Published On: Tue, Sep 15th, 2020

Boca Council to finalize ‘no-tax-rate-increase’ budget Sept. 21

By Dale King

The Boca Raton City Council wrapped up the first of two public hearings on City Manager Leif Ahnell’s 2020-21 municipal budget proposal in less than an hour at a Sept. 8 meeting.

Council members are scheduled to finalize the spending plan for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1 during a second hearing set for 6 p.m. on Sept. 21.

Because of coronavirus regulations, the hearings are held “virtually” on the internet or via the city’s TV channel.

In fact, Ahnell noted that “the preparation of the FY 2020-21 proposed budget was uniquely challenging due the high degree of uncertainty from effects of the COVID-19 global pandemic.” He said the council did not hold planning sessions this year as it normally does in April, so the goals from 2019 are still on the agenda and will be pursued. 

“The proposed budget supports the goals and priorities of the city council while at the same time maintaining the city’s outstanding service levels and AAA bond rating,” he added.

The upcoming budget will, according to Ahnell, contain no increase in the tax rate. He said the millage rate this coming year translates to $3.6786 per $1,000 valuation – “slightly less than last year.”

The owner of a home with a taxable value of $300,000 will pay $1,103.58 in ad valorem taxes, said Ahnell. For FY 2020-21, property values increased 4.75% in the city. “The net increase is composed of a 3.85% increase from reassessments of existing properties and an increase of .90% from new construction.”

The 2020-2021 budget is pretty much a no-frills concoction, though it contains some new programs and increases in spending for city employees. No new positions are included in the new spending plan, though three new jobs are being put in to deal with specific needs.

Few questions were posed during the public portion of the Sept. 8 session. City Clerk Susan Saxton said only one came in to council members from someone asking if the city is reducing spending in the “cultural budget.”

Ahnell responded that since the Mizner Park Amphitheater is closed and no performances have been held, there was a budget reduction for the arts. “We don’t expect much activity” at the facility at the northern end of Mizner Park, the city manager said.

Among city legislators, Councilwoman Monica Mayotte asked Ahnell if he has considered purchasing alternative fuel vehicles for use by the city. He said most of the needed equipment is very heavy, and no alt-fuel vehicles of this type are being produced.  “But we are looking at it,” he added.

All four council members attending the meeting via online connections – Mayor Scott Singer, Deputy Mayor Andrea Levine O’Rourke, Mayotte and Andy Thomson – voted to approve the budget and pass it along for final consideration Sept. 21.  Councilman Jeremy Rodgers was absent as he is serving in the Naval Reserve and is assigned overseas.

In his explanation of the budget, Ahnell said the total spending plan is $772,646,200. The proposed citywide operating budget is $503,238,200. The General Fund portion is $187,377,200. 

“The proposed budget maintains service levels in a safe and fiscally responsible manner. The city has implemented measures to mitigate and initiate recovery from the effects of COVID-19.”

For one thing, he said, Boca “created a Small Business Recovery Relief Grant Program to provide support to local small businesses that have experienced financial loss as a result of the public health emergency.” 

As part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, funded from the federal Coronavirus Relief Fund, the city created a program to provide emergency rent, mortgage and utilities assistance to income-qualified residents. 

Ahnell said the fire assessment fee to help pay the $26 million annual cost of operating the Boca Raton Fire/Rescue Department remains the same in the coming fiscal year.  Residents will continue to pay $145. Commercial users pay on a sliding scale.

The city manager estimates a slight increase in the cost for providing sanitation service because the Boca council last year voted to retain municipal trash pickup.

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