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Palm Beach County commissioners OK's $7.8 billon budget, including historic property tax cut

Mayor Gregg Weiss lead FY 2004 budget meeting at the Palm Beach County Commission on September, 26, 2023
Screenshot of streaming
Mayor Gregg Weiss lead FY 2024 budget hearing at the Palm Beach County Commission on September, 26, 2023

Palm Beach County commissioners adopted a $7.8 billion budgetfollowing a public hearing last week, agreeing to cut the property tax rate and increase the Supervisor of Elections budget by nearly 50%.

Commissioners cut the tax rate — or reduced the “millage” — to $4.500 from last year’s rate of $4.715. The 4.6% decrease is the largest cut in nearly 15 years. And that means residents with homestead properties will see some savings after a decrease in their property taxes next year.

Soaring property values in the county, at nearly 14% from last year, had forced county commissioners to try to offset property tax increases. Primary homeowners will now pay $4.50 per $1,000 of their taxable property value.

The Save Our Homes amendment approved in 1992 by voters places a 3% cap on annual increases in taxable values of homesteaded property.

Residents who are not homesteaded will see their property taxes increase.

The county’s balanced budget, which includes a roughly $1 billion spending plan for county operations and services, also provides the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office with a $53 million increase, a 6% pay raise for county employees, and $26 million more for infrastructure projects.

The county's budget goes into effect Oct 1st.

READ MORE: Palm Beach County nonprofit fills growing gap in housing, social services for homeless

2024 Election Integrity

After loud, contentious scrutiny from critics, county commissioners approved the Supervisor of Election's $34 million budget for fiscal year 2024, allocating at least $10 million more for the county’s elections office.

Photo of a woman in front of ballot machines
Madeline Fox
ABOVE) Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link

Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections Wendy Sartory Link told WLRN the aim is to keep elections safe and secure year-round, particularly ahead of the 2024 presidential primaries and general election.

Link said the county may be vulnerable to interference, especially since former president and Republican presidential front-runner, Donald Trump, is a resident.

“We are investing in training. We’re investing in programs,” Link said. “More software that will help to prevent any breach into our computer system.”

Palm Beach County's general fund revenues by category –– proposed budget Fiscal Year 2024
Screenshot of Palm Beach County PDF
Palm Beach County's general fund revenues by category –– proposed budget Fiscal Year 2024

During public comments, the funding request sparked intense pushback from some critics who say the increase was unnecessary.

Commissioner Mack Bernard, during the first budget hearing, supported the increase, citing concerns there could be security issues if SOE’s request isn’t approved.

“If we don’t fund it, are we not providing the funding that is necessary for the elections that’s taking place in 2024,” Bernard remarked, rhetorically.

County administrator Verdina Baker said because the SOE hasn't received grant funding, the office is relying on the ad valorem (county taxes). She would have had to “spend those grant dollars first” before requesting county funding.

Commissioner Maria Marino, during the second public hearing, cited an increase in IT and licensing fees, lack of state grant funding among several other reasons that explain the increase of SOE’s budget.

“There are a lot of unfunded mandates by the state that we now have to fund here at the local level,” Marino said. “And I believe that if people are unhappy with the way this comes to us, they need to go to Tallahassee and lobby their legislators.”

How SOE works

The county’s elections office processes local and state ballots, among other responsibilities, such as staffing poll workers, voter roll clean-up every odd year, and registering voters.

SOE relies on several security measures, including the Albert sensor, a cybersecurity device that alerts the county’s SOE to potential hacking attempts on its network. The sensor is operated by the Center for Internet Security (CIS), which works with the Department of Homeland Security.

There are “people trying to get into the system everyday from places like China and Iran,” Link told WLRN. “More often foreign than domestic.”

Link said new state mandates on voting increased the cost of operating voting precincts and locations. Previously, voters could submit mail-in ballots through unmanned drop boxes. Now, as required by a new state law, all county voting sites require direct supervision.

“We do have to have those attended at all times by our staff members,” Link said. “So the hours are a little more limited but we’re paying for two people to be at every secure ballot intake station.”

Florida’s primaries are scheduled for March 19, 2024.

Wilkine Brutus is the Palm Beach County Reporter for WLRN. The award-winning journalist produces stories on topics surrounding local news, culture, art, politics and current affairs. Contact Wilkine at wbrutus@wlrnnews.org
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