John R. Smith: Taxes Are Choking Palm Beach County Taxpayers

The big problem with taxes in Palm Beach County is not the millage rates. That’s only part of the problem. What’s choking taxpayers and businesses is the smothering total tax burden from all government sources. The amount of tax money raised overall from all sources of revenue and spent by Palm Beach County, the school district, the municipalities, and the Special Taxing Districts is extremely revealing and troubling. Local government taxes, fees, and regulations are ballooning. The taxes being collected and spent in this county are abnormally high, both in comparative and absolute terms. In short, the problem is the hundreds of taxes, fees, and levies that are charged overall, and the total dollar amount of taxes paid.

This not only includes ad valorem taxes and the 501 taxes/fees/charges that the county can levy in addition to ad valorem. It is other charges, such as the bed tax, sales taxes, gas tax, Infrastructure Surtax, impact fees, library tax, code enforcement tax, public service tax, tangible property taxes, school district (2 taxes), the 186 Special Taxing Districts, fire-rescue taxes, business occupational license taxes, building permit fees, zoning fees, Tangible Property tax, Local Business tax, Children’s Services Council, Health Care District, Water Management District, Everglades Forever tax, franchise fees, fire inspection fees. And on and on. Then the municipalities stretch open their maw, piling on with their taxes.

Palm Beach County is flush with money and reserve accounts. In recent years the county has increased its annual budget by double digits—– the average increase the last 2 years is 16 .1% and the average of the last 3 years is 14.2%. Last time I counted, there are 186 Special Taxing Districts that operate in this county. No other county in the state has a higher gas tax. We impose seven or eight different types of impact fees. Bed taxes are among the highest in the state.

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Palm Beach County government, the school board, most of the municipalities, and other local government agencies do not have a good track record on the issue of reasonable taxes. The buck stops with them, and over the years, the County Commission has been more interested in expanding government and its budgets than solving the problem of overall taxation of its citizens and businesses. Local government revenues and budgets get larger every year and often, it has nothing to do with millage increases. Yet the Commission still votes to collect more money as home and business valuations go up. Either way, millage or valuations, the budget is going up, and the other taxes and fees charged by the Board of County Commissioners are rising also.

The solution? The county should formally adopt a Taxpayer Bill of Rights that caps its tax increases each budget year to no more than the combined total of the percentage of population growth and the county’s CPI index. And, if the county commission reduced its regulatory and permitting burdens on businesses, it could reduce the taxes collected to pay for its regulatory system.

My friends on the County Commission should do this: When local elections are over in March, the Commission needs to establish a task force or a study commission to conduct an in-depth survey and identify all the taxes, fees, costs, levies, charges, and special taxes that collect money for government use. These taxes/fees all need to be justified, but not by the bureaucrat chief who is in charge of spending them. Some of these taxes need to be sunsetted or eliminated. Some of them need to be reduced. Investigations must be conducted to determine if these taxes/costs and the programs being paid for are still justified. Any government agency or department or bureau that receives monies needs to have an independent inspector or auditor perform a cost-benefit analysis of their revenues and expenses—NOT PERFORMED BY THE AGENCY/DEPARTMENT/BUREAU ITSELF.

Most sizable businesses do something similar to this all the time, so why can’t the government do it?

Other stories you may want to read:

Mayor Alexander Cooke Fights For the Soul of Juno Beach

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