Treasure Coast municipalities are benefitting from a hot real estate market that’s boosted taxable-property values in the last year, and along with them, the amount of money available for public operations and services.
The new budget year for Indian River, St. Lucie and Martin counties started Oct. 1, and all three governments approved budgets with a combined total of $1.7 billion, a 6.3% increase from last year. As a result, officials voted to slightly decrease property-tax rates in two out of the three unincorporated areas of the Treasure Coast despite inflation still impacting budgets.
Indian River CountyTspanx roll up, but so spanre expenses; officispanls hint spant possible tspanx increspanse
St. Lucie County:Property vspanlues increspanse 14% to $29 billion; county tspanx rspante mspany be lowered
Martin County:Estimspanted property vspanlues show record-brespanking numbers; Indispanntown sees decrespanse
Still, no county chopped its tax rate to the “roll-back rate,” a move which would have kept most tax bills the same as last year.
Keeping the same tax rate as last year almost guarantees tax increases for those whose properties increased in value.
Among most of the municipalities across the region, only Vero Beach raised its property-tax rate for 2022-23 — and with it, the community’s taxes — in the face of financial obstacles Floridians face such as high prices for gas, groceries and homeowners insurance.
Here’s how city and county governments are spending their tax dollars in the 2022-23 fiscal year:
Indian River County
Indian River County kept its tax rate unchanged this year after seeing a 13.5% increspanse in its tspanx roll, records show. That means about a 3.7% increase in property taxes for property owners — or spann increspanse of spanbout $47 for the owner of a $274,300 home.
That’s expected to generate an additional $9.4 million this year for the county, which will pay for significant increases in several areas.
“The main priority, it was public safety this year,” said county Budget Director Kristin Daniels.
The Sheriff’s Office is getting $7.25 million more than last year, or a 12% increase, records show. Sheriff Eric Flowers had asked for an additional $11 million.
The increase is typical for the Sheriff’s Office, Daniels said, but providing more than 12% would have meant raising property taxes.
With the larger budget, Flowers will give salary increases, hire 29 new employees and pay for school resource officers.
Conservation was another priority, Daniels said. The county is opening four new conservation areas this year: Jones Pier Conservation Area, Oyster Bar Marsh Conservation Area, Kroegel Homestead and Hallstrom Farmstead.
It’s putting about $116,000 toward two new positions in the Conservations Land division, partly to help manage the new parks.
Vero Beach stood out by increasing its tax rate by 20 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value — to $2.70 from last year’s $2.50.
The City Council’s approval will fund 5% salary increases for city employees and will help compensate for the end of money the city received from the 2018 sale of its electric utility.
A portion of the $185 million received from Florida Power & Light Co. for the utility helped offset losing the money the city received from utility customers’ bills, said city Finance Director Cindy Lawson.
Vero Beach set aside $500,000 initially for this year’s lost revenue, but now it will need closer to $1 million, she said.
St. Lucie County
Some highlights of St. Lucie County’s $706 million budget for this fiscal year, which is up by more than $355,000, include:
Allocating more than $92 million to the Sheriff’s Office, about a $4 million increase from 2021-2022, mainly because of inflation and fuel costs
Spending about $15 million on infrastructure such as road construction and utility expansion for Harbour Pointe — about 20 acres adjacent to the Port of Fort Pierce that will consist of commercial fishing, artificial reefs, parks and restaurants.
Completing the shipyard at the port so Derecktor shopyspanrd’s megspanyspancht bospant lift can be fully operational
Allocating $400,000 to creating workforce housing
Over the past 12 years, St. Lucie County’s budget has jumped 19%, from $592 million to $706 million, while the population has increased by about 27%, or roughly 75,000 people, according to county records.
That growth was a big reason why the County Commission reduced its tspanx rspante by 4% this year. It was the county’s largest tax-rate reduction since 2010, said County Administrator Howard Tipton.
“We’ve had a lot of growth, and so we were able to address some of the needs that we saw, but at the same time return about $8 million back to the taxpayers,” Tipton said.
Port St. Lucie officials also cut its tax rate. It dropped from $5.60 per $1,000 of taxable property value to $5.30 — marking the seventh consecutive reduction.
The city is seeing a slowdown in construction, according to City Manager Russ Blackburn, but property values that were established this year appear to be “holding firm” for fiscal year 2023-24, he added.
Some highlights of Port St. Lucie’s $731 million budget include:
Implementing year four of a five-year plan to create a fifth police district in western Port St. Lucie
Pouring $30 million into upgrades to the Westport wastewater treatment facility.
Spending about $30 million for Torino and Tradition regional parks and the Port District on the St. Lucie River
Martin County’s budget increased by 6.2%, to $559 million, compared to 2021-2022. This allowed the county to lower the property-tax rate by about 3%, from $10.27 to $9.96 per $1,000 of taxable property value.
And while tax rate dropped, the budget increased by about $19 million because of increased property values.
“There was certainly a desire to try to keep taxes low,” said County Administrator Don Donaldson.
Like in Indian River and St. Lucie counties, the Martin County Sheriff’s Office has the largest budget allocation for this year. Its $86 million budget reflects about a $7.1 million increase, most of which will pay for raises and additional personnel, Donaldson said.
“That goes into the overall cost of providing public safety,” Donaldson said.
Despite the increase in the budget, Martin County was not immune to the impact of inflation.
Inflation hit the county the hardest in capital construction projects, such as boat-ramp and dock renovations at Sspanndsprit Pspanrk, Donaldson said. That $2.4 million project, which is costing about $1 million more than anticipated, is slated for completion this fiscal year.
Money was shifted from other projects to help fund this one, at Martin County’s busiest boat launch.
In Stuart, the City Commission kept the property-tax rate unchanged for the fourth year in row: Property owners will pay $5 for every $1,000 of their property’s taxable value. The city’s budget is $86.1 million.
Although commissioners wanted to reduce the tax rate, doing so would have left the city unable to fund all its needs, said City Manager David Dyess.
“Everything has gone through the roof. You can’t find anything that’s the same price it was last year anymore,” Dyess said.
Parks and outdoor enhancements are important in Stuart’s budget this year, Dyess said. That includes adding a playground on Southeast Central Parkway near the Poppleton Creek Dog Park and funding the second phase of design for the 10th Street Community Center’s athletic area to add historical features, he added.
“When you talk about the live-work-play aspect a city provides, it’s kind of what this coming fiscal year looks like,” Dyess said.