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Cutting Delray's budget tough to do at citizens' round table

The Delray Beach citizens' roundtable at Old School Square.

By Palm Beach

DELRAY BEACH — If Delray Beach City Commissioners were expecting some solid budget cutting ideas from the 50-some residents attending the annual citizens round table at Old School Square Tuesday evening, they had to come away disappointed.

Few of those attending had specific recommendations.

“Quite frankly, we knew before asking the question what the answer was going to be,” Mayor Woodie McDuffie said after the gathering at Old School Square. “The citizens of Delray Beach — or any other city — don’t want to give up anything.”

The round table is intended to give Delray residents an idea of what’s going on in the city — City Manager David Harden gave a “state of the city” address and the Community Redevelopment Agency presented a video highlighting its work over the past 25 years. But it also gives residents a chance to tell city officials their views on issues facing the city.

By far the biggest issue facing the city is the budget. Delray has cut the budget for the past four years as its biggest source of revenue — property taxes — has fallen sharply. Harden said he expects property taxes to fall 5 percent, or about $2.3 million, for the budget year that will begin Oct. 1.

According to a survey of residents, most are well satisfied with the quality of services the city provides. Eighty-one percent of respondents rated city services as excellent or good, compared to 67 percent in 2007.

McDuffie, who is facing reelection in March, said the key for commissioners to make budget cuts as transparent as possible so residents don’t see an impact on the quality of services.

“We have to find ways to run better, more efficiently, at less cost,” McDuffie said.

One resident noted that the fire department responded to a dog-bite call with three vehicles, overkill considering the situation at hand.

McDuffie, afterwards, said the city is negotiating with the fire fighters’ union to change that so the fire department can respond to calls with more flexibility and he expects to accomplish that. But the story illustrates the fact that in many situations, the city can’t act unilaterally to make cuts.

Automation also promises cost savings as well; this year new software goes online that will make the police and fire departments more efficient. Down the road, additional improvements will allow city residents to do more things online, including taking out a business license or even simple building permits.

Despite the lack of ideas coming out of Tuesday’s meeting, resident Priscilla Speicher said city residents can come up with some creative solutions and urged city officials to have an open ear. “That takes much more time and effort than what we can do in one evening.”


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