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.
In 2010, following a rash of scandals that left the area with the nickname “Corruption County,” voters in each of the county’s cities overwhelmingly approved creation of the office, which provides oversight to local governments covering 13,000 employees and $7.5 billion in combined budgets.
The amount the cities have been assessed since the Inspector General started in 2010, including what they were billed for the budget year that started Oct. 1, is up to $4.9 million, according to figures provided by the county’s budget office to The Palm Beach Post.
Loxahatchee Groves’ contract with its town manager “did not align with the town charter and creates risks for the town,” the Palm Beach County Inspector General said Friday in an audit report that said it found more than $200,000 in questioned costs, and identified “deficiencies and compliance issues.”
The town, which turns 10 next month, contracts out all government services to a private firm.
Town Manager Bill Underwood did tell Inspector General John Carey, in a letter dated Tuesday, and included with the audit, that Carey’s office doesn’t understand well the concept of contracted municipal services. He said Carey’s report “cherry picks” selected documents.
Westlake’s interim city manager, Ken Cassel, told council members on Monday that Minto Communities will cover any budget shortfall for the next five years.
Minto is the largest landowner in Westlake, and, as such, represents nearly all of the new city’s tax base. The developer plans to build at least 4,500 homes in the area.
McKinlay, whose district represents Westlake, has asked Gov. Rick Scott to investigate the circumstances of the city’s incorporation, which some view as a Minto-inspired move that will allow the builder to go beyond the development limits it had agreed to two years ago with the county.
McKinlay wrote Inspector General John Carey on Wednesday, inquiring about “the legality of a landowner funding the same council that will ultimately decide the landowner’s permits, land use and quasi-judicial zoning issues.”