Budget addresses way to drive down long-term pension costs
What a difference a budget year makes. Without much fanfare late last month, the Town Council approved an $82.4 million budget for 2018-19 that is praiseworthy for what it does and doesn’t do. What it does is tackle one of the town’s biggest problems, the exasperating pension shortfall. What it didn’t do is divide the council as in the last budget year, which led to a turnover at the top of Palm Beach government.
First things first. The just-approved 2018-19 budget contains a 5.3 percent increase in property taxes, which will pump $2.7 million more into town coffers — a total of $54.2 million. Though the budget calls for cutting the property tax rate from $3.20 per $1,000 of taxable value to $3.13 per $1,000 (which is meritorious in itself), revenue will still climb because property values are forecast to increase by an average of 7.75 percent.
With the extra funds, the council will smartly bolster payments into the town’s retirement fund in an effort to drive down long-term pension costs. The budget calls for pumping $16.3 million into the pension program, an increase of $1.4 million over the last budget year, as part of a plan to eliminate a long-term unfunded liability in as few as 10 years.
In July, when the then-proposed budget was first presented to the council, members applauded it, which is in stark contrast to the 2017-18 $80.5 million budget, which was approved only by a 3-2 vote as some members sought more spending cuts. The council was critical of thenTown Manager Tom Bradford’s handling of the budget as well as Mr. Bradford’s failure to deliver a pension report that some said was urgently important to its decisions when putting together a budget — and soon afterward the board voted not to extend his contract.
Town Manager Kirk Blouin, Finance Director Jane Le Clainche and Deputy Town Manager Jay Boodheshwar should be praised for their work on the just-approved budget. While Mr. Bradford was a true professional who wanted only the best for the town, it was nice not to see the infighting and rancor this time around.
Indeed, what a difference a budget year makes.