The Civic Association played an important role in the Town’s budget process this summer. Treasurer Pat Cooper analyzed the 2017 budget proposal in depth and met with town officials to discuss residents’ concerns about holding the line on taxes while providing the best possible services.
During the Town budget workshop on September 13, Mr. Cooper addressed the council. Please see his comments below:
Oral Comments to Town of Palm Beach Town Council Budget Workshop
September 13, 2016
See back up for summary specifics of major initiatives contained herein
By Pat Cooper, Palm Beach Civic Association Treasurer
I have done quite a bit of work not only on this budget but also going back to previous budgets. With the help of Jane Struder, I was able to look back as far as the 1930's to see where we stood over time. What is clear is that we were left a legacy by earlier Councils and staff - a jewel of a resort that we are today enhancing and rebuilding literally from the underground up.
• 1973 - Town budget $6,104,791 (inclusive of debt service of $692,265) with a Town assessed valuation of $549,279,000. Issues $5,000,000 in bonds to acquire Par 3 Golf course. It looks like this was the last year bonds were issued to acquire property.
• 2000 - Town issued a ten year Revenue bond in the sum of $23,530,000 for coastal issues.
• 2001 - Total debt outstanding at 9/30/2001 $26,045,000
• 2010 - Town issued a multipurpose bond of $57,035,000 to refund debt to pay for Town Hall, new Central Fire Station and repay the Town for work on Par 3 golf course. The largest amount of $43,636,510 was the ftrst phase of the ACIP. Additionally a series "B" bond was issued for $14,770,000 for Worth Avenue Improvements
• 2013 - Town issued Revenue Bonds of $55,590,000 the largest amount of which went for the second phase of the ACIP ($44,997,957). Other uses were for coastal groin and sea wall replacement ($11,900,000) and the Town portion of 2003 building the Par 3 Clubhouse project ($1,250,000).
Basically, these bonds were issued to (at first) expand and then to rebuild the Town. Never before the start of the new millennium has the Town undertaken a Capital Improvement program at this pace. What came with that was basically the debt service we have today of about $8,000,000 against total gross debt of $116,145,000 and some of that is in the process of being refunded to take advantage of lower interest rates. ACIP was approximately $90,000,000 of that total.
Other major initiatives not included in that number include coastal recommendations totaling about the same number of $80,000,000 for the next seven years; Undergrounding of $90,000,000; retirement trust fund augmentation (2017 budget amount $2,500,000; and the projected cost of replacing the Town Docks $10,000,000.
These are very large numbers and will require a focused approach in budgeting. I believe it will require a different and more strategic approach to the budget process to ensure that everyone is on the same page. It will take both a disciplined thought process and communication plan with the citizens of the town to ensure everyone is "on board" with how the budget will move forward in the next few years.
• What is Plan "B" for shore protection other than sand?
• What is the level of funding that should be reached in retirement trust funds and at what pace? Is the recommended $2,500,000 for 2017 the correct amount?
• Are Town Docks simply being replaced or are more modern facilities required to ensure the current positive cash flow is kept intact? What about dredging? Who is our competition for the replacement docks we will build and will we be seen as destination, an alternative or a distant also ran once they are rebuilt?
• At what level should our debt service be relative to the overall budget? Rather than wait for the rating agencies to tell us, why don't we calculate that number ourselves as part of a disciplined process.
• Finally, are there other services that could be seen as critical to Town citizens that are not currently in the budget and how do we provide for that?
These are not questions that are negative or critical of where we are, they are examples of some strategic decisions that have to be made. Make no mistake about it - our reserves as they now stand are the envy of most municipalities. But the numbers are getting larger and it is time, perhaps not this year, but next year to have a strategic budget discussion to get everything on the table.
Thank you to the town staff for their assistance, Tom Bradford, Jane Struder, Paul Brazil and CES Consultants Vice President, Bud Goblisch for all of the assistance and time given to me during this budge year.