By Dan Moffett
South Palm Beach is closing out the 2018-2019 fiscal year in a stronger financial position than it has been at any other time during the past decade. And the town’s future appears to be even brighter — at least for the short term.
Property values are up 5.57 percent over last year, extending an upward trend from the past decade. The Palm Beach County property appraiser puts the town’s assessed value at about $362 million, approaching the all-time high mark of $432 million in 2007 before the Great Recession and real estate downturn.
By the end of next year, the 30 luxury condominiums at 3550 S. Ocean Blvd. are expected to be completed and move onto the tax rolls, adding another $80 million to $100 million of valuation.
Town Manager Robert Kellogg says South Palm Beach has about $3.5 million earning interest in reserve accounts.
There are also savings in expenditures.
Beginning Oct. 1, South Palm Beach will save $108,875 during the next year, and roughly as much each of the two following years, when the Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office takes over the town’s law enforcement. The financial burden of running a small-town police department goes away. The sheriff is charging the town $1.05 million for the first year.
“I’m happy to announce that the merger is moving along very smoothly,” Police Chief Mark Garrison told the Town Council during its meeting on July 23. “Everyone can feel good about that. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback about our decision to go with the Sheriff’s Office and merge with them.”
Armed with optimistic news, council members are considering passing on savings to taxpayers. They unanimously voted to keep the town’s maximum tax rate where it is at $3.79 per $1,000 of taxable property value. At the next budget workshop on Aug. 13, the council is scheduled to discuss lowering the tax rate closer to $3.59, the rollback rate at which tax revenues stay flat year-over-year.
Town accountant Bea Good told the council that keeping the current rate for the next fiscal year would generate a surplus of $168,802 that could go into reserves or back to taxpayers. A year ago, the council cut the millage from $4 per $1,000 to today’s $3.79.
The town could also look at putting the excess toward several familiar capital projects. Mayor Bonnie Fischer and Kellogg are looking at possibilities for a beach and dune renourishment project, and Town Hall has needed renovation or repairs for years.
It might take as much as $70,000 to upgrade computer servers and make the town’s website compliant with federal disability standards. It will cost about $30,000 to improve streetlights and another $20,000 to upgrade the audio system in Town Hall.
Good told the council that revenues from the penny sale-tax increase county voters approved in 2016 continue to accumulate.
The town has about $270,000 saved and expects another $100,000 to come in during the next year. That money is restricted by law to infrastructure improvements.