Lox Council Supports Budget Of $13.39 Million With Tax Increase

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council gave preliminary approval to a $13.39 million budget for fiscal year 2018-19 on Thursday, Sept. 6 with a tax rate of 3.0 mills, up from 2.15 mills, as well as an increased Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District assessment and solid waste collection fee.

The per acre LGWCD assessment will go from $145 to $200, and the solid waste assessment with go from $256 to $450, $20 below the recommended rate of $470.

In a meeting that went more than five hours Thursday, and continued for four hours on Friday, frequently interrupted by outbursts from the many people attending, Town Manager Bill Underwood said that the council had a lot of decisions to make — three assessment rates, the millage rate and the budget, which goes to its final hearing Tuesday, Sept. 18.

“We’re calling this the rebuilding year, because as you’re all aware, we’ve depleted all of our reserves in the solid waste fund, transportation and the general fund, and we have the new Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District, but their funds were also very limited,” Underwood said.

The proposed tax rate of 3.0 mills produces 40 percent of the revenue in the general fund. Public service taxes, such as franchise fees, produce 18 percent, permits 17 percent, intergovernmental $351,000, charges for services $194,000, and fines and forfeitures $22,000.

Underwood said that in 2008, the town had $362 million of taxable value, and it still remains 12 percent behind that pre-recession high. He added that the millage rates in the past have been held very low, starting at 1.5 mills when the town incorporated in 2006.

Underwood said the rollback rate is 2.035 mills, and the 3.0 rate will generate 50 percent more revenue, from $600,000 to $907,000.

“I will tell you that all of that money is going into the cookie jar,” Underwood said. “All of the excess funds are going into reserves. They’re not being used for anything except to build an emergency fund, because it was depleted over the last year. It’s to put some money back in there so the next emergency, you do have some funding.”

A homesteaded property valued at $140,000 with an assessed value of $90,000 would be taxed $271 at the 3.0 millage rate and $191 at the 2.035 mills rollback rate. “It’s a $90 per year difference,” Underwood said.

General fund appropriations include 24 percent to general government, financial services would receive 2 percent, legal 5 percent, code enforcement 6 percent, police services 28 percent, public works 1 percent, general government 7 percent and non-departmental 14 percent.

The average taxpayer would pay $79 per year more annually at a 3.0 millage rate, which is 49.74 percent more than the current year, which would generate $286,000 more in revenue, which will all go into reserves for emergencies, Underwood said.

Underwood said the town would take $156,000 from the LGWCD to cover expenses it gets from the town, including administration, legal, clerk, council and other staff.

“They are funding a piece of the services that are provided to the district by the town,” Underwood said. “There are two employees, one’s an assistant town manager and an administrative assistant.”

The transportation gas tax revenue fund, which was projected to fund the debt for the recent failed referendum for improving roads, remains in the budget at about $3.8 million and will be transferred to the capital improvement fund for road construction.

The infrastructure sales tax from the county is estimated at $255,718, which will be used for drainage, new road infrastructure and possibly to pay toward the debt service. “The council will need to identify projects that we can use that funding for,” Underwood said.

For the LGWCD, 60 percent of its revenue goes to personnel services, including salaries, benefits, workers’ compensation, unemployment, health insurance and the retirement fund. A total of $1.8 million is for operating expenses, which includes all the canals, roadwork, drainage and debt service.

“The town absorbing [the LGWCD] is producing savings,” Underwood said. “Where the town is going with other costs is relative to canals and road maintenance — fixing those things that everybody here wants to get fixed.”

In 2015, the assessment for the district was $150 per acre, and the town provided funding to the district of $50 per acre for road maintenance. “That’s how I came up with the $200 per acre initially,” Underwood said.

The budget toward canals and road materials is $1.17 million and $142,000 for repair and maintenance of canals, guardrails and similar items.

“There is a budget of $305,514 to pay the OGEM debt,” Underwood said. “The action would be a $300 per acre assessment if the town and district adopts an appropriation of $2,590,900 for maintenance and debt service.”

Capital improvement priorities are on road construction and drainage, Underwood said.

“This budget is premised on borrowing $4 million and transferring the proceeds into this fund to do road construction,” Underwood said. “Those roads would have to be determined by the council.”

“For solid waste, we were able to transfer over the last three years and we subsidized in 2016, 2017 and 2018 to the tune of $100 or more a year to keep the rate at $256,” Underwood said. “Before that it was over $350.”

The overall appropriation for solid waste is up $96,000 from $438,000 to $534,000, about a 22 percent increase. The fund is not expected to get a supplement this year, with a rate increase from $256 to $470, a 66 percent increase.

Underwood recommended that the council adopt the district road and drainage plan at $300 per acre, adopt the district debt assessment, adopt the solid waste assessment of $470, adopt a millage rate of 3.0 mills and adopt the tentative budget.

After discussion by the council, Vice Mayor Todd McLendon made a motion to approve raising the LGWCD assessment from $145 to $200 per acre, which carried 4-1 with Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia opposed. She favored a smaller assessment. The assessment would generate $1,545,865.

Councilman Dave DeMarois made a motion to adopt a solid waste assessment of $450, rather than the recommended $470 per customer, which carried 4-1 with Maniglia opposed.

Councilman Dave DeMarois made a motion to adopt the 3.0 mill tax rate, which carried 3-2 with McLendon and Mayor Dave Browning opposed. Both wanted a lower rate. Due to state law, the final hearing on Sept. 18 will require unanimous council approval for a rate of 3.0 mills.