Copyright 2003, South Florida Sun-Sentinel. All Rights Reserved.

After hearing complaints about excessive spending from members of a watchdog group, Palm Beach County commissioners voted 4-2 Monday for a $2.57 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that begins next week. Commissioner Tony Masilotti, who voted no two weeks ago and switched to yes Monday, said he was convinced that the spending plan is fairly lean — and that most of the increase isn’t coming from property taxes but from other sources such as impact fees paid by developers.

The two commissioners with the longest tenure, Karen Marcus and Mary McCarty, voted no.

Both said they were unhappy that the state is forcing the county to pay a minimum of $2.67 million a year out of local property taxes for the new Regional Transportation Authority.

McCarty said she also objected to spending $43,000 of property tax money toward support of the Palm Beach International Film Festival.

Six members of the South Florida chapter of Citizens for a Sound Economy said that was too much money.

John Earley of Loxahatchee recommended cutting Palm Tran, the county bus system. John Brooks of North Palm Beach targeted subsidies for arts organizations, which he said “are used by a very small number of Palm Beach County residents but are supported by taxpaying families.”

County Administrator Bob Weisman disagreed with the contention that there is massive waste but acknowledged spending has gone up faster than inflation and population.

The spending plan approved Monday represents $2,067 per resident, 37 percent higher than the $1,506 per resident spent in the fiscal 1997 net budget of $1.512 billion.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site reports inflation during that time was 17.6 percent. If county spending increased at that rate, it would now total $1,772 per person.

Weisman said voters have approved many of the increases, such as library and park construction and purchase of environmentally sensitive land so it can be preserved.

He said programs that get money from the federal government, such as Head Start and AIDS assistance, account for much of the higher spending.

County coffers have benefited from the continued boom in property values and construction of new homes. Even though the tax rate for general operations is steady at $4.50 for every $1,000 of taxable value, the county is taking in more money because of higher total property values.

The general fund is estimated to take in $443.6 million from property taxes in the new fiscal year, up from $397.6 million in the current budget.

The owner of a $200,000 home with a $25,000 homestead exemption would pay $787.50. Because increases to owner-occupied residential property are limited by state law, Budget Director Liz Bloeser said, homeowners would see increases of around 2.4 percent in their tax bills.

Anthony Man can be reached at or 561-832-2905.