Weisman: Increase In PBSO Budget Led To Higher Tax Rate

Palm Beach County’s proposed budget for 2014 has a 0.03 millage rate increase — money that County Administrator Bob Weisman said is necessary to cover the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office’s proposed 4 percent budget increase.

Weisman presented his draft budget at a workshop Tuesday evening.

Weisman said three significant items will force budget reductions on the non-PBSO side of the budget.

“The most significant increase was the Florida Retirement System employment contribution rates,” he said. “We had a total impact of $10 million — $8 million for the sheriff and $2 million for other county agencies. We also had an unforeseen impact of approximately $7 million from the changes in investment policies, which generated less investment income for us.”

A proposed employee pay increase would be about $6 million for general county employees, Weisman said.

The proposed general fund budget is about $1 billion, and about 47 percent of that is the sheriff’s budget, of which about 80 percent is paid by property taxes, Weisman said. General county departments will cost $278 million, about 26 percent. Debt services will cost about $85 million, or 8 percent of the total.

The county will pay about $46 million, or 4 percent, to support other constitutional officers beyond the sheriff.

“This billion dollars is a combination of taxes and fees for the general fund operations,” Weisman said, explaining that the county collects a total of about $892 million in property taxes, including the separate Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue municipal service taxing unit, library and debt service items approved by voters.

“Of that, about 70 percent goes to the general fund agencies and to the sheriff,” Weisman said, with $200 million to fire-rescue, $42 million to the library and about $26 million to voted debt. “Of the $624 million in countywide operating taxes, approximately $400 million of that goes to the sheriff’s office.”

From 2007 to the present, general fund agencies have been roughly tracking with decreases in the county’s property value. “We’re actually spending about 22 percent less than we did in 2007,” Weisman noted.

In contrast, the sheriff’s budget is up about 23 percent since 2007. “I need to harp on that a little bit because that is the continuing reality this board and future boards will face in coming years,” Weisman said. “When you talk about where the future tax dollars will go, it’s going to be going to the sheriff’s budget unless a change is made in the way that is funded.”

Although property taxes are proposed to go up from about $600 million in 2013 to $625 in 2014, Weisman noted that the proposed rate is still 9.3 percent less than in 2007. That year, the county brought in a record $689 million in property taxes.

The proposed voted debt is $26.6 million for 2014, compared to $26.2 million in 2013 and $31.8 million in 2007.

For dependent districts, the library is proposed to go up to $43 million in 2014 from $41 million in 2013, down from $53 million in 2007.

“The library has done an outstanding job of making themselves more efficient, providing more service to more people, with more libraries open and larger libraries. They have excellent management under John Callahan,” Weisman said. “This shows you what you can do with people who are dedicated, doing a good job of making government more efficient and better.”

The fire-rescue MSTU is proposed to go up from $177 million in 2013 to $182 million in 2014, still down from $189 million in 2007.

“There are similar pressures on fire-rescue regarding employee compensation and providing a high level of service that tend to drive costs higher, and in this case, working with the firefighters’ union, we are bringing in new employees at 20 percent less pay than employees started in the past,” Weisman said, adding that the department has also undergone staff reductions. “This does bode well for the future of fire-rescue.”

Under the proposed budget, a $150,000 house with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay the county $514 in 2014 compared to $499 in 2013.

“Of that increase of $15.88, which is 3.2 percent, $12.80 is due to the property value increase and $3.08 is due to the suggested increase in the millage,” Weisman said, noting that the millage rate can still be adjusted downward before the budget is finalized.

Weisman pointed out that the final numbers from the Property Appraiser’s Office will be published on July 1. “Historically those numbers have gone up a little bit, and we have an indication that it will,” Weisman said. “I would not want to guess what that number is going to be, but perhaps we will see $500,000 to $1 million in additional revenue.”

Weisman said the county departments are proposing a $7.3 million increase, which is 2.6 percent, while the sheriff is proposing a $19.5 million increase, which is 4.8 percent.

Capital projects are proposed at $16.8 million, which is historically low, but on par for recent years.

“In general, I have held all county departments to a high level of restraint,” Weisman said, pointing out that in 2008, county departments had 4,164 employees and now have 3,534.

Weisman said he was hard pressed with the Florida Retirement System increases and unexpected loss of interest revenue to balance the budget, and when separating the sheriff’s budget from the rest of the budget, he added the .03 millage rate in order to balance the sheriff’s budget.

“The sheriff is the larger part of the operating budget of the general fund by far, so the entire proposed increase of the millage rate, which is small, but still that increase of .03 is entirely for the benefit of balancing the sheriff’s budget,” Weisman said. ‘I’ve controlled the part of our expense. His increase is not large in that respect. It’s not a lot of money, but I have no place else to go at this time within the general county to help balance his budget.”

Weisman said he would need a $4.5 million reduction in the sheriff’s total $420 million budget collected from taxes in order to balance the overall budget without a rate increase.

Palm Beach County Mayor Steven Abrams said he felt the onus should be on the sheriff to find budget reductions to avoid a tax rate increase.

“It’s only less than 1 percent of the sheriff’s budget to balance the county budget without a tax rate increase,” Abrams said. “I agree with asking the sheriff’s office to balance it on their dime instead of the taxpayers.”

The commission will set the maximum millage rate at its regular meeting on Tuesday, July 16. The first public hearing will be Sept. 9, with the second public hearing Sept. 23, both at 6 p.m.