Our Town with William Kelly: Civic Association’s Tax and Finance Committee to inform residents about town finances

William Kelly  |  Our Town  |  Tax and Finance  |  March 4, 2022

The Palm Beach Civic Association’s Tax and Finance Committee will collaborate with town government to communicate information about the town’s financial plans to residents, its new chairman, Mark Zeidman, said recently.

The committee will study the town’s annual budget and periodic financial reports, said Zeidman, who presided over his first meeting as committee chairman on Feb. 14.

The town is transparent about its finances, but “it’s a lot of financial data,” Zeidman said.

The committee is made up of Zeidman, Michael Ainslie, Warren Belmar, Margie Betten, Jack Borland, Phil Byrne, Ed Carter, Andrew Frazier, Howard Leach, Craig Omtvedt and Richard Rampell.

At its meeting, Zeidman outlined two primary goals. One is to focus on the town’s quarterly financials, and the second is to focus on its budget process. That includes knowing when decisions are made about property values, expenditures and tax rates.

The committee will generally meet on a quarterly basis and its next meeting is scheduled for April 26.
Zeidman proposed that it meet on July 12, shortly after the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s office has released its annual report on taxable property values, which local governments rely on to determine their tax revenues and set their property tax rates.

The July 12 date also would be two days before the Town Council holds its budget workshop meeting on July 14.

Zeidman suggested the committee also meet on Sept. 6, a week before the council holds the first of two public hearings to adopt a budget and property tax rate for the year beginning Oct. 1.

For the quarterly financials, the committee’s goal is brevity, Zeidman said. “We want [to develop] a two- to three-page summary that will include pie charts, line charts, and tables to deliver to the Executive Committee.”

The committee plans to educate the public about town finances through the Civic Association’s Our Town news articles and Palm Beach TV’s Studio 33480.

Zeidman said he also would like to form a subcommittee to closely watch the county budget process.

Zeidman said he would like the committee to have access to monthly financial results from the town because the information would be more current than the quarterly reports.

The town faces three financial threats, he said.

One is inflation, which is sure to exceed the town’s 3 percent rate increase assumption adopted last year for the current budget, he said.

The second is water quality. The town is examining its options for a future water source after its supply agreement with West Palm Beach expires in 2029. Depending on the path chosen, this could lead to a huge up-front investment in infrastructure, he said.

Ainslie said the town would probably have to issue bonds to cover the water infrastructure debt. There also could be a water surcharge on customers to pay down the debt.

Sea level rise will also be a significant budget pressure over time, Zeidman said. Town Consultant Woods Hole Group has issued a report for the town, labeled “Level Up Palm Beach,” detailing many recommendations for improving the town’s coastal resilience. These recommendations are far-reaching and are sure to be costly, Zeidman said.

Carter said there’s a fourth threat – the possibility of a Category 5 hurricane strike that could devastate the town and cost hundreds of millions of dollars in repairs. The town’s traditional method of raising more revenue – property taxes – could not adequately address such an urgent emergency, Carter said.

Zeidman and Omtvedt met Feb. 16 with Town Councilman Lew Crampton, Town Manager Kirk Blouin and Finance Director Jane Le Clainche “to discuss the town’s current and future financial prospects,” Zeidman said.

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