By Margie Plunkett
and Mary Kate Leming
Ocean Ridge employees will forgo cost-of-living increases this year and the town will continue to make do with a part-time maintenance worker as commissioners push for cuts that will help prevent spending from reserves in the $5.3 million budget.
“We can’t continue to drink champagne on a beer budget,” Commissioner Zoanne Hennigan said, speaking of town employees’ salaries and benefits.
Commissioners also agreed to accept $30,500 in additional budget cuts recommended by staff and asked for two proposals on what the budget shortfall would be if the tax rate remained at $5.30 per $1,000 of a home’s taxable value and if it were lowered to $5.25.
The panel approved a tentative tax rate of $5.30 at its July meeting, with the intent to lower the rate as possible before final budget approval. The preliminary rate can still be decreased, but cannot be raised. The current tax rate is $5.25 per $1,000.
The budget prepared by the staff is based on a rate of $5.15. Even though the general fund budget is $39,776 less than last year, a $150 million drop in property values over the last two years means an annual revenue drop of about $740,000, the town’s budget message said. This year’s property value increased a slight 0.32 percent.
The preliminary budget had included a 3 percent raise for employees, which would have meant a total $60,200. Converting the maintenance worker to full-time from part-time would have cost an additional $19,000, the budget says.
Commissioners are considering other possible cuts, including medical benefits and a requested Police Department investigator position. Town Manager Ken Schenck has a proposal in hand from another health provider, but has not yet studied it in-depth.
The preliminary budget includes $82,000 in salary and benefits for an investigator. The budget proposal notes that the Police Department drastically reduced overtime payments by moving to 12-hour shifts this year.
Commissioners queried Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi about whether a consultant could help complete the policy and procedure manual required for accreditation, noting they don’t want to pay anything out of reserves other than one-time expenses.
Mayor Ken Kaleel also asked Schenck to get a quote from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office for providing police protection for the city. “We don’t want it, but we have a duty to look at it,” the mayor said.
Ocean Ridge and other coastal communities have been exploring consolidating services, including those offered by police departments. Commissioners noted their commitment to that project.
But Yannuzzi pointed out, “We want other towns to come here. We want to be the draw.”
Tentative budget adoption is set for a meeting at 5:01 p.m. Sept. 12.