September Council – from Budget to Domestic Partner Benefits

2013-2014 Budget

Key on the September 10th Palm Beach Gardens City Council meeting was the First Budget Hearing on the 2013-2014 budget. Allan Owens, Finance Administrator took the Council through an easy to follow presentation highlighting actions taken and economic factors that improved the City’s financial picture. These included:

  • 2nd year in a row that property values increased
  • Proactive dealing with both Police and Fire/Rescue pensions
  • Strong reserves position

The Budget Oversight Committee, chaired by Dr. Mark Marciano also stressed that they were satisfied with the budget and its diversification and he congratulated the city on our improvement in the Fitch Bond Rating.

An other point made by staff was that ad-valorem taxes, while still the largest source of revenue, are a smaller percentage than in most of the other municipalities and that our revenue stream is appropriately used for intended purposes. An example made earlier in the evening was that funding for Bridge Refurbishment comes entirely from Gas Tax revenues.

The council was pleased with the presentation. However Mr. Russo, looking at the 5-year outlook, suggested that should inflation or increased valuations pose tax increases on the residents, that Operating Millage be brought down accordingly. The 5-year projection showed flat operating millage and a downward trend in debt millage. The council was in general agreement with Joe’s comments and the budget passed 5/0.

Final millage is “a proposed operating millage rate of 5.7404 mills and debt millage rate of .1733 for a total tentative rate of 5.9137 mills for fiscal year 2013/2014” and “the proposed rate exceeds the roll-back rate by 2.4%”. The final budget hearing will be on September 19th at 7pm.

Ordinance 16, 2013

This proposed Amendment to the Comprehensive Land Use Plan resulted in quite a bit of discussion. Natalie Crowley, Director of Planning and Zoning, presented a city-initiated proposal to exempt all government-owned/publicly-owned lands from the requirement to set-aside 25% of the upland property for conservation. Palm Beach Gardens in unique in the County for already having over 40% of total land dedicated to conservation. Ms. Crowley argued that the city of Boca Raton and Palm Beach County have similar exemptions and it would make handling government development for the public good easier.

Vito DeFrancesco spoke very skeptically about this proposal. He suggested that the amendment was driven by the proposed Stadium, and was concerned that the currently wooded land – across from two schools, would be cleared for such a project. He also believed that the proposed site might have been purchased under a bond that required that the land be wooded in perpetuity.

Council discussion ensued. Mrs. Tinsley was strongly against the proposed amendment. She argued that it is easier to make an exception or mitigation to a proposal to avoid the 25% set-aside than it would be to try and force the 25% set-aside if exempted. The council may not share views toward land management in the same way in the future. She would be amenable to changes that would keep the requirement but allow for waivers. Mr. Levy also had problems with the proposal. Mr. Russo, while not opposed, would not vote for it if 2 on the council had issues. After further discussion involving all the council and the City Attorney, it was decided to table the amendment until October 3rd.

This ordinance warrants watching and comment by the Public at the October meeting.

Benefits for Domestic Partners

At the end of the meeting, City Manager Ferris brought up providing additional benefits for Domestic Partners/Same-Sex Marriage employees. Some benefits had been provided since 2007. Mr. Ferris suggested that cost to the city would range from $50-$100k on an annual basis, and that the government (labor law) has strict definitions and criteria for domestic partnerships and for children of such partnerships. All on the council felt that the City’s economic situation had improved sufficiently to allow for this expansion and asked Mr. Ferris to come back with a plan.

Other topics for the evening included:

  • Bridge Refurbishment – of the City’s 7 bridges, 4 were built in the 50’s and 60’s and need to be upgraded to meet FDOT standards. First on the list is the bridge on Lighthouse Dr in 2013, and next is Allamanda – which will be done in the summer of 2014 – since the bridge will have to be closed. All bridges will be completed by 2017.
  • 40th Terrace/Sunset Drive – Possible utility plans were shown, some of which may necessitate land acquisition or right of way for roadway and easements. Eminent domain would only be used if owners wouldn’t deed land for the easements. The current schedule is unchanged from last time it was shown; in Nov-Jan a meeting will be scheduled with the homeowners with final costs.
  • Passed were Gardenia Isles 2nd reading, proposed modifications to the investment policy, and the first reading of the proposed Chase Bank on US 1 passed.
  • The City Golf Course is on schedule and budget with a soft opening targeted for mid-November.
  • The Green Market will open on October 6th.

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