Delray commisioners scale back tax hike

By David Sedore, Palm Beach

DELRAY BEACH — It’s becoming more apparent that taxes are going to get bumped up in Delray Beach. The only question is by how much. Or by how little.

Delray City Commissioners by a 3-1 vote Thursday evening set the proposed property tax rate at 7.25 mils, or $7.25 for every $1,000 of assessed valued. In July, the commissioners set the preliminary rate at 7.3833 mils.

The current rate is 6.39 mils, or $6.39 for every $1,000 in assessed mils. The final tax rate will be set on Sept. 22.

Thursday’s vote, while only preliminary, was significant in that it sets a ceiling on how high commissioners can go with the tax rate. They can cut it further, but they cannot go higher than 7.25.

“For us to cut back right now is an easy thing to do,” Mayor Woodie McDuffie said. “But I think it’s reckless tonite for us to go and whack back to last year’s millage rate.”

McDuffie originally supported keeping the proposed rate at 7.3833 while continuing to explore ways of cutting further, as did Commissioner Adam Frankel. Commissioners Fred Fetzer and Gary Eliopoulos wanted to cut the rate Thursday, essentially to force commissioner to find the cuts. Fetzer wanted to scale back to 7 mils or less, and he suggested that the city tap into its $18 million reserve to accomplish it.

“I’m advocate of for smaller government,” Fetzer said. “I’m also an advocate for what we’ve done in Delray Beach. We built the reserve for an emergency, and this year is an emergency. It is one source to offset the tax increase on residents.”

Eliopoulos wasn’t quite as aggressive, suggesting 7.20 mils. He argued that going beyond that would be damaging to the city. And he argued against using the reserve wholescale.

“Delray Beach is a product, and it’s an investment we’ve all made,” Eliopoulos said. “We’ve got to be careful on how far we want to tighten our belts.”

He added that it would be the city’s poor and needy who would feel the brunt of any more cut.

City Manager David Harden said the city could cut one of its three shuttle buses used to move shoppers, workers and tourists through the city’s downtown and beach district. Combined with other moves, the tax rate could be reduced to 7.25 percent. Eliopoulos, Frankel and McDuffie agreed to the rate; Fetzer did not.

For about an hour before the vote, city resident and other interested observers paraded to the podium and gave their views on the budget. Those who favored cutting taxes and those advocating the rate and maintaining services were about split down the middle.

“Please be careful when you make your cuts,” said one resident. “Don’t cut the fabric. You’ve done a great job so far. Just don’t go after every penny.”

One city business owner, however, noted that he’s had to cut back at his business and the city should do the same.

“I feel for the employees,” he said, “but by the same token, they’re asking other people to subsidize them.”

One city worker noted that if the city cuts back on pay or hours, many employees would be hit twice, since many are Delray residents and will have to pay the higher taxes.



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