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Shores to hold line on property taxes


Unlike Orchid, its neighbor to the north that is proposing a huge increase in the property tax rate, the Town of Indian River Shores released a preliminary budget last week that maintains last year’s tax rate, while investing in a major new amenity and beefing up clerical staff to handle growing demands.

The stable property tax rate of $1.71 per thousand dollars of non-homestead, taxable property value is expected to bring in $4.56 million in property tax receipts, to be supplemented by the Town’s slice of revenue sharing from various statewide imposed taxes and fees for a total of $5.65 million in anticipated town revenues.

The Shores’ biggest operating expense is the triple-trained Public Safety Department, which provides police, fire and emergency medical services. That department is budgeted for $4.1 million in the coming year. Revenues from traffic tickets and insurance reimbursements offset that by $128,000, with the balance coming mostly from property taxes.

One major downward trend reflected in the budget is in the area of legal expenses. In the 2014 and 2015 fiscal years, at the height of the legal and regulatory battle over Vero’s electric franchise with the Shores, the Town spent $631,000 and $492,000 respectively in legal fees with the Tallahassee firm of Holland and Knight and its rate consultants. In the current year, the Shores budgeted $717,000 to continue its legal battles before deciding to drop litigation and complaints before the Florida Public Service Commission. As a result, projected legal fees this year are only $138,000, with that number going down to $98,000 in the year ending Sept. 30, 2018.

The Town’s postal center costs about a quarter-million dollars annually to operate and staff, and the Shores spends about $160,000 per year to maintain the Town cemetery.

A half-million dollars set aside in a capital fund for the new Indian River Shores Community Center, which is set to break ground in March 2018, is the major addition to the new budget; $450,000 to pay for the Town’s new monopine cell tower is included in the current budget year ending Sept. 30.

At the close of the budget year, barring any serious storm-related expenses, the Town would have nearly $2.7 million in reserves – roughly $2 million of that for emergencies and the balance in an unassigned reserve fund. The published budget does not contemplate how the Town might use or invest the $4.48 million in proceeds it expects to receive after closing on the recently-auctioned 5.2 acre oceanside parcel.

Town Manager Robbie Stabe said he did not include any benefit from those proceeds in the budget because they are non-recurring funds.

The Town’s Finance Committee took its first stab at the budget on May 8, and, if anything, expenses would go down based upon its suggested changes. Stabe said the committee balked at a 3 percent cost of living increase that had been budgeted for non-union employees and also at increasing the administrative staff by moving a part-time assistant assigned to the Town Manager to full-time and adding another assistant for the Town Clerk. The Finance Committee wants both assistants to be part-time, as to not incur benefits and pension costs, but Mayor Brian Barefoot said he stands by Stabe’s request for the additional support staff at a cost of $24,000. Stabe said the cost of living increase item “will be removed from the budget sent to the Town Council.”

The Shores budget workshop is set for 9 a.m. June 29, but the Town Council will have a total of three meetings on the budget in the coming months before a final vote on Sept. 28.