Riviera Beach raises tax rate, avoids additional public safety cuts
By Jason Schultz
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Posted: 8:39 p.m. Monday, Aug. 2, 2010
RIVIERA BEACH — In order to avoid laying off more firefighters and police officers and increasing response times, city council members tonight raised the city's property tax rate by almost 7 percent.
"We can always reduce staffing but at some point something has to give. We can't be everywhere at once," said Riviera Beach Fire Chief Troy Perry of the cuts his departments would face if the tax rate wasn't raised.
Council members voted 4-1 to raise the property tax rate from about $8.42 to about $8.99 per $1,000 of taxable value. The owner of a $150,000 home with $50,000 worth of homestead exemptions would pay about $899 in city taxes at that rate.
Proposed budget cuts are already eliminating six firefighter positions and five police officers, said City Manager Ruth Jones. Without the tax rate increase the city would have to make up a $1.4 million deficit. That would require laying off another five firefighters for a total of 11 firefighter positions eliminated.
That seemed to be too much for some council members.
"If we take away 11 bodies something is going to have to change drastically," said Councilman Cedrick Thomas.
Perry said cutting that many fire positions would force them to take engines and rescue trucks out of service. On days when too many officers were out sick or scheduled to be off, the city could have to close one of the city's four fire stations and have engines respond from other stations.
"If we don't have the bodies we can't put the bodies on the vehicles," Perry said.
The deficit would also require cutting at least one library position, a code enforcement officer and four police technicians who process crime scenes, Jones said.
Jones said the city is looking at alternative ways to generate revenue including using red light cameras. Police officials said one vendor has estimated putting lights at four intersections could generate $750,000, but Assistant Chief David Harris said that amount would probably drastically drop after the first year as motorists got used to the cameras being at specific lights.
Council Chairwoman Dawn Pardo voted against raising the tax rate, asking what residents paid taxes for if it wasn't for public safety.
She said that if the city raised the tax rate to almost $9 and the economy keeps getting worse, it could soon find itself against the state-mandated property tax limit of $10 per $1,000 of taxable value.
"I don't like that we're dangling public safety in front of our residents and putting it on their backs," Pardo said. "When does it stop."