The Palm Beach County Commission will meet Tuesday, May 9, 2015 at 6:00 p.m. for their first budget workshop of the year. Local residents can watch the workshop via Channel 20. Under their proposal, the public may think county commissioners are returning to the heydays of the real estate bubble because they plan to spend $57.5 million more in the coming fiscal year. Will the public put a stop to it and demand the commission lower the millage rate to keep taxpayer spending in check? The county commission wants to spend an estimated $725 million of taxpayer money in the next fiscal year.
The $57.5 million increase is largely due to another increase to the bloated Palm Beach County Sheriff Department. Sheriff Ric Bradshaw is requesting an increase of $24 million to his budget, so his slice of the $725 million total taxpayer payout would be an eye-popping $553.7 million.
If the county commission were to enact a budget that was flat or a decrease in spending, it would better enable Palm Beach County residents to continue their financial recovery. Many residents are still licking their wounds from the strong economic downturn from just a few years ago and still need relief. A decrease in county taxpayer spending would enable residents to redirect those dollars to where they choose and help stimulate the county economy.
Even when accounting for the large run-up of property taxes during the short-lived real estate boom, property values have only returned to just under 90% of their 2007 valuations. This leads many county residents to wonder why the continued increase in government spending of taxpayer money, rather than offer them the financial relief they seek?
The county commission’s spending has been on a constant upswing since 2012 and this year’s proposed budget is $36 million more than the previous highest in history. It is expected, county officials plan to defend their budget by stating that the proposed budget is only 5 percent more than 2007 levels when inflation has increased nearly 19 percent. What they will need convince residents is that 2007 levels were not our of control government spending like many had warned. At that time, Libertarians, Republicans, and Democrats went to county commission public hearings begging for relief of their massive property tax bills. The ever escalating government spending was forcing many into bankruptcy or causing many to lose their homes because they could no longer afford to pay the property taxes.
The county is still below its 8 percent reserve level. The county is supposed to keep 8 percent of the budget in reserve and it is at 7.5 percent ($88 million). The budget also proposes a relatively small amount of money on much-needed capital projects — $19.1 million. Financially assisted agencies are proposed to receive a 3 percent increase over last year.
There are plenty of projects within the proposed budget that Libertarians feel could be reduced or eliminated; however, none more so than the Sheriff’s budget. Although this year’s Sheriff budget increase is relatively in-line with a 4.5 percent increase, this is after very large, out-of-line budget increases in the past. This has caused the Sheriff’s budget to become a disproportionate part of the overall county budget which is funded by county residents and tourists.
The Palm Beach County Taxpayer Action Board (TAB) has been a consistent and excellent resource for those seeking to learn more about the economics of Palm Beach County government. The Libertarian Party of Palm Beach County has supported TAB’s efforts since 2010. Libertarians, TAB and other organizations like Florida Tax Watch have been after the Palm Beach County Commission to keep their budget to a minimum. This would enable residents and tourists to have a utilize that money to stimulate the local economy, rather than having their money pilfered and used unwisely by local government. For those wishing to voice their opinion about the increase in government a/k/a taxpayer spending, residents and voters can use this one email address which will send their email to all the commissioners: firstname.lastname@example.org.