The Royal Palm Beach Village Council hosted a budget workshop on Tuesday, July 2, reviewing a $45.1 million spending proposal put together by staff for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1, 2019.
The fiscal year 2019-20 spending plan is up slightly from the $44.6 million approved in the current budget for fiscal year 2018-19. However, it calls for keeping the village’s property tax rate unchanged at 1.92 mils per $1,000 of taxable property value.
While the budget will not be finalized until September, the Truth in Millage (TRIM) rate will be set at the council’s next meeting on Thursday, July 18. After that, the council can lower the tax rate, but cannot raise it.
Royal Palm Beach Finance Director Stanley Hochman led the council through an overview of the budget report. He noted that aggregate property values in the village have increased to $2.975 billion, which is an increase of 4.4 percent, or $125 million, over the current year.
This means that more money will be coming into village coffers, much of it due to new residential and commercial development, without raising the tax rate. In fact, Hochman pointed out, the village has not raised its tax rate in more than 20 years.
“The budget for 2019-20 is $45.1 million,” Hochman told the council. “The general fund represents 56 percent, capital projects 21 percent, reserves 20 percent and stormwater 3 percent.”
The general fund, which is used for day-to-day operations to maintain the village, will include $25,413,753 in spending next year, which is an increase of 3.45 percent overall, or $846,366, from the current year.
Expenditures are up in personnel, contractual services, charges and services, commodities and operating expenditures, but department capital outlay, grants and aids are down. The number of full-time equivalent employees is up two staff members for a total of 154 village positions.
That change in staffing is due largely to growth in the Parks & Recreation Department, with general fund expenditures up $412,306 to $5.61 million next year.
In Parks & Recreation, two part-time facility attendants will go to full-time employment, which will be added to the budget. The reason is that senior programs have been expanded and are now permanently at the Royal Palm Beach Recreation Center, and other facilities are being rented out more by vendors or organizations, such as church groups. There are not any major maintenance changes to the parks.
Mayor Fred Pinto asked about funding for the senior citizen rideshare transportation program, which is included in the budget. The village is working with Lyft, Uber and other service providers on the new program. The current objective is to see how a gift card might encourage seniors to use various ride opportunities. Seniors have tended to have issues with some of the transportation apps, and the village is trying to rectify the issue by educating seniors on how to use them and offering them gift cards.
Councilwoman Selena Samios had questions regarding maintenance of softball fields, while Councilman Jeff Hmara asked about the expenses regarding upkeep of the parks. According to Village Manager Ray Liggins, Veterans Park is the most expensive park per acre to maintain, largely due to the fountains. Before Veterans Day, the council agreed to refurbish the site for $18,000.
The village will spend $18.4 million on various capital projects next year. The capital improvements funds include the recreational facilities, beautification, impact fees and sales surtax funds, along with the general capital improvement fund and the stormwater fund.
Major capital improvement programs next year include work on the design of a new Village Hall and possibly intertwining bike paths around Royal Palm Beach Commons Park, bringing more meandering along the five-mile radius.
The Commons Park area will also receive new sand to mimic a beach and a new bridge, but there will not be any swimming allowed. The village does not want people going into the retention ponds, but rather enjoy the area without getting wet.
Pinto was pleased with the budget workshop.
“We had a lot of good discussion on a lot of different issues,” he told the Town-Crier after the meeting. “Our discussions are mostly on fiscal policy, asking questions on things we can consider. We don’t want to have one policy and be talking through two sides of our face. We are cognizant of how we spend taxpayer dollars.”
Because of the village’s ongoing strategic planning process, Royal Palm Beach generally has few surprises in the budget workshops and formal budget hearings. This strategic planning process lays the framework for the village manager to construct the budget for the upcoming fiscal year and present it to the council.
“We now tell the village manager whatever we discussed tonight and whatever changes we made to go forward from here,” Pinto explained.
Next up, the village will formally set the property tax rate.
“Our next meeting is on July 18, which will include the proposed millage rate,” Pinto said. “Right now, we are proposing it stay the same. But by statute, we have to vote on that and adopt it before the final acceptance of the budget. Once we have done that, we are locked in for the next fiscal year.”