Our Town with William Kelly: July 26, 2021

William Kelly  |  Our Town  |  Public Safety  |  July 26, 2021

Town budget would cut taxes, create surplus to help pay for new North Fire Station

The Town Council has agreed to a 2021-22 budget that includes a $1.7 million surplus and a tax cut worth a total of $1 million for property owners who have a homestead exemption.

The $84.9 million spending plan, for the year that begins Oct. 1, would be about 5 percent larger than this year’s $80.9 million budget.

A vigorous climb in property values has enabled the town to trim the property tax rate yet still cover a $2.3 million increase in operating expenses and generate the $1.7 million surplus.

Nearly all of the surplus – $1.5 million – will be applied toward the cost of building a new North Fire Station, the council decided at a July 15 meeting. The existing station suffers from a leaky roof and mold intrusion.

The remainder of the surplus, $189,000, will help pay for a 3 percent cost-of-living pay increase for employees, the council decided.

Reconstruction of the fire station was expected to be three to four years into the future, Mayor Danielle Moore said Friday. But a report detailing the deteriorating condition of the landmarked building accelerated the need for reconstruction.

“It has extensive mold,” Moore said. “It’s not fiscally prudent to put money into mold [remediation] and then, two years later, tear it down to rebuild.”
Construction of the new station is estimated to cost around $6 million, Moore said.

Because the existing station is landmarked, there will be a design review process involving the Landmarks Preservation Commission, Moore noted. The North Fire Station was designed by Clark J. Lawrence and built in 1927, according to landmarks consultant Emily Stillings. The building was landmarked in 1988.

One of three fire stations in town, the north station is responsible for fire-rescue missions from Royal Poinciana Way to the northern end of town.

The town is searching for a location to house a temporary north fire station while the permanent one is built. The interim site will likely be somewhere north of the existing station so responders can maintain emergency response times, Public Works Director Paul Brazil said.

Brazil said he’s not sure precisely when reconstruction will begin or how long it will take to complete because the scope of the work has not been determined. But he said the project has been put on a fast track.

“We’re going to start it as soon as possible,” he said. “Within a week we will issue a request for proposals from consultants and then we will request qualifications for a design-build team.”

Property taxes

Taxable property values in the town have climbed 8.13 percent since last year, according to Palm Beach County Property Appraiser Dorothy Jacks’ estimate in June. Total taxable values are up $1.6 billion to nearly $21.7 billion.

That enables the town to cut the tax rate yet generate more revenue. The property tax rate is currently $2.99 per $1,000 of taxable value. The council’s plan would lower it to around $2.90 per $1,000 of value, which would create $1 million in tax relief, Finance Director Jane Le Clainche said.

Owners with a homestead exemption would pay $47 less per $1 million in taxes to the town than they did last year. Those without the exemption would pay $144 more per $1 million to the town.

Generally, only U.S. citizens and permanent residents can claim Florida’s homestead exemption, which allows owners to claim a portion of their home’s value on their taxes, thereby reducing its assessed value and taxable amount.

Most of the property taxes paid in the town go to other taxing districts. For every $100 in property taxes paid in the town last year, the town collected only $18.17. The Palm Beach County School District and Palm Beach County combined collected over 71 percent.

The town is on a solid financial footing after several years of climbing property values because of the vibrant real estate market in southeast Florida.

Town Manager Kirk Blouin delivered a budget proposal, containing a menu of tax and surplus options, prior to the July 15 budget meeting. Blouin said the executive staff including department heads have worked hard to find operational efficiencies, implement leaner spending practices and plan for the long term.

“Kirk and his team did an incredible job with the budget,” Moore said. “That the town is in such remarkable financial condition, in the era of Covid-19, is a blessing to all of us.”

Final council approval of the budget and property tax rate will be at a public hearing on Sept. 23.

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