Another weekend. Another visit by President Donald Trump. And now, another idea about how to cover the escalating costs of those trips to Palm Beach County.
Commissioner Steven Abrams has asked County Attorney Denise Nieman and County Administrator Verdenia Baker to look into using bed tax revenue to defray the cost of assisting with security and managing road closures during the president’s trips to his Mar-a-Lago mansion on Palm Beach.
Last month, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw estimated those costs had already reached $1.4 million.
Bradshaw and other county officials have asked the federal government for reimbursement, but, so far, those pleas have been unheeded.
Commissioner Dave Kerner floated the idea last week of imposing a special tax on Mar-a-Lago’s owner – Trump – that would be linked to the cost of providing roadway management and additional security during the president’s trips here.
Kerner was quoted in The Washington Post today noting that the same law enforcement resources needed during Trump trips are the same ones that are needed to combat the growing opioid and heroin epidemic.
“Those are real issues: keeping cops off the street and diminishing our opioid epidemic response,” Kerner told The Washington Post.
While Kerner’s idea would shift the cost of Trump-related expenses to Trump, bed tax money would come from the county’s tourists.
That money is currently used for other county purposes.
The 4th District Court of Appeal has ruled that area cities don’t have to contribute to an inspector general program established by Palm Beach County after voters approved a referendum calling for such a program.
That referendum was approved in November 2010 by a majority of voters in the county and by a majority in each of the county’s municipalities.
But after the county created the Office of Inspector General in 2011 – and required cities to help pay for it – 15 cities sued, arguing the county could not force them to pay for the program.
The county won the first legal battle when a trial court ruled that funding the program was not a discretionary budgetary decision and that the county could compel municipal payment for it.
The cities appealed, and today the 4th District Court of Appeal ruled in their favor, setting the stage for the case to go to the Florida Supreme Court.
Asked if the county will take the case to the state Supreme Court, County Attorney Denise Nieman said: “We’re exploring our options.”
Inspector General John Carey said he’s “deeply disappointed” by the ruling.
“My disappointment is that we must continue to provide the OIG oversight to the County and all municipalities at approximately half staff,” he said.
West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio said the ruling reaffirms that cities have the right to determine how municipal funding is spent.
“It can not be imposed on us by the county,” she said.
Longtime Palm Beach County Attorney Denise Marie Nieman has made it official, turning in her paperwork to start the 5-year process toward retirement.
It actually was County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay who spilled the beans at Tuesday’s commission meeting that Nieman this week had signed the documents starting the clock. She praised Nieman for her three decades with the county.
Nieman confirmed afterward that, while she can leave before that, she’s now committed to that 5-year deadline under the county’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP).
Palm Beach County Attorney Denise Nieman has asked Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi for advice on how money from a fire rescue sales tax increase could be used.
Plans for a fire rescue sales tax hike were scrapped earlier this year when county commissioners raised questions about the state law that allows counties to raise the sales tax and decrease property taxes by the same amount. Commissioners would have to agree to put the sales tax increase on the ballot.
Some fire rescue officials had backed such a tax “swap” as a way to reduce reliance upon property taxes and get tourists to pay a share of fire rescue costs. But commissioners – contemplating a separate sales tax increase to pay for repairs to roads, bridges and buildings – balked at the prospect of having two sales tax increases on the ballot, especially with questions about how the fire rescue tax swap works.
Supporters of the fire rescue tax swap stood down, agreeing to hold off on their plans while clarity was sought from Bondi’s office.
Nieman sent a letter to the attorney general on Monday asking a series of questions about the state law that allows fire rescue tax swaps.
The law was passed in 2009, but no county has tried to implement a fire rescue tax swap.
There is no specific timetable for a response from Bondi’s office.
During a joint meeting to smooth over differences, Palm Beach County commissioners and school board members agreed on a joint plan to raise the county’s 6-cent sales tax by a penny on the dollar.
Commissioners and school board members had previously agreed on the broad outlines of the tax increase, which would generate $2.7 billion over 10 years for repairs to roads, bridges, schools and county buildings. School board members expressed concern, however, when commissioners changed the plan, stripping out a combined $161 million in funding for cultural projects and for economic development incentives.
On Tuesday at Palm Beach State College’s Lake Worth campus, commissioners and school board members agreed to a revised plan, which includes a provision to end the tax early if $2.7 billion is generated earlier than 10 years.
An attorney general’s opinion is being sought to clarify a key aspect of a 2009 law allowing governments to raise their sales tax to pay for fire rescue services while reducing property taxes used for that purpose.
The Professional Firefighters and Paramedics of Palm Beach County Local 2928 has pushed the tax swap, but county commissioners and County Attorney Denise Nieman have raised questions about how excess sales tax revenue could be used.
The law says sales tax revenue is to be used for fire rescue services and requires governments to cut property taxes by the same amount generated by the sales tax hike.
What’s not clear, commissioners say, is what happens if the sales tax hike raises more money than it costs to pay for fire rescue services. Commissioners fear they would have to cut property taxes – and the services they pay for – while excess sales tax money piles up, untouchable because fire rescue services are covered.
Union officials have said the law would allow governments to use the sales tax revenue. Commissioners aren’t so sure.
Nieman and a lawyer for the union met on Friday and could not come to agreement on the law. They did agree to seek an opinion from the attorney general.
“It is difficult to predict with any certainty when or even if the attorney general will issue an opinion,” Nieman wrote to commissioners.
The fire rescue sales tax would have to be approved by voters through a referendum, but commissioners would first have to agree to place it on the ballot.
Union officials say they want to go to voters in August. Commissioners are exploring the idea of having a separate sales tax increase on the ballot in November. That sales tax increase would raise money for roads, bridges, buildings and school equipment.