By Tim Pallesen

    Ocean Ridge commissioners have proposed an increase in next year’s property tax rate of 9.52 percent.
     “I don’t see any way that we’re not going to raise the millage [rate],” Mayor Geoffrey Pugh said before the 3-2 commission vote to up this year’s rate of $5.25 per $1,000 of assessed value to $5.75 for the budget year that begins Oct. 1.
    The increase would add $500 to the $5,750 tax bill this year for the owner of a home valued at $1 million after exemptions.
    Town Manager Kenneth Schenck on July 25 proposed an operating budget of $5,239,101 to keep the tax rate unchanged.
    But the proposal has a $197,292 revenue shortfall and the town doesn’t know yet what a police union contract and employee health insurance will cost.
Commissioner Gail Adams Aaskov made the motion to approve the higher preliminary tax rate. Pugh and Vice Mayor Lynn Allison voted with Aaskov, saying it could be lowered later, while Commissioners Edward Brookes and Zoanne Hennigan objected.
    The town has scheduled a second budget workshop for 5 p.m. on Aug. 6.      

“Let’s start out realistically with what the town can afford,” Brookes cautioned.
    Commissioners now must weigh this month whether they can cut services, raise fees or take money from the town’s reserves to cover the shortfall and keep the tax rate stable.
    “There’s not much left in here to cut,” Schenck said as he gave commissioners his budget.
    Commissioners agreed with him during their first review.
    They agreed to increase the cost for police to monitor burglar alarms in single-family homes from $180 to $300 per year, but they rejected a suggestion to find a cheaper attorney and engineer.
    Commissioners then added two police patrol cars to the budget, increasing the revenue shortfall by $68,000 more.
    They were split on whether to explore if Briny Breezes should pay more than the $180,000 it does for Ocean Ridge to provide police services each year. Brookes wanted staff to calculate the town’s actual cost to provide law enforcement.
    Pugh said that number might jeopardize the pact with Briny Breezes, which has contracted with Boynton Beach for police services in past years.“That’s such a profit area,” Pugh said. “I don’t want to kill that horse so they go out shopping again.”
    Commissioners agreed to ask Boynton Beach to renegotiate the $905,113 that Ocean Ridge currently pays for fire-rescue service if Boynton closes the fire station located closest to the town.
    Public hearings on the budget will be at 5 p.m. on Sept. 10 and Sept. 25.                     

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