By Brian Biggane

A $2.7 million budget was approved by the South Palm Beach Town Council on Sept. 25 for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1. The previous budget was $2.4 million.

Boosted by another significant rise in property values, the Town Council gave residents another slight drop in their tax rate.

Property values rose 13.8%, down from last year’s 15.2% but slightly higher than the 13.4% across Palm Beach County.

At the first budget hearing on Sept. 12, Mayor Bonnie Fischer made a motion that was unanimously approved to drop the tax rate by 5 cents from $3.45 per $1,000 of assessed value to $3.40. That change resulted in a net $30,000 drop in revenues.

“It looks good for the town,” council member Monte Berendes said. “We should still have enough for what we’re doing.”

The most significant line item rise in the budget was a 47% increase in legal services, from $62,500 to $92,000. Town Manager Jamie Titcomb, who replaced the retiring Robert

Kellogg in that role earlier this year, said he anticipates an abundance of legal issues as the town continues to work toward building a new Town Hall and community center.

“We’re going to have a lot of legal time (involving) bid documents for building and campus stuff,” he said. “The actual documents and legal work, matching it up with compatibility, statutes and all that, that all goes to the attorney.”

The town ended a third-party agreement that provided a part-time maintenance worker, choosing instead to add a position to the administrative staff. That added nearly $40,000 to the administrative budget but ultimately, Titcomb said, “was almost a wash,” with that same individual now getting the benefits of being a town employee.

Specified expenditures amount to $2.07 million, leaving an unrestricted fund balance of $629,897, a nearly $200,000 increase over this past year.

Titcomb said how that money will be spent will be determined by the council, with the expectation that a significant amount will be put toward the Town Hall project, particularly in the areas of legal fees, architecture and construction. “And if it’s not spent,” he added, “it automatically repatriates to the assets of the town.”

Fischer said: “My concern is taking into consideration some of the costs” of building the Town Hall. “Demolishing the building, relocating. These are some of the factors we have to think about.”  

The budget includes a 71% increase in property and liability insurance, from $27,000 to $46,102. Titcomb said municipalities across the state are facing similar increases.

“All carriers, private and public, are going through this mass reset due to new state legislation and thresholds and requirements for property and casualty insurance,” he said. “It took effect in August for us. It’s not a negotiation or an option. It’s ‘Here’s your new rate.’

“It’s a fairly significant increase because building and liability is where the insurance market was most hit, with the slew of recent hurricanes and other issues. So that has been affected across the board,” Titcomb said.

Two council members, Raymond McMillan and Robert Gottlieb, participated in the budget hearings on Sept. 12 and 25 by phone. Council members Bill LeRoy and Berendes joined Fischer on the dais.

Only a few residents attend-ed the hearings, but no one spoke.

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