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Boca Raton property taxes may increase by more than 17 percent

Prepare to pay more property taxes next year in Boca Raton.

The city may need to raise property taxes by as much as 17.55 percent to maintain its current level of services, the City Council acknowledged last week.

“Nobody wants to charge anybody any more money for things, but there are so many costs that are out of our control that we can’t provide basic services at [the current] rate,” City Manager Leif Ahnell said.

The city is facing an $8 million budget shortfall for the 2011-12 fiscal year, he said.

“We’re not talking about opening teen centers, keeping Spanish River Park open or increasing library hours,” Ahnell said. “We’re simply talking about keeping going what we have right now.”

An increase to $3.55 per $1,000 of assessed value would generate $7.4 million, officials said. The owner of a home assessed at $300,000 would be charged $1,065 in city property taxes.

Even with the increase, more cuts and increased fees would be neessary, Mayor Susan Whelchel said during three days of planning priorities last week.

“Before we cut a library out or before we start closing parks, etc., we really do need to look to other revenue sources,” she said.

Property taxes account for about 40 percent of city revenues, and property-tax revenues have declined about $7.7 million from highs in 2007.

Last year, the city increased the tax rate by 10 percent to pay off debt, and still laid off workers, slashed hours at libraries and parks and eliminated economic-development funding to make ends meet.

The city has laid off 107 full-time workers and 84 part-time workers since 2008. Council members said they are opposed to more layoffs and want only limited service cuts in 2011-12.

“From everything that we’ve been hearing the past few days, even if there is some shifting around, we’re going to need the same amount of staff,” Councilman Mike Mullaugh said.

Funding economic development next year was a top priority among council members, but few were willing to increase taxes for it.

“We have 3 million square feet of unrented commercial space in Boca Raton,” Councilman Anthony Majhess said. “We need to do something to get that space filled, to bring in jobs and tax dollars.”

More annexations might be one answer to bringing in more money.

“As we are talking about revenue sources, there’s a certain recurring amount of money that annexation can bring in each year,” Mullaugh said. “That money could be dedicated to economic development.”


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