By Dan Moffett
Town Manager Robert Kellogg had plenty of good news to report about the financial health of South Palm Beach during the Town Council’s meeting on June 9.
Kellogg told council members that the town’s taxable value has skyrocketed 21.7% this year over last, far more than any other municipality in Palm Beach County.
Two reasons for the surge: the $70 million luxury condominium building, 3550 South Ocean, has finally come onto the tax rolls. And so has developer Frank McKinney’s five-bedroom, five-bath single-family home at 3492 S. Ocean Blvd., currently on the market for $13.9 million.
The net result is a $78 million jump in taxable value for the town, from $361.5 million in 2019 to $439.6 million in 2020, according to the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office.
But wait. Council members have more good news as they begin to deliberate next year’s budget.
The town is projected to save about $200,000 this year because it has merged its Police Department with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office. Moreover, cash reserves are healthy, too, because money that for years was set aside to pay for an expensive beach stabilization project won’t be needed. That beach plan fell apart last year and has been replaced with a far less costly sand dune replacement project.
“This is the best it’s ever looked,” said Mayor Bonnie Fischer, who has served on the council since 2011. “What we do with the revenue will be determined during a budget workshop as a decision by everybody.”
The continuing budget issue facing the council is whether to repair or replace the aging Town Hall building. Officials have wrestled with a decision on that for the past three years, going through a number of false starts and aborted plans over how much to spend and how far to go in upgrading the building.
“It’s a live wire,” said Fischer, who said she expects the debate to begin anew as the council begins deliberating this summer on a budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.
One thing the mayor has already promised from the new tax windfall, however: “We will be able to buy more masks,” she said with a laugh.
The council intends to continue distributing free face masks to residents as long as the COVID-19 pandemic threat remains, she said.
In other business, the council unanimously approved a contract with The MS Factor Inc., a West Palm Beach public relations and advertising firm, to improve communication services between the government and residents.
Fischer said she wants the town to have a stronger internet presence and be able to inform residents quickly during emergency situations with text messages and emails.
“We hope to see improvements on our website and how we get information out to our residents,” Fischer said.
Vice Mayor Robert Gottlieb has argued for months that the town should use social media and the internet to get more people involved in government and civic activities.
The contract with MS Factor calls for paying the company on an hourly basis for specific assignments the council approves. The MS Factor is a partnership between former state Rep. Sharon Merchant and marketing specialist Valerie Staggs. Merchant’s firm has done work for West Palm Beach, Palm Beach and Boynton Beach, as well as the Florida Department of Transportation.