As poverty hits a 52 week high with 46.2 million people living below the poverty line, the Lake Worth City Commission did the right thing by its people last night. It voted down the 17% proposed rate hike in garbage fees. Many of those who live here are a part of the poverty statistic. They have lost their jobs, lost their homes or businesses, living on fixed incomes or struggling to pay the rent and high electric bills.
With North Palm Beach, Palm Springs, PB Gardens, Wellington and Greenacres to name a few that are holding their millage at last year's rate, Lake Worth still has raised many taxes and wants to raise its millage by 7% over roll-back rate. The Fire Assessment of $60 per parcel will be heard on September 22.
The commission chamber was packed. There was a room full of people who seldom or never go to commission meetings--new faces who showed up to let the Commission know of their displeasure. Cesar Figueroa, part of my extended family, was literally escorted out by an armed sheriff deputy. He didn't care. He was just plain furious. He has been struggling just to hold on to his business in this economy and all he saw were people trying to grab what little cash he has. Cesar said, "Small businesses are being annihilated. We are unemployed because there is not enough economy and we can't meet these increases and taxes imposed by Lake Worth." The very fact that new faces confronted the Commission spoke volumes and it made them listen and act.
From Palm Beach County to Lake Worth, people are in an uproar regarding tax increases. Labor costs have been steadily growing beyond sustainability during this depression. Not one citizen understands why public safety takes more than half of the operating budget. No one understands why pension costs have escalated beyond common sense and beyond their capability to pay for the very services they need.
In Lake Worth, we have seen budgets cut, lay-offs, the closing of our pool, our museum, and shockingly learn that for the past several years, we were operating beyond our means and burning all our cash reserves. We wonder how other cities operate more efficiently and why we can't manage our money especially when we have our own Utility and worry about the multi-millions spent there. We wonder why the City has to raise so many taxes as all property values have gone down throughout the County, not just Lake Worth and other cities are managing better.
The Neighborhood Associations have become much more active and giving back with their time and labor to clean up yards and helping the guy who lives next door. The residents of Lake Worth have always been ready to defend their neighborhoods and their friends. During these difficult times, it will be up to the neighborhoods, as Code Enforcement clearly has not worked.
A lot of us have come together during these difficult times. We all hope that the City Commission will appreciate the hardships that a majority of us are enduring every day. We ask them to consider that when the vote comes up on the fire pension tax on September 22 that will be a burden to 77% of the property owners in Lake Worth who will be paying more as City manager Susan Stanton wants to "democratize" the rate (everyone paying the same regardless of ability or income).