The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council gave preliminary approval Tuesday to a 2016 budget and capital improvement plan with a property tax rate of 1.4718 mills.
That rate is above the current rate of 1.2 mills, but the increase will be offset by a reduction of solid waste assessments for most residents through a transfer of funds from the town’s general revenue, with the strategy being to ease the overall amount paid to the town by homesteaded residents.
Two council members were not on the dais. Councilman Ryan Liang was absent, and Mayor Dave Browning attended via conference call.
Town Manager Bill Underwood said the budget is slightly over $3 million, with the general fund and capital funds at about $1.2 million each, solid waste at about $448,000 and the transportation fund at about $367,000.
He said property values have generally risen, with homesteaded property values having a slight increase of about $2.4 million, while non-homesteaded property values increased between $25 million and $30 million, and agricultural properties actually decreased slightly.
“Total taxable values have continued to rise,” Underwood said. “We’re at about $222 million, which is almost back to the 2007 value, but not quite there. The issue we’re seeing is, I think, properties are being rolled over. There were a lot of foreclosures over the last seven or eight years. Those properties are now selling and moving into new hands, so you’re seeing an increased value.”
The proposed tax rate at 1.4718 mills would generate about $311,000. Other taxes are about $330,000, and intergovernmental revenue is expected to be about $350,000. Permits and other assessments amount to $217,000, predominately from Florida Power & Light revenue, for a total revenue of about $1.2 million.
Expenditures are primarily executive at $308,000, law enforcement at $298,000, and planning and zoning at $202,316.
At earlier workshops, the council had discussed options of adopting the lower rollback tax rate with a garbage rate of $344.10. The second option was to keep the current millage of 1.2 and reduce the garbage to $300, and scenario three was to reduce the garbage rate to $256.50 with a millage of 1.4718.
“That 1.47 generates roughly $93,000 additional revenue,” Underwood said. “Most of that, 94 percent of that, comes not from single-family homesteaded residential, but all the other types of properties.”
Underwood said the $93,000 would be transferred to solid waste toward the assessment reduction.
He proposed that a total of $115,000 be sent to solid waste for an assessment reduction of $87.83 per home.
Councilman Jim Rockett said he opposed a tax strategy intended to benefit homesteaded property owners at the expense of non-homesteaded property.
“The issue being commercial, because of comments we’ve had at the council is we’re going to take from the commercial — take from the rich and give it to the poor, so to speak,” Rockett said.
Rockett said he would prefer to keep the current millage rate and still be able to reduce the solid waste assessment.
Councilman Tom Goltzené said taxation is essentially the redistribution of funds.
“We take money from some people, and we spend it in a different way than the way you might have spent it,” Goltzené said. “That’s the entire point of this exercise that we’re engaged in, so to say that’s what we’re doing is extremely obvious.”
Goltzené said he favored the 1.4718 rate because it gives a break to residents who need it.
“The majority comes from not here,” he said. “We’re talking at most the difference between the 1.2 and 1.47, which is $50,000 spread between everybody’s property in town. I think it’s silly to go on and on about $50,000 in a multi-million-dollar budget.”
Browning, speaking by telephone, said he wanted to keep the money in the pockets of residents.
“I believe the return on the garbage money will do that, and at the same time we’re positioning ourselves for the future to better utilize whatever commercial comes on board,” Browning said, adding that the town has one of the lowest tax rates in the county.
Goltzené made a motion to adopt the 1.478 millage rate, seconded by Browning, which carried 3-1 with Rockett opposed and Liang absent.