Lox Council Sets Maximum Tax Rate And Assessments

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council on Tuesday, July 9 approved budget resolutions holding the property tax rate unchanged at 3.0 mills and assessments at $200 per unit.

The council also set the preliminary assessment rate for curbside garbage, recycling and yard trash pickup at $450 per unit for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, although it has a request for proposals out to be opened and reviewed at the end of this month for a new solid waste contractor.

Assistant Town Manager Francine Ramaglia said staff recommended that the town remain at last year’s rates.

“When we set the preliminary TRIM [Truth in Millage] rates, we’re setting them at the highest rate that they go,” she said. “We can lower them as we get through more refinement in the budget process.”

The county’s certified taxable value of town property increased 7.78 percent.

“That put us ahead of the average in Palm Beach County,” Ramaglia said. “That’s good news. Our taxable value right now is $337 million, and if we stay at the same millage rate as we’re suggesting to set for TRIM, that would increase our revenues by $50,000 in the upcoming fiscal year.”

The rollback tax rate that would keep revenues the same would be 2.82 mills.

Ramaglia pointed out that previous councils had kept the millage rate steady despite some tight years during the recession.

“The trend in the last couple of years has been to start increasing that rate, but even at 3.0 mills, it’s among the lowest in the county,” Ramaglia said.

Florida statutes govern the assessment rates for roads and drainage, which the town took over when the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District became a dependent district to the town.

“We’re also recommending to stay at last year’s rate of $200 per unit, and there are about 7,800 units,” Ramaglia said. “If there are any significant changes, we’ll let you know, but at that $200 rate, our revenues would stay at about $1.5 million.”

Staff recommended staying at the $450 annual rate for solid waste pickup.

“There are several reasons, aside from the RFP being out on the street,” Ramaglia said, explaining that the RFP is asking for creative solutions to lower that rate. “Quite honestly, we’re a little bit afraid to go ahead and reduce that rate at the preliminary rate setting.”

The town will open the bids on July 25 at 1 p.m., and on July 26, the selection committee will start reviewing the bids.

“We expect there to be four bids because it was mandatory to attend the pre-bid conference, which was on July 2, and we had Waste Management, Republic, Coastal and Waste Pro there,” Ramaglia said. “I think we’ll get a very nice showing of proposals, but I don’t know what the rate will be.”

Ramaglia said she will bring an evaluation of the results to the council’s Aug. 6 meeting.

“The only thing that would change the schedule is if there is a protest,” she said.

Mayor Robert Shorr asked if a fee is charged to file a protest, and Acting Town Attorney Brian Shutt said there is no fee to file a protest, but there is a time frame that a bidder must comply with to file.

Shorr said a protest fee might be advised because the committee will not evaluate the bidders based solely on the lowest number.

“There’s a lot of variables, a lot of objective things that are going to be in this evaluation,” Shorr said. “I think it would leave the door open for people to say, ‘Well, you evaluated my references, I think, in an unfair manner.’ Those aren’t cut-and-dry numbers.”

Other council members agreed that a protest fee would be appropriate and should be included in an addendum to the bid.

Ramaglia said the budget calendar set by the county and state is the third week in July to adopt the preliminary rates. Tuesday, July 23 is the town’s next budget workshop. There will also be more meetings with the town’s Finance Advisory & Audit Committee.

“We have had two meetings so far,” she said. “They have looked at a preliminary budget.”

Ramaglia said the budget so far is very fluid, and the big unknown is how much to allocate for roads and drainage. The town’s engineer has done some iterations that amount to several million dollars. She added that the town still has about $700,000 from the county-approved infrastructure improvement fund that needs to be allocated.

“Also, we need to finish the staffing model,” Ramaglia said. “Those are the biggest outstanding items in the upcoming year’s budget in terms of us knowing what the numbers are.”

The first budget hearing for the property tax and assessment rates will be held Sept. 5, and on Sept. 12, the town will send its rates to the county. The final hearing and final adoption is set for Sept. 19.