Area Municipalities See Big Property Value Jumps

Local municipalities received good news last week when the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office released its preliminary tax roll for 2014, with values improving significantly more than the county average for municipalities in the western communities.

Loxahatchee Groves’ total taxable value improved 11.28 percent, from $178,882,163 in 2013 to $199,060,238 in 2014, which was the second-highest percentage increase only to Gulf Stream, which saw a 14.37 percent increase.

The total taxable value in Royal Palm Beach went up 9.46 percent, from $1.87 billion to $2.05 billion, while Wellington’s total taxable value rose 9.97 percent, from $5.74 billion to $6.31 billion.

Village Manager Paul Schofield said the difference in revenue for the village will amount to about $1 million, which officials plan to use primarily for additional drainage and road improvements.

“We are going to propose setting the millage rate at just a touch under what it is right now,” Schofield said. “Over the last several years, we have cut back on a lot of services. We’ve cut back on replacements and we’ve cut back on employees, to the extent that if we generate additional funds, it’s going to go into maintenance or upgrading facilities.”

Over the next several years, the village is planning some fairly significant upgrades to the drainage system and roadways, he said.

“We’d like to put a little more money into the roadway maintenance programs so that we can do overlays,” he said. “In the last couple of years, we have resorted to crack sealing, which is effective and inexpensive, but it’s not the most attractive thing you’ve ever seen.”

He said Tropical Storm Isaac revealed some deficiencies in the village’s drainage system. “It’s nothing really egregious, but we need to move water east to west a little bit better,” Schofield said. “We need to be able to convey water from Basin B to Basin A a little better.”

Schofield pointed out that although the village is doing better, it is still in recovery mode.

The current millage rate is 2.47, and staff is recommending a TRIM (Truth in Millage) rate of 2.46. “The thing to remember about the TRIM rate is it can go down,” he said. “It cannot go up. Once we set TRIM, we usually go a little bit below TRIM.”

Royal Palm Beach Village Manager Ray Liggins said the revenue increase was a bit higher than anticipated, and plans are to use it for more park attendants.

“The 9 percent was more than what we were expecting,” Liggins said. “The budget that I have prepared does include five additional employees at Royal Palm Beach Commons Park, one full-time facility attendant and four part-time facility attendants.”

Each part-time attendant costs about $20,000, and the full-time attendant is about $45,000, he said.

“I’m looking to have two people there all the time, one person around the building and another person always there able to be out in the park to assist people,” Liggins said. “Right now, we don’t have that kind of coverage. We have one person.”

He is also looking at a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) technician to help with flood mapping. “Now that we are going to be involved in the FEMA Community Rating System, I am looking to get a GIS technician on board to assist,” Liggins said, explaining that he also plans to expand the use of the GIS database to other departments, as well as to be able to make more GIS information available to the public.

Finally, he plans to dedicate a full-time general maintenance worker at Veterans Park. “The cost of all of those employees is right around $240,000,” he said, adding that with the cost of pensions and health insurance, he plans to use more than $200,000 from the village’s rate stabilization fund to balance the budget.

Loxahatchee Groves Mayor Dave Browning said the news was welcome after seeing town property values plummet the past several years.

“We were a little behind everybody else last year when everybody’s property value pumped up,” he said. “For some reason, ours did not. I think it’s a little bit of catch-up this year, but properties are selling better, and the value is moving in the right direction.”

Browning said the big jump in value for Loxahatchee Groves probably puts it on par with the rest of the county.

“Prior to the crash, our values had gone very high, and I think there are a lot of nurseries and some of those that are hurting, and that probably brought down some of the values last year, but I’m glad to see that they’re going in the right direction,” Browning said.

He believes that the value increase will also set a more comfortable tone when the council discusses a possible ad valorem tax increase, suggested by the Finance Advisory & Audit Committee, at its next meeting.

“I don’t know that any of us on the council are leaning that way, but that was a suggestion by the financial committee,” he said. “With the property values going in that direction, it really makes it less important to raise the tax rate, so that might take it right out of the discussion.”

The estimated total assessed value for unincorporated Palm Beach County is up 7.45 percent, at $43.65 billion for 2014, compared with $40.69 billion in 2013. The estimated value for all cities in Palm Beach County is up 7.45 percent.