Abrams tells Delray chamber he'll work to avoid tax hike

By David Sedore, Palm Beach Business.com

steve abramsDELRAY BEACH — It’s been a tough year so far for the Palm Beach County Commission, and it’s not about to get any easier.

Stung earlier this year by the indictment and conviction of long-time Commissioner Mary McCarty — the third commissioner in recent years to get caught on federal corruption charge, the board has had to face the difficult task of rebuilding public confidence.

Now, it also must put together a budget for the 2009-2010 fiscal year with a shortfall of $130 million, according to Steve Abrams, the former Boca Raton mayor who was appointed by Gov. Charlie Crist to replace McCarty representing portions of Boca Raton and Delray Beach on the commission.

Abrams, who spoke to the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce Thursday morning, said County Administrator Robert Weisman has proposed a budget that makes up the gap with $60 million in cuts and generating additional property tax revenue by using the misnamed rollback rate. The Legislature created rollback rate several years ago as a means of keeping property taxes in check as property values skyrocketed.

With property values plummeting, however, it has the opposite effect. The rollback rate actually raises taxes.

“I’ll do my level best to avoid that,” Abrams said.

Weisman’s proposed budget also includes the elimination of 175 jobs out of a total county payroll of 6,000. With Palm Beach County facing an unemployment rate of more than 10 percent, Abrams noted that there is some sentiment to maintain as many jobs as possible.

However he also noted that with programs being slashed, the county could be left heavy in workers but light in things for them to do. Abrams said he would look at deeper cuts as one way to avoid the rollback rate.

Abrams listed the budget and economic development as the top priority for county, followed by public safety and emergency management, growth management and environmental protection.

Still, restoring public confidence in the integrity of the government in the wake of recent scandals trumps all of that..

“If we don’t, we can’t devote our full efforts to those other priorities,” Abrams said.

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