Martino: Council Should Add a Budget Workshop in August

In my last “Martino Minute” presentation I began a discussion on opinions that I have concerning the City of Palm Beach Gardens budget process. I would like to continue with some further observations critiquing the City Council’s involvement, or lack thereof, in the budget process.

The most obvious premise about any budget is that it needs to be funded with money. The City of Palm Beach Gardens budget monies are partially raised from various fees, non-City taxes, assessments, and so forth. However, the major budget funding source is from property taxes imposed on residents and business property owners, or the people.

If the people constitute the government it stands to reason that the people are entitled to know how the thought processes of their elected representatives lead to actions on the people’s behalf, particularly when it comes to creating a budget. This is inherent and basic to open government. From my observations while attending various City Council meetings, this City Council is simply is not measuring up to the people’s needs and expectations, particularly when it comes to communication, openness, and accountability.

The City Council of Palm Beach Gardens meets for general business meetings only once per month. Workshop meetings are a rarity. Being kind that is woefully inadequate. It degrades the opportunity for communication, openness, and accountability. Last year there were only two publicly scheduled budget meetings held both of which are required by law. These meetings were perfunctory and sterile with little input by the City Council as to the rationalization of the budget content. No publicly scheduled workshop meetings were held that I was aware of for the City Council to give policy direction or ask any pertinent questions concerning the budget. It should be acknowledged that there is an unelected, volunteer Citizens Budget Committee that holds a series of open meetings to make budget recommendations to the City Council, whose work I appreciate and applaud. The public hearings did little to recognize this committee’s efforts.

The City Council needs to and should hold more publicly scheduled workshop type meetings in general and more particularly concerning the City’s budget. Is this micro-managing? No, not in the least! The people need to know how their government is spending their money. It’s important to know personnel costs are approaching 50% of the general fund budget. It’s important for the people to hear the policy directions given and the questions asked by the elected officials of the administrators and what the answers are or aren’t. It’s simply elected officials doing the “people’s business” in the light of day and not the dark of the back room.

If they are listening, I would encourage the City Council to publicly schedule at least one public workshop meeting on the budget in August other than the regular August 6th meeting. Further, I would recommend the establishment of a tax millage rate for the 2015-16 fiscal year at the rollback rate of approximately 5.4729 inclusive of debt service or, perhaps, something even less.

One can always wish and hope.

Martino: Time for Significant Tax Relief

It’s that time of year again when the Palm Beach Gardens City Council begins determining how to budget for the City’s needs, wants, and desires. In my opinion, this is the most important and compelling component of the voter’s trust bestowed upon the elected Council members.

From my prospective, the City Council’s participation in preparing the 2015-16 budget for the City should be open, transparent, and communicable with the public. The Council should be the influencing, instructing, and guiding instrument in the budget’s preparation and not the Administration. In order to facilitate a more open budget process I would advocate for…

  1. More scheduled budget workshop meetings in the light of the Council chambers with the public in attendance. This should be the norm and not the exception.
  2. Department heads make their budget presentations at these scheduled workshop meetings so the public can hear the concerns of the Council members and the answers to those concerns.
  3. All, full and part-time, positions of City employment and their concurrent salaries be presented and discussed in public including the City Council’s salaries and benefits.

The contemplated and reported operating property-tax rate (millage rate) of 5.8075 presently proposed for the 2015-16 fiscal year is far from tax relief of any significance.  That is a mere, measly, and miserly reduction of only .024 from the current 5.8315 millage rate.  I would strongly encourage the City Council to consider satisfying the need, want, and desire of Gardens taxpayers for significant tax relief.

In conclusion, there is still opportunity to substantially and significantly reduce the 2015-16 millage rate as the budget process unfolds to finality. Council members have expressed a desire to do just that. Will they “walk the talk” as the saying goes? Only time will tell.

Briger Deed Restrictions Irks Council

While not on the agenda for the July 1, 2015 City Council meeting, the topic of the Briger Tract deed restrictions surfaced as a theme several times during the meeting.  All on the Council were troubled by the less than thriving Scripps spin-off results and the deed restrictions which seem to be interpreted more narrowly than the Council thinks is required. While the ideal situation would be to have bio-tech companies fill the zone, the Council all felt that technology companies with high-paying jobs, should qualify for inclusion. Otherwise, many of the occupants of the residential areas in the tract will have to commute, thus creating traffic issues. And the area will remain under-utilized. See the Palm Beach Post’s summary of the discussion here.

July 1, 2015

Resolution 27, 2015 set the maximum operation millage to a flat 5.67 and set the first public hearing to September 10, 2015. The Council directed staff to come back in September with as low a property tax rate as possible. Council member Russo said he wanted to see homesteaded property owners pay not a dollar more. Council member Premuroso was still working on the amount millage should be lowered. Council member Levy pointed out that the working assumption had been that property valuations would increase  by 3% this year. Since the valuations increased 7.8% he felt the delta should be given as tax relief to the property owners. See the Palm Beach Post summary of the discussion here.

Kayla Abramowitz, the 13 year old winner of the National Young Entrepreneurs Acaemy (YEA!) Saunders Scholarship, was introduced by Beth Kigel, President and CEO of the Chamber of Northern Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce. Kayla’s non-profit has received local and national awards. Mayor Jablin also presented her with a placque.

Public Comment included a brief update by resident Barbara Grossman on marine issues with All Aboard Florida raised by Martin County, and safety and code enforcement issues with property on Flax Court raised by residents Robert Mandeville and Gary Pitchford.

The City Manager report included:

  • An update by Fire Chief Michael Southard on the brush-fire at Central Blvd and 117th, describing the evacuation of the campers at Timber Trace to the Emergency Operations Complex, and explaining the plans for containing the fire.
  • An update by City Manager Ferris on the Drainage Projects in Gardens, Mirasol and Lilac Parks – completed on time and on budget.
  • Candice Temple, Media Relations Manager, described the City’s new website. The Council expressed some consternation when noticing that the City’s Municipal Golf Course had been renamed to ‘Sandhill Crane Golf Course’ without any input or vote on their part. Ms. Temple replied that it was a marketing decision, but the concensus was that such decisions should get Council review. Otherwise, they were please with the new look and feel of the website

All Ordinances and the Consent Agenda passed 5:0

City Attorney Max Lohman said that he’d filed papers against the PGA Waterfront Project and that a hearing on the Sunset and 40th Terrace eminent domain proceedings had been set for around Labor Day weekend but that the rest of the project up to the property line was proceeding on target.

Since the City Manager’s performance, contract extensions and salary were already discussed in April, the Council moved to have the text of that discussion put into the record to satisfy the annual evaluation requirements.