14.9 percent tax-rate hike gets tentative approval in Palm Beach County
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By JENNIFER SORENTRUE
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, July 21, 2009
WEST PALM BEACH - Palm Beach County's tax rate is going up by 14.9 percent - at least temporarily.
County commissioners tentatively approved the hike today, but vowed to spend the next two months looking for ways to cut it.
The commission voted 5-2, with Commissioners Shelley Vana and Steven Abrams dissenting, to set the maximum countywide tax rate at just over $4.34 for each $1,000 of taxable value.
But several commissioners, including Vana and Abrams, said they wanted to see that rate drop before the commission approves the county's roughly $4 billion budget in September.
The $4.34 rate will be the maximum the county can charge when tax bills arrive in the mail later this year. But the commission can lower the rate before adopting a final budget in September.
The tentative rate is used to calculate property owners' preliminary tax bills.
At that rate, the owner of a $250,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay about $870 in county taxes next year, up $114 from this year's bill. That calculation assumes that the home's appraised value would rise by 0.1 percent, the increase many homesteaded properties face this year.
The figures do not include what property owners pay to the school board, city governments and other taxing authorities.
For many homeowners, the hike would amount to about $2 a week, a small price tag for critical services the county provides, Commissioner Priscilla Taylor said.
"For $2 a week, to throw those services away, I think is irresponsible," Taylor said.
More analysis needs to be done before the commission decides to reduce the maximum tax rate, she said. A cut would leave the county with less revenue and would likely require more layoffs.
Those out-of-work employees could be left facing foreclosure and draining other county services, Taylor argued.
"What service are we doing when we are putting people out of work?" Taylor said. "Those people cannot support the economy."
But Abrams said putting money back in the hands of taxpayers would help ease the economic slowdown. He urged commissioners to set the maximum rate at a lower level.
"I think that more money in the pockets of our residents will help alleviate our economic condition," Abrams said.
Commissioner Burt Aaronson proposed setting the maximum rate at $4.29, but the move was not supported by a majority of the commission. Aaronson said he would not support a rate below $4.29.
At the $4.29 rate, commissioners would be forced to shave another $7 million from an already tight spending plan, Weisman said. About $3 million of the shortfall would come from the sheriff's budget, he added.
Meanwhile, in hopes of easing the county's financial bleeding, commissioners unanimously agreed to offer early-retirement packages to roughly 500 county employees.
The buyout package will give employees two months' pay and up to three years of medical coverage if they agreed to walk away from their county jobs.