Much like every city, West Palm Beach has a budget. This budget keeps schools running, makes monitoring crime easier and more effective for police officers and even maintains the road system; most residents do not understand the intricacies of the budget.
“I don’t know anything about the City of West Palm Beach’s budget process,” Gabriel Hajjar, a resident of West Palm Beach said. “I don’t, because it was never mentioned to me and I never asked about.”
For West Palm Beach, the 2019 fiscal year budget of $186.4 million will be 4.8 percent more than last year’s $177.8 million.
This budget helps officials run the city by maintaining the community parks and recreational facilities, providing additional police vehicles and much more.
But many locals in West Palm Beach do not know how the budget is subsequently divided amongst areas of need in the city.
So how does all this work?
The biggest money allotment is for public safety: 32 percent for police and 22 percent for firefighters makes a total of just over $100 million, parks and recreation takes $18.6 million and public works takes $16.6 million. All the other city departments combined take up the remaining 27 percent.
The city commissioners took a final vote Thursday to set the property tax rate at $8.47 for every $1,000 of taxable value. That is about the same as last year, but if home value increased, as most did, the bill will rise.
A homeowner with a house appraised at $200,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption will pay $1,271 in city taxes before additional assessments are factored in, such as the $50 fire assessment fee. Without a homestead exemption, the homeowner would pay $1,695.
West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio says the police
and fire department budget is larger than the city budget.
“Property taxes as a homeowner pays only cover about 40 percent of the budget. That doesn’t even cover the police and the fire department,” Muoio said. “So [the city] collects about $77 million in property taxes. The budget for the police and the fire department is larger than that.”
But one person who seemed to fully understand this process, Sean Scott, co-owner of Subculture Coffee, noted the new budget includes millions of dollars that are available for West Palm Beach citizens.
Where do those dollars come from?
Some come from our property taxes, and the water, garbage and utility fees we each pay. Other funds come from state and federal grants and the bonds which taxpayers, pay back over time.
“Why not spend some of that to improve public safety and address the homelessness problem downtown?” Scott said. “If we have funds, I don’t understand why this isn’t tackled more aggressively.”
Even though a few citizens do take advantage of going to the budget meetings, most people do not know it is an open process.
The best way to know what happens to the money of taxpayers is to attend or watch public hearings.
“For the 12 years that I have been involved, it is very rare to have anyone come to the formal budget hearing.” Muoio said.
For West Palm Beach commissioners and officials, the budget tells a story about the future. But for many locals, it is just another number.