BY PAUL GABA
It will be 10 weeks before Wellington’s budget for fiscal year 2017-18 becomes official, but the basic numbers were set at the Tuesday, July 11 meeting of the Wellington Village Council.
The budget figures were presented by Director of Administrative & Financial Services Tanya Quickel, and when all was said and done, Mayor Anne Gerwig, Vice Mayor John McGovern and Councilwoman Tanya Siskind approved the Truth in Millage (TRIM) rates proposed by Wellington’s staff 3-0. Councilmen Michael Napoleone and Michael Drahos were not in attendance.
Using a PowerPoint presentation, Quickel laid out the preliminary numbers, which forecast a $110.4 million budget. This is a $20.8 million increase from the current year, primarily due to specific multi-year capital improvement projects.
These include $3.5 million in projects using money from the 1-cent sales surtax approved by voters last year, $9.6 million to renew water reclamation and water treatment facilities, and $4.5 million due to increases in personnel and operation costs.
Total revenues are projected to increase by approximately $6.3 million. The most significant increases include additional ad valorem tax revenue of $1.18 million at a 2.43 millage rate, and $3.8 million in intergovernmental revenue from the 1-cent sales surtax, half-cent sales tax, state revenue sharing, gas taxes and community development block grant funds. Utility revenues are projected to increase by $500,000 due to a 2.5 percent rate index on user water and wastewater rates.
The overall tax rate is actually decreasing by 0.01 mill, but revenues will be higher due to increases in property values. The 7.7 percent increase in the 2017 taxable value to $8.03 billion provides ad valorem tax revenues — at the 2.43 millage rate — of $1.18 million more than the current year. The revenue value of each 0.1 mill is $763,000 in 2018, compared with $709,000 in 2017.
Using an averaged assessed value of $307,500 at the proposed 2.43 millage rate, homesteaded village property taxes would increase by $15 from the prior year. Non-homesteaded village property taxes would increase by $53 from the prior year.
Curbside and container solid waste costs will remain unchanged in 2017-18, but there will be a 2.5 percent utility user rate increase (an increase of $1.48 per average bill).
The budget also includes the second year of the 15-year Saddle Trail Debt Service program, which Quickel said will be $1,720.54 per acre for those properties.
Capital projects in the proposed 2018 budget include: South Shore Blvd. and Pierson Road intersection improvements ($477,000), water and wastewater facility renewals and systemwide renewals and replacements ($19.7 million), expansion of multi-use paths and bike lanes ($300,000), improvements to the neighborhood trails system ($300,000), streetscape improvements and village signage ($600,000), surface water management infrastructure improvements ($800,000), Acme drainage renewal ($740,000), replacement of the Peaceful Waters boardwalk ($400,000) and the rebuilding of Wellington Community Park ($2.4 million in sales surtax revenue).
Siskind said the renewal and replacement of water and wastewater facilities is a large expense, but one that was expected and planned for. She noted that safe drinking water is crucial to the residents and businesses in Wellington.
In addition, Siskind supported the rebuilding of Wellington Community Park on South Shore Blvd.
McGovern also liked what he saw in the draft budget.
“This is not the most exciting budget I’ve ever seen, but it’s a very public safety-focused budget,” he said. “This budget particularly focuses on various aspects of safety — both the common aspect of funding two additional sheriff’s deputies specifically for Wellington, but also fulfilling Wellington’s long-term commitment to overall public safety by following our ‘pay as you go’ budgetary concept and coming forward with a significant investment in public utilities.”
The budget will make sure that Wellington’s facilities remain state-of-the-art, he said.
“There are a lot of municipalities that cannot do, and have not done, these kind of infrastructure repairs,” McGovern said. “They are confronted with delaying, and putting off, those types of repairs or improvements, or bonding them and committing the future of their municipality to paying for it. We don’t have to do either of those things.”
Quickel noted that Wellington needed to set its tax rates in order to send them to Palm Beach County by July 20.
“The TRIM (Truth in Millage) rate is the rate used on notices our property owners will receive in late August or early September,” Quickel said. “All the taxing authorities in Palm Beach County will be listed. What you’re doing tonight is approving the rate for Wellington.”
Even though the proposed rate has been set, it could potentially be decreased before the budget is approved, but it cannot be increased.
During her presentation, Quickel said that Wellington’s budget process involved an analysis of service business priorities, policy review and the creation of business plans for all of Wellington’s departments.
What was presented “is basically what the staff has come up with after meeting with and discussing things with the council,” Gerwig said. “As we come together, we can compare notes before the final budget is approved.”
Gerwig called it a good framework that is fairly noncontroversial, adding that each council member had ideas that were included and other ideas that were not part of the presented budget. “There are other things I wanted to see in there, and I guess I’ll have to convince them,” she said.
Gerwig noted that some of her ideas are “longer-range than next year,” such as her dream of a performing arts center in Wellington.
The July 11 meeting was the first of many that will take place before the end of September. The next budget workshop is set for Aug. 7. By law, the deadline to adopt the final budget is Sept. 30.
But residents with questions, concerns or comments on the proposed budget are invited to give their input. Public outreach to gain input from residents and stakeholders will take place through community forums, lobby surveys and the Budget Challenge online survey, which can be found at www.wellingtonfl.gov/survey.
“We look at the Budget Challenge, and at comments we receive as part of the budget process,” Gerwig said. “If people can’t come to the meetings, this is a way for them to give us their ideas.”
McGovern invited residents to review the items and participate. “It’s something we all take very seriously,” he said. “We look at the responses, and who responded, and the comments at the end of the survey. This is our chance to get direct feedback on specifics of the proposed budget.”
Siskind encouraged residents to not only take the Budget Challenge over the next month (it’s available online until Aug. 15), but to e-mail council members with their concerns as well. “We’re always looking beyond the upcoming budget, and it’s never too early to plan for the future,” she said.
McGovern said village residents and non-residents who work in Wellington should take the online budget survey.
“The survey is an exercise in prioritizing community goals and needs, both short-term and long-term,” McGovern said. “There’s a lot of ‘rate this’ importance to you questions… Budgeting is a long-term forecast. Some of that may be of an immediate need, and some of it is notification of upcoming needs, so we can start to plan and budget for it.”