The Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors approved a nearly $13 million preliminary budget for Fiscal Year 2015 at a workshop Wednesday, July 9.
At the workshop, supervisors instructed ITID staff to reduce a proposed 9.41 percent average assessment increase by equalizing reserves in individual units where some had excess reserves.
ITID President Carol Jacobs said she favored the limited assessment increase in light of resident demands for improved drainage and better roads, as well as funding efforts to fight overdevelopment in the area.
The total budget of $12,974,864 will be about $136,607 less than last year’s $13,111,471 budget.
Jacobs pointed out that the current budget is still significantly less than the Fiscal Year 2006 budget of almost $14 million.
“We kept it the same for all those years that the recession was going on,” Jacobs said. “This budget we’re proposing now is still lower than 2005-06. Most of you in the audience are pretty active, and you know we have a lot going on in the district. It would be unrealistic to lower this budget. It would be wise to keep it where it is.”
The budget includes a $77,000 increase in the administration department, from $1.66 million to $1.74 million. The parks department was virtually the same at just over $1 million. Maintenance was down about $760,000 from $5.92 million to $5.16 million. M-1 Basin improvements were up more than $445,000, from almost $1.7 million to just over $2.1 million, while M-2 Basin improvements were up about $104,000, from almost $154,000 to more than $258,000.
The average assessment with the proposed increase would be $466 per year, or about $39 per month.
Supervisor Jennifer Hager asked whether there were alternatives to increasing the assessment.
Director of Finance Donald Rinzel pointed out that although the proposed assessment had increased, staff was recommending that the reserve be held the same, although reducing the reserve is an option in order to reduce the assessment increase, if that was the board’s preference.
However, that money is kept on hand in case of an emergency. “If something happens, rather than having a line of credit and going into debt, we will have that money,” Rinzel said.
Supervisor Gary Dunkley, who was attending the meeting by phone, asked why the cost of the administration budget had not gone down since they had eliminated high administrative salaries. ITID Manager Jim Shallman said there was a $60,000 decrease in administrative salaries, but that did not include the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office staff, which had increased.
Hager agreed that residents had asked for increased patrols. Rinzel also pointed out that the human resources position had been reinstated.
“The administrative budget went up $77,000, and $72,000 of that is related to the sheriff’s office,” Rinzel said.
Supervisor Michelle Damone supported keeping the PBSO budget as it had been proposed.
During public comment, former Supervisor Mike Erickson said that he favored a zero-based budget rather than tacking on or removing amounts from the previous year’s budget.
“You all know where I stand on the budget,” he said. “I firmly believe that the budget starts at zero, not at last year’s assessment. I firmly believe that a government should be run like a business. At the end, you should have a zero profit. The gain should be the assets and capital improvements you make in a community.”
Resident Anne Kuhl said she was wary of an assessment increase because once it is in place, it is difficult to reduce.
“It’s kind of hard for government agencies to go back,” Kuhl said. “They just continue to say, ‘Well, that’s what we did last year, and we need more, more, more.’ We have to realize it’s the taxpayers’ money.”
However, Jacobs stressed that ITID is responding to issues raised by concerned residents, demanding attention to road and drainage improvements, as well as fighting overdevelopment.
“Taxpayers are asking for certain things that we cannot do if we do not have the money in our budget,” she said. “And Minto West? That’s not over yet, and that’s not the end of what we have dealing with overdevelopment out here.”
Jacobs agreed that 30 percent was the proper amount to keep in reserves. She also pointed out that no salary increases for staff had been approved.
Shallman said the average increase to property owners is $3.36 a month, although the increase varies by unit, actually going down 1.73 percent, or $2.59 an acre, from $149.86 to $147.27 in Las Flores Ranchos, to an increase of 56.76 percent in Dellwood, from $93.95 to $147.27.
Resident Patricia Curry said some of the units had excess reserves, as high as 50 percent or 60 percent, and that the Federal Emergency Management Agency probably would refund money spent for disaster recovery. She agreed with Erickson’s preference for zero-based budgeting.
Supervisor Ralph Bair said having the money in reserve was a boon during storms, although FEMA did eventually refund the money.
“It’s there in case we need it for a hurricane, and we don’t have to go out and borrow it,” Bair said.
Damone suggested to Rinzel that he go back and analyze the spending from Tropical Storm Isaac and see how much was used in each unit in reserves.
She said she would rather keep the reserve at 30 percent, but try to keep it as even as possible between units.
“I don’t want to see it go to 25,” Damone said, explaining that any unit that is under 30 percent needed to come up, but that any unit over 30 percent should have the excess applied to projects or reduced, which she said would reduce the overall assessment increase.
Damone made a motion to try to reduce the budget based on units that had reserve amounts above 30 percent, but replenish any units that are below 30 percent, with a target goal of reducing the average assessment increase to 5.6 percent. Damone’s motion carried unanimously.