Lox Council Keeps Preliminary Tax And Assessment Rates Unchanged

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council set its TRIM (Truth in Millage) rates on Tuesday, July 19, leaving its property tax rate and assessment rates unchanged from the current year.

Rates could still be lowered as the budget process continues but cannot be raised. Due to rising property values, however, many residents are likely to pay slightly more in ad-valorem taxes since the approved rate of 3 mills is above the rollback rate of 2.67 mills, which is the rate at which the town would take in the same revenue as last year.

Former Councilman Todd McLendon asked the council to adopt the rollback rate. But given the higher-than-normal inflation rate and economic uncertainty, the council unanimously voted to keep the rate at 3 mills, which was the recommendation of town staff.

Also at the meeting, the council set its TRIM rate for solid waste collection, unchanged at $450 per residential unit. According to Town Manager Francine Ramaglia, this rate may be lowered somewhat before the final budget is adopted. Representatives from Coastal, the town’s trash collection vendor, will be attending the next council meeting to discuss that and other issues.

Sitting as the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District, the council also set the town’s preliminary drainage assessment rate at $200 per unit, also unchanged from the current year.

During that item, there was discussion over an ongoing dispute with the Village of Royal Palm Beach regarding a handful of properties at the town’s border with the village that still get their drainage from the LGWCD but are now part of Royal Palm Beach and cannot be assessed directly by the town. Ramaglia said a discussion on how to proceed on that issue will come back to the council in September.

For the first time in three years, the town received an increase in its Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office contract. The three percent increase raised the contact $18,666 to $640,866.

This item was approved 3-2 with Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia and Councilwoman Marge Herzog opposed.

Maniglia reiterated her view that the town could get by without a law enforcement agreement, accepting the level of service provided in unincorporated areas. This would eliminate the current agreement that stations a deputy in the town at all times.

Maniglia noted that town residents already fund the PBSO through their county taxes. She asked Ramaglia to get a number from the county on how much town residents already pay the PBSO through other means.

“I would like to see the money stay in-house and go into very needed facilities, such as drainage and roads,” Maniglia said.

Other council members noted the benefits to town residents afforded by the PBSO contract.

“Because we have this contract, we have a physical human body in a car, in our town 24/7,” Vice Mayor Laura Danowski said.

She agreed that the number is high, but not when you break down how much it costs the PBSO to provide that round-the-clock service. Danowski suggested public outreach to find out if residents really want that lower level of law enforcement service before any change is made, particularly since it would require a referendum to change the town charter.

McLendon, who opposed the PBSO contract when he was on the council, asked the council to reject the increase and eliminate the contract. “That is well over $600,00 that could be used on our roads,” he said.

Councilwoman Marianne Miles noted that the PBSO has not increased the contact in three years.

“I see this as an investment for our residents who feel that their situation deserves a timely response from the sheriff’s department,” she said. “When you are in that situation, only you can determine how you feel if all the other deputies are busy and you are sitting and waiting.”

In other business:

• The town approved a legal contract with an outside law firm to handle a case brought against the town by property owner John Pata. The vote was 4-1 with Maniglia dissenting. She wanted to settle the lawsuit as soon as possible rather than fight it in court. A closed-door council session will be set up in the near future to decide how to proceed.

• Finally, the council approved sending out a request for proposals (RFP) for a new three-year auditor contract.