Riviera proposes tax hike, near 50% [actual is 90%] raise for council

RIVIERA BEACH After approving a 21.5 percent tax increase, the city council also upped its salary nearly 50 percent, saying the raise is necessary because they serve on three boards and their public duties have expanded.

The five-member council also serves as the city's Community Redevelopment Agency and the Utility District boards. Under the proposal, council member's salaries will go from $10,000 annually to $19,000, while the mayor and the council chair's salaries will rise to $20,200 each.

The measure was approved 3-0, with Councilman Jim Jackson on vacation and Councilwoman Norma Duncombe absent from the dais. Council Chairwoman Ann Iles and Councilwomen Liz Wade and Vanessa Lee voted in favor of the project.

The increase, which had no public opposition, puts Riviera Beach officials about in the middle with cities of comparable size.

In Palm Beach Gardens, council members earn $22,792; Lake Worth, $12,300; Boynton Beach, $15,577 and Delray Beach, $9,300, with a $6,000 car allowance.

City Manager Bill Wilkins said the increase was warranted after reviewing the salaries of other councils. Because the increase requires changing the city charter, residents will get another opportunity to speak on the increase because the ordinance requires a second reading at the Sept. 20 council meeting.

Meanwhile, the council also approved a tax rate of $8.75 per $1,000 of taxable value, which is a slight reduction over last year's $9.50 rate. That means the owner of a home valued at $125,000, less the $25,000 homestead exemption, will pay about $875 next year.

While the rate was reduced, city homeowners will actually pay 21.5 percent more in taxes because property values have increased over last year. For example, in order for the city to raise the same amount in taxes this year as it did a year ago, the tax rate would have to be $7.20.

But council members supported the increase in order to add 28 new positions at a cost of $1.8 million. Wilkins also said the city will continue to improve its technology and operations.

Former city Finance Director Dennis Widlansky was the only member of the public to speak on the tax increase. Widlansky reminded council members that the proposed rate was similar to one passed in 1998.

Since then, however, the city's land values have increased by $2 billion. That alone, Widlansky said, should make council members pursue lowering the rate further.

Wade argued that the increase is necessary because the cost of doing business has gone up. In addition, residents are demanding more services, she said.

"Services cost money," Wade said. "We did drop the rate, a drop is a drop."