Subdued Council Passes All Items 4:0 and Showers City Manager Ferris with Praise

Much of the discussion during the July Council Meeting centered on subjects not originally on the agenda. All Ordinances and Resolutions passed 4:0 with the result that:

  • Property tax revenue will increase by 6% if millage is not lowered during the September Budget hearings. Maximum millage is set during July meetings throughout the state. The only usual proponent of lowering millage on the Council, Council Member Premuroso, stated that he saw no way to lower millage in the fall given upcoming Police and Fire/Rescue contracts, and city growth. He also said that the goal should be to continue to maintain flat millage. (Note – this means that as property valuations increase, your property taxes will go up accordingly – at differing rates depending on whether or not you own a homesteaded property). Save the date – September 8, 2016 at 7pm for the first 2016/2017 Budget Hearing.
  • PGA Station PUD amendments were approved. See a summary in Sarah Peters’ article here.
  • Resolution 52, 2016 – added to the Agenda at the meeting, allows for the City to call a Special Election concurrent with the November 8, 2016 General Election. This is a place holder should Circuit Court Judge Colin find for the City in the Levy/Woods Litigation conclusion within the next couple of weeks. The August City Council meeting would be too late to open candidate qualification. Should the judge seat Carl Woods, then the Council would withdraw Resolution 52 in August.  More detail below.
July 8, 2016

Mayor Tinsley began the meeting with a moment of silence for the victims of the Orlando Pulse Nightclub attack. She then brought up former Mayor/Council Member Levy’s resignation and read his resignation letter. She brought forward the City Attorney report to the beginning of the Agenda, so that Mr. Lohman could describe briefly the litigation time-table, enforcement of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals decision on the Charter’s Term Limits retro-activity and Levy’s ineligibility to have run for office. Resolution 52, 2016 was added to the agenda. More detail here .  (NOTE:  PBGWatch was present at the most recent hearing – it is Max Lohman, on behalf of the City, that is arguing for a Special Election – otherwise Judge Colin would not be considering it.  We recommend that the Council read the transcript obtained by their attorney, and here is our summary of that hearing).

Presentations included Recognition of the City’s Spirit Team, and the  Sponsors of the Gardens Cup, which raises funds that are used to put on morale raising events for City Staff.

Comments From the Public included:

  • Tom Cairnes, of the PGA Corridor Association thanked David Levy for his contributions to the City, especially in all things environmental. He also hoped that the citizens wouldn’t end up regretting their actions comparing the term limits vote in 2014 to Brexit.
  • Ross Wilcox and William Papageorge, both residents living on Gardens Glen Circle, raised a Code Enforcement issue with a vehicle with trailer parking on the city street at all times. Mayor Tinsley and City Manager Ferris were reviewing the problem.
  • Carol Courtney of 40th Terrace N. cited concerns with how the City implemented the Sunset Dr/40th Terrace improvements without respect for environmental impacts.
  • Kevin Easton and Marilyn Parmet both asked that Resolution 52, 2016 not be voted on, that there not be a Special Election (ranging in costs up to $80K) and that Carl Woods be declared the winner of the March election.

Mr. Ferris began his City Manager Report by implying that the two residents didn’t understand that Resolution 52 was just a placeholder and that the Special Election would only cost $15K. (editor’s note – he was not understanding that they were saying the Council could end the need for such an election by seating Mr. Woods!)

Also included in the Mr. Ferris’ upbeat report was:

  • Well earned recognition for Km! Ra, Purchasing and Contracts Director, for a prestigious Excellence in Achievement Award for the 3rd year in a row. As Mr. Ra IS the Purchasing Department – he achieved a round of applause!
  • Congratulations to the City’s Police Explorers who one 1st place in the 2016 Law Enforcement Challenge for the 3rd year in a row.
  • Thanks to the Police Foundation for donating 40 infrared thermometers which can be used to detect temperature in parked vehicles.
  • Recognition by the City by interim Fire Chief Keith Breyer and the City to Juan Nunez, lifeguard at the Recreation Center for saving a toddler unresponsive in the swimming pool – see Lifeguard Receives Hero Award for more details.
  • The Chief also Recognized Km! Ra once again – this time for getting a $43K FEMA grant for 120 Personal Safety/Rescue Bailout System for the Fire Department.

During Items for Council Discussion, the Council did their annual City Manager Evaluation. It also happened to be Mr. Ferris’ birthday. He couldn’t have asked for a better present than the effusive praise, minimal critique if any, and the standing ovation given him by the Council and his staff….

Next City Council Mtg on Thursday July 7th at 7PM

The next City Council Meeting will be this Thursday, July 7th, at 7pm in City Hall.

Consent Agenda includes 3 Purchase Awards:

  • Ancillary Health Benefit Plans – Openly competed – 2 year contract valued at $296K. “The City has a self-funded Group Health Plan that is administered by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Florida, Inc. The Group Health Plan is supplemented by various other Ancillary Health Benefits Plans that are available to employees and qualified dependents, including domestic partners. The current Ancillary Health Benefits Plans are: Life Insurance and Accidental Death & Dismemberment; Dental Insurance; Employee Assistance Program; Vision Care; and Long-Term Disability.”
  • Bunker Gear for Fire Rescue Department – Piggyback Contract – $99,990 upon delivery
  • Repairs to Allamanda Water Control Structure – Piggyback Contract – $292K

City Manager Report – no details listed

Public Hearings and Resolutions:

  • 2nd Reading Ordinance 5, 2016 – Police Pension Amendment.
  • Resolution 37, 2016: Tentative Maximum Millage rate will be set for Fiscal Year 2016/2017– it can be adjusted downward during the September Budget Hearings
  • Resolution 39, 2016 – Attention Sunset Drive/40th Terrace North/Brenna Lane property owners “Adopting a non-ad valorem special assessment roll for the design, construction, and installation of water utility and road improvements on 4Qth Terrace North, Sunset Drive, and Brenna Lane. ” Note: In accordance with the requirements of Section 197.3632(4), Florida Statutes, all affected property owners have been notified of the need for the special assessment, its cost, payment schedule, the effect of non-payment, the identities of the Benefitted Parcels, the right to appear and participate in a public hearing at the July 7, 2016 City Council Meeting at which this resolution is considered for adoption, the right to file written objections, and all other relevant information concerning this special assessment.
  • Two Art in Public Places resolutions – Harborchase Assisted Living Facility (Resolution 41, 2016) and Northlake Gardens, located in PHASE II of the Banyan Tree PUD (Resolution 42, 2016)
  • Resolution 45, 2016 – PGA Station Planned Unit Development (PUD) Amendment – A request for
    PGA Design Center

    PGA Design Center

    approval of a PUD Amendment to modify the 30.03-acre PGA Professional and Design Center PUD to allow a conversion of uses for a revised development program of 415,401 square feet of Professional Office, 49,279 square feet of Medical Office, 11,777 square feet of Retail, a 111 room Hotel, and 3,000 square feet of Restaurant, along with modifications to the master plan, landscape plan, sign program, and architecture.

  • Resolution 46, 2016 – The Applicant is requesting approval of two (2) temporary modular structures located on the Zimmer Biomet site (formerly known as Biomet 3i, Inc.) at the South Park Center Planned Unit Development (PUD) in the Northcorp Planned Community Development (PCD). Staff recommends approval of the request.

Items for Council Action/Discussion – the annual City Manager Evaluation

(Editorial Note – Noticeably absent from the published agenda is any discussion of the recent Fourth District Court of Appeals Court ruling that David Levy was ineligible to run in the March 2016 City Election. Mr. Levy’s name appears on the list of Council Members on the Meeting Agenda – see the latest Palm Beach Post article here.   A hearing is to be scheduled with the original judge, Judge Colin, in the near future.)

Check the agenda to see if any additional items have been added before the meeting here.

Next City Council Mtg / Final 2015/2016 Fiscal Year Budget Hearing on September 17

The next City Council Meeting will be this Thursday, September 17, at 7pm in City Hall.  The only item on the Agenda, other than Consent, is the Second 2015/2016 Fiscal Year Budget Hearing. On Consent is Resolution 42, 2015, allowing the City Manager to apply for and accept a Highway Beautification Grant with FDOT.

See our summary of last Thursday’s City Council Meeting (including the First Budget Hearing) here.  It includes links to the powerpoint presentation that Finance Director Allan Owens made, as well.

The agenda (with links to full detail) can be found here.  Check the agenda to see if any additional items have been added before the meeting

The Best Budget Ever!

While the primary topic for the September 10 City Council meeting was the first hearing of the 2015/2016 Budget, much of the meeting was spent on Public Comment. The chamber was filled with a sea of yellow shirts worn by members of Fire/Rescue and their supporters. Media was also there to capture the action.

First up was Thomas Murphy, President of the PBG Police Foundation to describe the 9-11 Rememberence Essay competition. Then Fire/Rescue Chief Southard introduced the winners – First Place: Brandon Gitto, Second: Rebecca Newbold, Third: Alexis Simm. For more details see here.


September 10, 2015

Senator Abruzzo was to give a Legislative Update, but had to cancel and will do so at a future meeting.

City Manager Ferris had no report, but mentioned that the Purchasing Department – Km! Ra, had once again been honored with a prestigious award. Congratulations!

Most of those present were there for Public Comment which was next. The Fire/Rescue contract expires on 9/30/15 and negotiations had reached an impasse. The 6 speakers spoke on the excellence of Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue/Paramedics, how their lives or loved ones lives had been saved, and the primary issue of salary compression. The Council thanked the speakers, but Mayor Jablin said that he couldn’t comment more due to the negotiations. Council member Russo spoke eloquently on understanding the frustration, that a similar issue had been resolved for the police, and that he expected a resolution for this issue as well. For more details see: the Palm Beach Post summary.   Mayor Jablin then offered a 5 minute recess so that those wanting to leave could clear the chambers.

Three additional folks had comments related to traffic in the Central Avenue/117th Court area. All acknowledged problems in the area, but were not in agreement on the solutions. The Council assured them that before any changes will be made, a lot of work still needs to be done and that it will be the subject of future meetings.

Hal Valeche, County Commissioner District One, spoke emotionally about the passing of long-time aide, Cindy DeFeLippo to Commissioner Marcus and then Valeche. The members of the Council knew her well, and had spoken of her loss in a prior Council meeting.

Finally, Allan Owens, Finance Administrator, gave an excellent presentation on the proposed budget. The Council had challenged staff to come back with a millage rate decrease, yet balance that with fulfilling the needs of the City. Mark Marciano, Chair of the Budget Oversight Committee, gave a report supporting staff’s recommendations. The Council was pleased with the results with Council Member Levy saying “solid budget”, Council Member Tinsley calling it ‘most transparent’, Council Member Russo mentioning that it would be the last budget he votes on, and counseling staff to not add employees; Council Member Premuroso called it a ‘spectacular budget’ and pointed out that millage had been lowered for 2 years ina row, that the budget allowed for funding the IG should the lawsuit appeal be lost, and that in 4 years the general obligation bonds will be gone. Mayor Jablin thanked staff and City Manager Ferris thanked all the department heads for the hard work needed to make this budget happen. Note that this budget still grows by 4%, but less than it would have had millage been kept unchanged.

We in PBGWatch – also thank them all for giving back to the taxpayers. Gardens is to be commended to be one of the few municipalities and taxing authorities to not just gobble up the valuation increase wind-fall. See gardens-budget-splits-the-difference-with-the-taxpayer.

The Second Hearing will be next Thursday, September 17, at 7pm in City Hall.

Gardens Budget Splits the Difference with the Taxpayer

The FY2016 Budget for Palm Beach Gardens will be discussed at the first public hearing on September 10.

Property valuations are up significantly this year, and some jurisdictions are reaping large windfalls by leaving their millage flat. The county for example, will see a tax increase of over 9%, which will be their largest budget in history, growing by $61M in new taxes – bigger than the entire budget for PBG.

The Gardens Council is being more responsible than the county and proposes to return some of the valuation windfall to the taxpayer. It should be noted though, that this year’s proposed $51M in revenue is the largest budget to date, exceeding those of the boom years of 2007-2008.

As the included chart shows, when the valuation bubble burst in 2008, PBG increased the millage to maintain flat tax revenue around $50M, then relented in 2009 and let revenue decline below $45M as the economy remained stagnant. Now that there is an increase in valuation (over 6% this year) the proposed millage would be reduced to limit the rise in revenue to just under 5% (on top of 5.3% last year).

If the millage were left unchanged, it would have generated over $52M, so the “extra” $1M (2%) would be returned to the taxpayer.

Compared to the money grab that’s going on at the county, we should be grateful to our staff and Council for their restraint. If you go to the meeting on Thursday, thank them for that, and ask them to stick to the plan. It is still possible to raise the millage (up to 5.67), and some groups may come to lobby for more spending.

First Reading 2015/2016 Budget and Legislative Update on Sept 10

The next City Council meeting will be on Thursday September 10, 2015 at 7pm. This is the first of two City Council meetings in September due to 2015/2016 Budget Hearings. The second reading of the budget will be held on September 17, 2015.  I have heard from multiple sources that Fire/Rescue employees plan to attend the Sept. 10th meeting to object to the impasse on contract negotiations – so expect a ‘packed house’.

Announcements/Presentations include a Legislative Update by Senator Abruzzo.

The Consent Agenda includes:

  • Resolution 39, 2015 – which is a collective bargaining agreement with SEIU.  In accordance with the current three- (3) year contract effective October 1, 2014, through September 30, 2017, between the City and the SEIU/Florida Public Services Union, Article 28, Salary Plan, was open to negotiation for Fiscal Year 2015-2016. The City’s negotiating team met with representatives of the SEIU/Fiorida Public Services Union on June 17, 2015, and successfully reached a Tentative Agreement to provide all bargaining unit members a 3% salary increase effective October 1, 2015.
  • Resolution 40, 2015 – approving the plat for the new Fire Station #2
  • Purchase award/Independent Contract Agreement for a Tennis Professional worth $65K
  • Purchase award for Mowing and Landscaping Services for roughly $1.7 million for 3 years, competitively bid
  • Purchase award/contract for Medical Director for EMS, for $135K for 3 years.
  • Purchase award for Public Art – Repairs, Maintenance and Conservation for around $300K, for 3 years, competitively bid

The Regular Agenda is comprised of  Ordinance 12, 2015 – Public Hearing for First Reading of Ordinance 12, 2015 Adopting the Fiscal Year 2015/2016 Budget with a proposed operating millage rate of 5.55 and a debt millage rate of .1371 for a total tentative millage rate of 5.6871 mills for Fiscal Year 2015/2016.  This is a decrease from last year’s millage; the proposed operating millage represents an increase over the roll-back rate (which would be the same revenue as last year) by 4.02%.  While homesteaded properties will see a slight decrease or little impact – those with commercial and rental properties and second homes will be seeing a tax increase.

See the proposed budget here and read the Memorandum to Mayor and the City Council. The Budget Oversight Committee report can be read here; it is in support of the proposed budget and millage.

The agenda (with links to full detail) can be found here.  Check the agenda to see if any additional items have been added before the meeting.

 

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.

Leadership Matters in Gardens Tax Rate Reduction

Last evening in a surprise move, the City Council voted 4-1 to reduce the planned tax rate slightly, from 5.74 to 5.67 mils, cutting the tax increase from just over $3M to about $2.5M.


September 18, 2014

This result was produced through the leadership of Mayor Bert Premuroso, who floated the initially unpopular proposal, made a reasoned and empassioned case for it, and put a stake in the ground over his opposition to the budget as written. At once reasonable, empathetic to counter-arguments, yet steadfast in his position, he convinced three of the four other members to follow his lead.

Public input during and since the September 3 meeting had been asking for a reduction, to share some of the property valuation windfall with the taxpayer. This specific reduction of about $500K was proposed by the Mayor at that meeting, but was met with skepticism and definitely not embraced by his four colleagues on the dais. Citing the “5 year plan” for flat millage, the endorsement by the volunteer Budget Oversight Committee, and the need for more money for capital projects, giving money back to the taxpayer was the last thing on their mind. City Manager Ron Ferris was also advising against it.

Last evening’s budget discussion started with Mr. Ferris listing a number of additional projects that could be done by using some reserves. Park usability in wet weather could be improved by a drainage field project proposed by David Levy. Additional ball fields could be created with a proposal by Marcie Tinsley. His report also cast cold water on any plan to reduce the millage, forecasting dire consequences if the stabilization fund were to be depleted, maybe forcing a tax rate increase in future years.

After comments from the public were heard (most asking for a millage cut), the normal order of council discussion was flipped and Mayor Premuroso went first. In a prepared speech, which he said he had been working on since the last meeting, the Mayor repeated his desire to reduce the millage by about $500K, to give a little something back to the residents who stuck with the city through the downturn. Laying out a well researched case involving economic conditions and projections, trends in the reserves, and a discussion of the conservative nature of the city’s planning, his arguments were compelling. With all due respect to staff and colleagues, he said he would not support the budget without a millage decrease.

In the ensuing discussion, Joe Russo first panned the idea, wandered around some other issues, then came back to the possibility of accepting it. David Levy said he could understand the argument, but would prefer to wait until next year to entertain any reductions. Eric Jablin was 100% against giving any money to the taxpayers. Marcie Tinsley, after considering the proposal in the period between the meetings had already convinced herself that it was the right thing to do.

The turning point was when the Mayor restated his intention to vote against the budget as written. On a board that values consensus and usually is unanimous in its decisions, that rattled Joe Russo. Trying to force the issue, Eric Jablin moved that the budget be approved, but it failed 3-2, with Russo joining the Mayor and Tinsley. That was enough for David Levy, who wasn’t as strong in his position as Jablin, and he made the motion to adopt the Mayor’s proposed millage of 5.67 and it passed 4-1, with Jablin remaining opposed and stating that it was the first time he had ever voted against a budget.

The decision process, at times heated, but always cordial, is a credit to this Council, and particularly to the Mayor’s leadership. Decision making by public officials at all levels is sometimes painful to observe, given the partisan and ideological divides and the undue influence of special interests. There was none of that in evidence last evening.

Gardens $3M, 6.5% Tax Increase – is it Justified?

At the last Council meeting on the budget, with the big jump in property valuations providing a windfall in city taxes, several members of the public suggested that some of it should be returned to the taxpayer in the form of a millage reduction. On the Council, only Mayor Premuroso acknowledged that the outlook is favorable, and the city can afford to do so, proposing that $500K be taken from the “budget stabilization fund”.

Is this appropriate?

Several on the council objected on the basis of the city’s “5 Year Plan”, which calls for the millage to remain at 5.74 for the next 5 years. The Plan is really about revenue and expenditures though, not millage.

Three years ago, in the 2012 budget, the “5 Year Plan” forecast ad-valorem tax revenue in 2015 to be $45.6M. Today’s budget, is in fact $49M, up $3.4M or 7% above the “5 Year Plan”. When including revenue from all sources, it is up $8M or 12.5% above the “5 Year Plan”.

More to the point, in 2012 the “5-Year Plan” projected the 2015 undesignated fund balances (ie. reserves) would be 22% of expenditures – instead we are at 32% – relatively flush with cash.

So it seems that the Mayor is correct – the city certainly has the ability to reduce the millage by some amount.

If you believe that growth in the size of government should be only undertaken with careful consideration, then any increase in spending above what is dictated by population growth and inflation (currently about 1% and 2% respectively) requires an explanation. Holding to that measure would suggest that half of the windfall should be claimed by the city, the other half returned, resulting in a millage of about 5.56.

Any increase above that level should be justified on the basis of specific needs that are immediate and cannot be deferred until future years.

Former Mayor Martino on the Budget: Tell the Council to move to Rollback!

In my opinion, the most important responsibility of an elected City Councilperson is the preparation and presentation of a City’s annual budget. A City budget should be fiscally responsible while providing for the health, safety, welfare, and recreation of its residents. It should provide for livable wages and benefits for the employees who provide and maintain the City’s necessary municipal services. In essence, a City’s budget provides for the quality of life that residents expect to enjoy as a result of their tax contributions. From my perspective, a City’s budget is more than just an Administrative to do list; it is an annual “living promise” that the City will protect, improve, and enhance, the lives of all of the City’s residents with fiscal integrity.

The taxpayers of Palm Beach Gardens have incurred the same economic hardships in the last several years as referenced in the Finance Department’s budget comments to the City Council. The beleaguered taxpayers are constantly hit with the drip, drip, drip of small but steady tax increases every fiscal year, by all and various taxing bodies. Residents are facing rising costs, such as, health care, food, utilities, and so forth. Many of our City’s residents are on fixed incomes and some have faced the ugliness of unemployment.

In recognition of these realities, it is my recommendation that the Palm Beach Gardens City Council set operating millage policy at the rollback level of 5.4082 mills, instead of the proposed 5.7404 millage, and instruct the Administration accordingly. This would be a minimal amount of appreciated relief for the taxpayers. I would strongly urge and encourage the City Council to move in this direction.

The 2015 budget proposes to spend $ 135,329,444. To reach the rollback millage rate of 5.4082 would require an estimated $ 3,000,000 decrease in spending which is approximately 2.2%. As a former Mayor and City Councilman I feel comfortable in stating that by combining some spending reductions with a small revenue supplement from the burgeoning reserve accounts and, perhaps, finding a few more dollars on the revenue side would accomplish rollback millage without causing any financial problems to City’s fiscal health. According to the information in the budget, various reserve funds total $ 39,720,548. That’s a lot of reserve. Just in the Unspecified Balance Reserve Fund, alone, there is $ 23,470,597 which is 32% of operating expenses. This is nearly double the required minimum reserve balance of 17% established by policy.

Mayor Premuroso exhibited his concern for the residents and his leadership by offering to move toward the rollback millage rate at the September 3rd meeting. But with possible exception of Councilwoman Tinsley, Vice-Mayor Jablin and Council members Levy and Russo were less than enthusiastic to take up the taxpayers cause and embrace the Mayor’s suggestion. I would encourage anyone reading this memorandum to email and/or contact the City Council members (info here) and persuade them to, at the minimum, support Mayor Premuroso’s position to move the millage rate closer to rollback rate of 5.4082 mills.

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