Saturday, June 25, 2011

Delray commissioners hire firm to close projected budget gap

Delray commissioners hire firm to close projected budget gap
By Palm Beach

DELRAY BEACH — Staring down the barrel of a project revenue shortfall approaching $3 million, Delray Beach City Commissioners agreed to some outside help in putting together the budget for the fiscal year that begins October 1.

Commissioners agreed to hire the Denver-based Center for Priority Based Budgeting to help put together a budget geared towards “the community’s highest priority programs,” while shifting money away from other less important programs.
The contract will cost the city between $35,000 and $36,000.

“I think we’re going to face some very difficult choices,” City Manager David Harden said. “This is not a short-term problem.”

Harden said the latest numbers from the county property appraiser show a decline in Delray’s tax base of 3.67 percent. At the current tax rate, that translates into a decrease of $1.44 million in property taxes the city will receive during the upcoming budget year. Property taxes are the single biggest source of revenue for the city, but Harden said other taxes and fees are projected to decrease by nearly as much, bringing the total shortfall to just shy of $3 million.

The city has seen annual revenue declines for the past four budget years. Harden said there’s not a lot left in the budget that can be cut without affecting service levels in the programs the city provides.

Commissioners were unanimous in approving the contract.

“I strongly believe we’re getting to the point where we need something to assist us,” Mayor Woodie McDuffie said. “It’s a very critical time in the life of this city.”

In another budgetary matter, commissioners approved a resolution reflecting a $2.8 million revenue shortfall for the current fiscal year and budget cuts that partially close it. Harden said the has made budget cuts and has frozen hiring except for some summer jobs in the recreation department close the gap to $1.5 million. The remaining shortfall reflects the city’s inability to negotiate a new contract with the Police Benevolent Association.

One bit of good news, Harden said: utility tax collections are up $45,000 in June thanks to the unusually hot weather.

Also Tuesday, commissioners approved two “in lieu” parking spaces for Burger Place, a new restaurant going into the space at 12 SE 5th Avenue formerly occupied by Foxy’s Ice Cream. Burger Place will pay the city $31,200 over the next three years for the two virtual spaces.

In lieu parking spaces are “virtual spaces;” they don’t really exist. The fees the city charges for the spaces theoretically reflect what it would cost to provide parking on their property. The city uses the money to helpy cover the cost of providing public parking. They’re used by businesses in the downtown that cannot provide sufficient parking on their property.

Typically, in lieu space requests are not controversial, but Burger Place sparked a brief debate because of the saturation of restaurants in the downtown and the shortage of adequate parking. Parking management specialist Scott Aronsen recommended against granting the request because of the congestion in the area.

City commissioners acknowledged the overload of restaurants and the downtown parking problem, but said it would be unfair to reject the Burger Place the request because it otherwise complied with the law.

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