By Mary Thurwachter
South Palm Beach is suffering budget woes, and they have nothing to do with money or expenses. With a new town manager — only two months on the job — and an even newer financial consultant putting the budget together in such a short time, the struggle is real.
Nevertheless, to give input on a budget, Town Council members need a budget proposal. And they didn’t get one ahead of their Aug. 29 workshop.
Council members got their agenda packets with worksheets and a copy of the budget for the current year, but no proposed budget. That left Mayor Bonnie Fischer astounded and unhappy.
“We don’t have what we need,” Fischer said, addressing Town Manager Jamie Titcomb at the workshop. “It’s your job to provide us with a proposed budget, not our job to craft it.”
At Fischer’s suggestion, the council by consensus called for a recess until 2 p.m. Sept. 5. That way members would have time to view and make changes or additions before the first public hearing on Sept. 12. The second hearing is Sept. 25. Hearings begin at 5:01 p.m. in the council chambers.
Titcomb reminded the council he had been manager since only June 5 and said he has his own way of doing a budget and wasn’t a big fan of the way things had been done before.
“We are diligently narrowing the numbers for the next fiscal year,” he said. “We are also concurrently working on the option of grants, bids and process to hopefully leverage and extend the town’s reach toward a new community facility here. FY2024 should prove to be a good planning, funding, bidding and project implementation year toward the town vision.”
Titcomb, who is a part-time employee, came aboard a week after the previous, full-time manager left. And Ron Bennett, the new financial consultant, began soon after — although he is familiar with the town because he served as its auditor in the past.
At the workshop, two council members, Raymond McMillan and Robert Gottlieb, away since May, participated by phone. Bennett, unable to be there due to illness, also attended by phone. Council members Bill LeRoy and Monte Berendes joined Fischer on the dais.
“This is a planning and implementation year budgetarily and operationally,” Titcomb said in an email before the workshop. “The Town Council has been consistent with narrative for moving forward on a redesign and rebuilding of a new Town Hall and community center complex.
“There are a lot of moving parts to such a project, thus I intend to work with council on setting the building blocks in place to effectuate this significant public project. We are collaboratively engaged in setting up process, bidding protocols and funding mechanisms to move forward on a new Town Hall.”
Near the meeting’s end, Vice Mayor LeRoy asked: “Where do we go from here?”
“That depends on when Jamie can have the budget ready,” Fischer said.
“I can have it by the end of the week,” Titcomb answered. But the council agreed to resume the workshop at 2 p.m. Sept. 5, a week before the first public hearing.
Titcomb said he would build the budget using the current millage rate of $3.45 per $1,000 of assessed value, a rate the council could choose to lower at the Sept. 12 hearing. The council is not allowed to vote during workshops.
According to state law, a tentative budget must be posted on a municipality’s website at least two days before the scheduled budget hearing. Florida sets Oct. 1 as the start of the fiscal year for each municipality.