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By Marisa Gottesman, Sun Sentinel
McClatchy-Tribune Information Services

Aug. 18--Even though Delray Beach's property tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year is lower than the current rate, folks may find themselves spending more in taxes this year.

Commissioners haven't made many changes to the proposed budget since it was presented in April, but they did set the maximum tax rate residents will be charged -- $7.46 per $1,000 of assessed property value in July.

The new proposed tax rate is 5 cents less than the current rate of $7.51, due to a reduction in what debt the city owes. That means the owners of a $250,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay about $1,492 in city property taxes.

Even with the slight reduction, residents may receive a higher bill. That's because property values are on the upswing. In July, Palm Beach County's property appraiser estimated property values in Delray would increase 9.8 percent.

Currently, the budget hovers around $102 million. Property taxes are slated to cover about $97 million, leaving the city with a $5 million shortfall.

The city is facing a $1.6 million increase to help fund the police and fire pension fund, union employee raises and increases in health insurance costs. There is also a potential $2.6 million increase to help beef up the fire department's staff and fund additional raises to city employees. City officials expect to spend nearly $98 million to keep the city's services up and running.

Commissioner Shelly Petrolia, who was vocal in making budget cuts and changes, said she hasn't been provided enough information to review the latest set of requests from city departments.

"We haven't been given too much yet," she said. "We are going to be seeing an increase by holding the operating millage rate at the same level. Taxpayers are paying for that. It will be interesting to see where that money gets spent."

To help ease the property value increase, commissioners can lower the tax rate before it is officially adopted on Sept. 16. Petrolia said she is hopeful city officials will be able to lower the rate before the deadline.

Residents are invited to Tuesday's commission meeting to voice their opinions on how they want their money to be spent.

Also up for discussion Tuesday is a proposed ban that prevents new pet stores that sell animals from opening in Delray for six months.

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The temporary moratorium intends to give Delray's legal team time to look into how to address the sale of animals from puppy mills.

If given the OK, the ban would not prevent stores that sell accessories, supplies, grooming services or fish from opening.

[email protected], 561-243-6544 or Twitter @marisagottesman


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