The Coastal Star

South Palm Beach: Town agrees on tax rollback with big decisions ahead

By Dan Moffett

Despite having a hefty list of unresolved issues, the South Palm Beach Town Council has signed off on a rollback of the property tax rate for the 2019 budget year.

Council members have agreed to drop the current millage from $4 per $1,000 of taxable value to the full rollback rate of $3.79, which keeps tax revenues flat year-over-year.

Because taxable values are up about 5 percent on property in the town, Mayor Bonnie Fischer and Town Manager Mo Thornton said revenues should increase about $80,000 over the last fiscal year even with the lower rate.

The council has much to decide that will affect the town’s budget.

Council members must choose someone to fill the vacant police chief position and find a town clerk. The council is waiting on an architect’s report to decide whether renovating the Town Hall is possible.

Then there is the controversial project with Palm Beach County that proposes installing concrete groins on the beach to combat erosion. That plan, originally conceived 12 years ago, is moving slowly through the state and federal permitting process, and faces tough opposition from the town’s southern neighbors, Manalapan and Ocean Ridge.

Thornton said she expects to receive the report from architect John Bellamy by early September. The findings could determine whether upgrading Town Hall costs tens of thousands or significantly more.

“My plan is to schedule a workshop to go over his report,” Thornton said. “It’s too much to take up at a regular meeting.”

To avoid conflicts with the Rosh Hashanah holiday, the council has rescheduled its regular meeting to Sept. 12, immediately following a 7 p.m. hearing on the proposed 2019 budget. A second budget hearing is scheduled for 5:01 p.m. on Sept. 24.

In other business:

• South Palm Beach police gave out their first written warning last month under the new ordinance prohibiting dogs on the beach.

Sgt. Mark Garrison, the town’s interim police chief, told the council during its Aug. 21 meeting that the department will begin recording violations in a database as part of the law’s implementation. First offenders receive written warnings, but then for each subsequent violation within a calendar year they face $100 fines.

“Parking citations and town ordinance violations imposing a fine will now be completed on our computer-based reporting system,” Garrison said. “Citations will be tracked by year and number for payment.”

Garrison said an officer responding to the scene of a possible dog ordinance violation will be able to determine quickly whether the offender should receive a warning or be fined.

Councilwoman Stella Gaddy Jordan said officers need to be especially vigilant for dog offenses on the southern beaches, near the Imperial House and Palm Beach Windemere condominiums, where residents have frequently complained about irresponsible pet owners.

Garrison told Jordan that officers are “trying to do five or six beach checks per shift.”

• Thornton said IT contractors are making “good progress” fixing internet and phone problems that have dogged the town for more than a year.

In June 2017, the town’s system was hit with a ransom-ware attack that paralyzed business at Town Hall. Officials paid no ransom and were able to get computers and website back online with the help of an outside contractor. But problems have persisted. 

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