City to add 70 new employees in 2015-2016 budget

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By Dale King  The Pineapple Contributing Writer City government continues to pull away from the financial, personnel and service cutbacks demanded by the recession that strangled municipal spending a few years ago. City Manager Leif Ahnell said Boca Raton will be hiring 70 employees this coming fiscal year, in addition to the 35 new workers brought on board last year. The city’s administrator explained the budget proposal for fiscal 2015-2015 to guests at a Greater Boca Raton Chamber of Commerce breakfast during Boca Festival Days in August. While the city will increase employee rolls and add dollars for most departments, the tax rate will remain virtually the same as it has since before the recession. In fact, the millage rate in the spending package that will go into effect Oct. 1 is 3.6799 mills per $1,000 valuation, a drop of just over .03 mills per $1,000 from fiscal year 2014-15. “The owner of a home with a taxable value of $300,000 will pay $1,103.97 in property taxes this coming year,” said Ahnell. Local homeowners will have two chances this month to comment on the city’s proposed budget before the City Council approves the financial package. Public hearings are scheduled on Thursdays, Sept. 10 and Sept. 17, at 6 p.m. in the council chambers of City Hall. This coming year, the city will benefit from a 7.62 percent increase in property values – the fourth year in a row they have gone up. Values tanked during the recession when Boca Raton had to cut as many as 192 jobs in one budget year. At that time, and during the Chamber breakfast, Ahnell repeated that it should take eight to 10 years to totally overcome the impact of the recession. The city manager developed his spending plan to meet priorities set by the City Council at goal-setting sessions held in the spring. Guiding principles include a financially sound city government, world-class municipal services and a strong partnership with the community. Top-of-the-list proposals include a comprehensive waterfront plan, additional downtown parking and a parking garage and strategies for the airport, the beach and the park district. Proposals also include a 20th Street development and overlay district to address a once-dilapidated part of the city that is seeing new growth from construction of student apartments for Florida Atlantic University. The addition of 34 new positions will increase the budget $2.145 million. This segment of the total job list includes two building inspectors, two senior code enforcement officers, a police evidence custodian, five police officers, four firefighter/ EMTs, conversion of six part-time library assistants to three full-timers and conversion of four part-time park rangers to two full-time rangers. A new park ranger supervisor also will be added. Boca Raton will also add three employees to remove vines and intrusive plants around the city. Ahnell also explained that three new positions were created for a rental registration program. “We plan to present this proposal to the council in the fall,” he said. The purpose is to determine “what renters are doing and bring them all into compliance.” The city manager is adding one maintenance supervisor and 15 groundskeepers to maintain roadway medians as part of the Right-of-Way Beautification Fund. In addition, seven new positions will be filled at the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District – a science educator, senior aquarist, office assistant, the aforementioned three park rangers and a front of the house coordinator. With additional staff in and around City Hall, Ahnell is also looking for more space. He said the old downtown library is being renovated to house about 100 employees. Also, City Hall will be upgraded – it’s the first time that has been done since 1980. The fire assessment fee for 2015-16 remains unchanged at $85 a year for residential property. The cost for non-residential homes varies depending on the size and type. The sanitation fee for trash collection is unchanged as well for single family home curbside pickup, but goes up 50 cents to $10.25 for those who live in multifamily residences.