By Joe Capozzi

A $9.5 million budget proposal for Ocean Ridge would hold the tax rate next year while paying for rising public safety costs and enhancements to town flood prevention strategies. 
Even if commissioners on July 5 approve Town Manager Tracey Stevens’ request to keep the current tax rate of $5.50 per $1,000 of taxable value, residents can still expect higher tax bills next year because of rising property values across town. 
Preliminary estimates from the Palm Beach County property appraiser show Ocean Ridge’s taxable values rising 18.3% to $1.4 billion. As a result, commissioners don’t expect to pull money from reserves to balance the budget as they have done in previous years. 
Stevens’ spending proposal is nearly 8.4% higher than the current budget. One of “the driving forces” of the spending increases, she said in a memo to commissioners, is the “town’s commitment to funding enhanced maintenance and drainage infrastructure projects that were deferred for many years.’’ 
Other factors include increases in salaries and benefits for public safety services, along with a rise in insurance rates and solid waste collection costs.
At $3.464 million, the Police Department comprises the biggest chunk of the budget followed by the town’s contract with Boynton Beach for fire rescue services, at nearly $1.4 million.
On June 6, commissioners spent nearly half of a budget workshop reviewing $1,438,758 in capital improvements for infrastructure and maintenance, including stormwater issues.
Among more than $320,000 in flood-prevention projects included in the plan: 
• $85,000 for upgrades to the catch basin and valve replacements on Spanish River Drive to reduce “abnormally long-standing stormwater” in certain areas. 
• Up to $75,000 for repairs to the Tropical Drive pump station, where leaks in at least two of the five flap-gates are causing stormwater to backflow in the system.
• $70,000 in maintenance to the Tropical and Woolbright pump stations.
• $45,000 for pipe grouting beneath roads in Inlet Cay. 
• $15,000 for wet well maintenance at the Tropical, Woolbright and Coconut Lane pump stations.
During a discussion about nuisance flooding issues, Vice Mayor Kristine de Haseth asked, “What can residents do to mitigate standing water, especially after a rain event?”
Town engineer Lisa Tropepe said residents can turn off their sprinklers during heavy rain, trim their sod (which is often higher than the crowns of some streets), and make sure swales don’t erode. 
A few hours later, the commission in its regular meeting received a petition signed by 17 residents of Tropical Drive asking the town to install automatic shut-off valves to reduce flooding there.
Commissioners will shape the 2022-23 spending plan this summer before holding public hearings for the budget at 6 p.m. Sept. 6 and Sept. 19.

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