

Besler agrees that either choice the commission makes is justifiable.

“There is no wrong answer here,” he said. “Everyone agrees we got a deficit budget. So you either take it from the reserves or you take it from the residents in taxes.”

Ocean Ridge has an $8.1 million total budget for 2019-2020, up about 13.7 percent over last year because of the infrastructure projects and increased salaries for police and other employees. Property values have risen 6 percent.

Town Manager Tracey Stevens said she’ll have a clearer picture of the town’s finances by Aug. 5 because Briny Breezes should have decided whether to hire Ocean Ridge’s Police Department to handle the town’s law enforcement.

If Briny decides to drop Boynton Beach and hire Ocean Ridge, Stevens said, that could bring in about $180,000 for the commission to put toward the deficit. Also, by the next workshop commissioners expect to have more accurate numbers on the town’s insurance costs for the new fiscal year.

“What you really want to see is a big audience for the next budget workshop,” Commissioner Kristine de Haseth said.  

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