By Larry Barszewski

A mistake that Florida revenue officials determined “to be in violation of the law” forced Ocean Ridge town commissioners into a special meeting Dec. 21 for a “do-over” of the resolutions they approved in September setting the town’s tax rate and budget.

Town officials used the wrong figures in a published advertisement notifying residents of the September public hearings where commissioners set the tax rate and budget for fiscal year 2024, which started Oct. 1.

Fortunately, with millions of dollars in town taxes already paid by property owners over the past two months, the commission didn’t have to change the tax rate or budget from the ones approved in September. The correction means the town is now expecting to receive $58,738 more in property taxes than previously thought, which will reduce the amount of money taken from its reserve funds to support the budget by the same amount.

“We have an additional $58,000 in the budget, so it is a good mistake, not a bad mistake,” Vice Mayor Steve Coz said.

Commissioner Carolyn Cassidy, who in September had supported approving a tax rate lower than the $5.40 per $1,000 of assessed value that was eventually adopted, wasn’t as forgiving. Cassidy said if commissioners had been aware of the extra dollars, that may have convinced them to drop the rate to $5.35 per $1,000 of assessed value.

For the owner of a home valued at $1 million, that change would have produced an extra $50 in savings on their taxes.

Terry Brown, the only resident to speak at the special meeting, wanted to know who was responsible for the mistake. Town Manager Lynne Ladner took responsibility.

“The law was that we were to use the gross taxable value of the town, not the net, and I mistakenly put the net taxable value in the advertisement. It was my mistake,” Ladner said. She added later, “It was not a mathematical error.”

Brown, however, wasn’t satisfied.

“I think it was noted when you were hired by this group, not the previous group, that you publicly stated that that was one of your weaknesses, budget work,” Brown said. “They know your weaknesses. And there are some other weaknesses, too, which we won’t talk about today. But that’s something that you-all are responsible for.”

While Coz said the mistake shouldn’t have been made, he noted that outside financial consultants hired by the town to review Ladner’s work didn’t catch the mistake, either.

“That’s their entire business — it’s a little [portion] of your business — and they missed it as well,” Coz said. “I’m really amazed at the state. I have new faith in the state. A tiny town like us and they catch that? That’s great.”

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