County confronts budget crisis

By Chuck Weber email

WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX)-Tough times bring tough budget choices. Monday Palm Beach County held its first talks on next year's budget.

Commission chambers were full, many wearing green tee-shirts supporting public transportation. Cuts in Palm Tran bus service, and increasing bus fees, are among the items on the table.

"My monthly disadvantaged bus pass will go from five dollars to 15 dollars a month," said Larry Osband. "That's a 300 percent increase."

Osband says he should be able to afford the increase, but he worries about others. He's also concerned about proposed fee increases in the Meals-on-Wheels program. "The changes being proposed are going to be a great disservice to many of the seniors in Palm Beach County," expressed Osband.

County Administrator Bob Weisman calls it the most challenging budget season in county history, and says it could be worse next year. He proposes across the board cuts, and at the same time, a hike in the tax rate.

"It's requiring a 13 percent increase in the tax rate," Weisman explained, "to make up for a 13 percent decrease in the valuation of all our property." Taxes will go up for many people, but not all.

The owner of an average homesteaded property will see their county taxes go up about 100 dollars. But people who purchased homes in recent years could see their taxes go down because of declining property values.

Weisman added, "I hope people who want to see taxes cut will understand there are many people out there who need our services. I hope people who want to see service cuts restored will understand there are people out there who can't afford to pay their taxes. We need to find a middle ground."

The only department increasing its budget is the Sheriff's Office, and slightly at that. For the third year in a row, there are no new deputies. The Sheriff says he'll push for more jail inmates being released on ankle monitors as a way to save money.

During Monday's hearing, commissioners asked staff to explore pay cuts and furloughs and buyouts, as an alternative to cutting County jobs. Administrator Weisman says such measures could be tough to implement because of union contracts.

The next budget hearing is set for July.