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Our Town with William Kelly: Town Council gives final nod to bigger budget and lower tax rate for coming fiscal year

The Town Council approved on Thursday a $104.8 million operating budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

The unanimous decision occurred during the second of two public hearings required by the state each September for municipal budgets and property tax rates to be formally adopted.

The new budget is about 8 percent larger than this year’s $97.2 million spending plan. It includes $2 million to cover a 9 percent employee pay increase, tied to inflation, and for the creation of eight employee positions. The new jobs will bring the town’s workforce to the full-time equivalent of 371 employees.

The property tax rate has been lowered by 3 percent to $2.61 per $1,000 of taxable value. The new rate will generate $6.7 million more revenue because of a 13 percent jump in taxable property values.

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

Council President Pro Tempore Bobbie Lindsay, who chaired the hearing, said in an interview earlier Thursday that the town faced two major challenges for this budget.

One was the cost of renovating the North Fire Station, which ballooned to $17 million after engineers discovered the 96-year-old building to be in structurally worse condition than anticipated.

The other hurdle was southeast Florida’s 9 percent inflation rate, which is double the national average.

But Lindsay said those were largely offset by the increase in property tax revenue and by strong financial returns from the Town Marina, which reopened in November 2021 reopening after a $38 million upgrade.

The council has not raised property taxes for homesteaded owners for six consecutive years, and it lowered their taxes for two of those years, Lindsay said.

“I think overall we are in pretty good shape,” she said. “We’ve been very fortunate with the increases in our taxable property values and fortunate that we haven’t had a major hurricane in a few years.”

Councilman Lew Crampton thanked Town Manager Kirk Blouin and the staff for maintaining the level of services while keeping a tight lid on the tax rate.

“We are continually trying to keep the cost to our taxpayers down,” Crampton said.

The town collects about 18 percent of the property taxes paid by Palm Beach property owners. The remainder goes to Palm Beach County, the county school district, and other taxing authorities.

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