By Dan Moffett
Town Manager Rex Taylor likes to begin budget talks by taking a look at what’s happened to property values in South Palm Beach during the last decade.
In 2008, the town’s taxable value was $429.2 million.
Then came the recession and the collapse of the South Florida real estate market, during which South Palm Beach saw its taxable property values fall to about $250 million.
Unlike most of Palm Beach County, however, the town has not seen a robust recovery in real estate prices. The taxable value in 2013 was $258.2 million, a 40 percent decline from the high point of six years ago, and a minuscule 0.54 percent improvement over 2012 — a long way from the double-digit increases many of South Palm Beach’s coastal neighbors have enjoyed.
“We all know we’ve been going through an economy that’s been turned down for the last four or five years,” Taylor said. “It started to improve a year ago, but unfortunately our values have not followed suit very much.”
Taylor said the town has had little choice but to do a good job holding the line on expenses.
He proposed for the next fiscal year the same tax rate of $4.32 per $1,000 of assessed value that the town has had for the previous three budget years. And the proposed general fund budget of $1.76 million is $34,000 less than last year’s, he said, primarily due to salary savings from the retirement of several senior town employees last year, including the police chief and town clerk.
South Palm Beach has benefited during the last year from what Taylor describes as “an uptick in the number of building permits” and an overall increase in construction activity — signs that South Florida’s economic recovery might finally be trickling into the town.
“I think we’ve done a good job of keeping our services going, our Police Department operational and the other things going that this town has typically done for its citizens,” Taylor said. “So I certainly feel good about that.”
Most of the capital expenditures, about $65,000, in the proposed budget will go to the Police Department for replacement of a vehicle, in-car video systems, handguns and tactical weapons.
During the Town Council meeting on July 22, Taylor had good news and bad news about the inter-local agreement with Lake Worth for sewer services.
The town will have to deal with a 14 percent rate hike to cover the cost of improvements to the Regional Sewer Treatment Plant, but, Taylor says, there will be no rate increase for property owners.
“Our existing rates can absorb the increase,” he said. “I’m not proposing any rate increase for next year. That’s not saying that some time in the future you might have to.”
One unknown in South Palm Beach’s fiscal future is a new contract with the Police Benevolent Association. The town is in the third year of a three-year agreement and began negotiations for a new deal with the union in July.
Taylor has allotted $990,900 for police and public safety in the new budget, down from $1.02 million in 2013-14.
The Town Council unanimously approved the proposed budget (4-0, with council member Stella Gaddy Jordan absent because of illness) and set the tax rate at $4.32 per $1,000 in assesed value.
The town will hold public hearings on the budget at 7 p.m. Sept. 9 and Sept. 23.