Our Town with William Kelly: Larger budget would boost employee pay, expand town workforce

William Kelly  |  Our Town  |  Tax and Finance  |  July 11, 2023

Town Manager Kirk Blouin is proposing a $104.8 million budget for 2023-24 that includes a lower property tax rate, additional workers and a 9 percent employee pay increase to cover inflation.

The budget sets aside $2 million for the pay hike and for the creation of eight employee positions, which would bring the town’s workforce to the equivalent of 371 full-time workers.

The $104.8 million spending plan, for the year that begins Oct. 1, is nearly 8 percent larger than this year’s $97.2 million budget. It requires approval from the Town Council, which will review it at a special meeting on Thursday.

The 9 percent employee pay hike would be divided into a 2 percent increase in salaries and wages and a 7 percent lump-sum payment that reduces the impact of the raise on the town’s unfunded pension liability.

The cost-of-living adjustment is based on the average Consumer Price Index in the Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach metro area over the last three (bi-monthly) reporting periods. It’s in addition to market adjustments, merit pay, and step increases for workers who haven’t reached the top of their salary ranges.

If approved by the council, it would mark the second consecutive year that town employees will see 9 percent pay adjustments tied to the steep increase in the cost of living.

Blouin said Monday that the town is feeling the pinch of South Florida’s 9 percent inflation rate.

“The desire to live here has created a high demand and low supply of labor and materials,” he said. “It’s really affecting us across the board. We’re seeing record increases in commodity and labor costs. Our consultants and contractors are requesting more because they have increased costs.”

The eight new jobs include a design and preservation manager and a zoning technician in the Planning, Zoning and Building Department needed to handle the upswing in development throughout the town, Blouin said.

A technician and a solutions analyst would be added to meet new software demands in Information Technology.
Two new police officers would be added to increase law enforcement visibility and security, Blouin said. A digital crime scene technician would help the Police Department with digital public records requests.

A new golf pro-shop assistant would decrease the need for contracted workers at the town’s Par 3 Golf Course.

Property taxes

Blouin proposes to trim the property tax rate by 3 percent to $2.61 per $1,000 of taxable value. The lower rate would still generate $6.3 million more revenue because of a 13 percent jump in taxable property values, according to a June 28 preliminary estimate from the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office.

Homesteaded property owners would pay the same amount per $1 million of taxable value as they did this year. Those without the exemption would pay $179 more per $1 million.

The town collects about 18 percent of the property taxes paid by Palm Beach property owners. The rest goes to the Palm Beach County School District, Palm Beach County and other taxing districts.

Other cost increases

Investment losses have driven the required annual contribution to the town’s retirement fund up by more than $1.1 million, to a total of $12.6 million, for 2023-24. That doesn’t include the $5.42 million discretionary payment the town adds to the budget each year to shrink a long-term unfunded liability in the pension plan.

Other employee benefit costs, including health insurance, will go up by $1.2 million, or nearly 16 percent above this year.

North Fire Station

The annual transfer from the operating budget into a separate Capital Improvement Fund would go up by $937,000 to $10.3 million. For 2023-24, projects in the fund total more than $14.1 million, including $11.5 million for facility improvements that include an extensive renovation of the century-old North Fire Station.

The three-story station at 300 N. County Road has been gutted with only the exterior walls remaining. Construction is scheduled for completion in late 2024.

The cost of restoring the landmarked building has ballooned to $17 million – more than triple its original $5.5 million budget, Council President Margaret Zeidman said. The town has spent $3 million on it so far.

Blouin said the demand for construction in the South Florida market is such that contractors “can pretty much name their price.”

Thursday’s council meeting begins at 9:30 a.m. in the public meeting chambers at Town Hall. Final approval of the budget and tax rate will come at two public hearings on Sept. 12 and Sept. 21.

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