County taxpayers have tentatively been given a millage rate reduction for next year to offset an expected spike in taxes because of dramatic rises in property values.
The county commission voted 4 to 2 on Tuesday with Commissioners Melissa McKinlay and Dave Kerner opposed and Commissioner Maria Marino absent to cut the millage rate from the current 4.7815 per $1,000 of taxable value to 4.7150.
The measure will be taken up again by the commission in September when it conducts two public hearings to adopt a budget for the 2023 fiscal year. But the law says the budget cannot be raised; it can only be lowered from the 4.7150 level. So the vote Tuesday means that the millage rate will be reduced for the first time in 12 years.
“I think prior commissions have recognized there are times when you need to give our taxpayers a break. I think we’re there. People are paying more for insurance, food and fuel, rent and they are in stress,” said Mayor Robert Weinroth in advocating for the lower rate. “I think residents are going to appreciate what we’ve done here tonight.”
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McKinlay had a different take. “I don’t really think it’s going to benefit the people who are struggling the most, and that’s a lot of our renters,” she said. “They’re not really going to see the benefit of that reduction in the cost of their rent.”
Kerner and McKinlay said they feared that if county revenues dropped dramatically in the future because of an economic recession or a calamitous event such as a hurricane, that it would be politically difficult to try and raise the millage rate again.
The millage rate was last increased in 2012, and then only slightly.
Taxable property values in Palm Beach County have increased almost 15%. The median home value in the county for next year is $375,950, according to Budget Director Sherry Brown. The lower millage rate tentatively approved would save the owner of that home less than $30 per year, the county estimates.
Kerner said nobody is “banging on my door” for such a modest savings on their property tax.
County Administrator Verdenia Baker had recommended that the millage rate not be lowered, citing numerous demands on county government due in part of population increases.
“Our county can always find ways to spend more money,” Weinroth said. “I don’t believe we have to spend every possible dollar that’s out there.” And, he noted, the lower millage rate will not require any cuts to next year’s proposed budget.
The commission has scheduled public hearings on Sept. 13 and Sept. 20 to adopt a budget and take up the millage rate again for the 2023 fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.