County picks Texas firm to oversee sales tax projects

A Dallas-based firm with offices in Palm Beach Gardens has been selected as the project manager for the vast array of projects that will be paid for with money from the sales tax increase voters approved in November.

Jacobs Project Management beat out two other firms for the right to track and report the sales tax projects and provide information to the citizens oversight committee, a county-approved body that will monitor sales tax expenditures.

Commissioners ratified Jacobs’ selection Tuesday, authorizing County Administrator Verdenia Baker to begin negotiating a consulting fee with Jacobs.

That fee could be substantial, as the county expects its portion of the sales tax increase to be about $810 million over the next decade for upgrades to parks, roads, bridges and county-owned buildings.

Commissioners, with input from county staff members, will retain final say over which firms will be selected to undertake the sales tax work.

Jacobs will provide project updates to the oversight committee and to county staff.

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Sales tax increase in effect in PBC

Happy New Year. Now fork over that extra penny.

Palm Beach County’s sales tax went from 6 cents on the dollar to 7 cents on the dollar on January 1, and stores – like this one in Wellington – are already collecting the extra penny, which is expected to generate $2.7 billion over the next 10 years for upgrades to parks, roads, schools and county buildings.

The School District of Palm Beach County will get half of that $2.7 billion, with the county getting 30 percent and cities getting the final 20 percent.

The county has a long list of projects it plans to undertake with its chunk of the loot. A 19-person committee will soon be selected to oversee county spending on the projects.

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County approves committee to oversee sales tax projects

Palm Beach County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to establish a 19-member committee that will oversee projects paid for with money from the sales tax increase voters approved last month.

The committee members, to be selected by commissioners and various community organizations, must be Palm Beach County residents and would serve three-year terms.

The sales tax increase is expected to generate $2.7 billion over the next decade to repair roads, bridges, schools and county-owned buildings. Half of the money would go to the School District of Palm Beach County. The county gets 30 percent, and cities would get the remaining 20 percent.

Check back with http://www.mypalmbeachpost.com later today for more on this story.

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County thanks voters for approving increase in sales tax

Palm Beach County is offering thanks to county residents who earlier this month voted to approve a 10-year increase in the sales tax from 6 cents on the dollar to 7 cents on the dollar.

That thank you is carried on the county’s redesigned website, where residents get a breakdown of how the roughly $2.7 billion in additional sales tax money will be distributed.

The county will get 30 percent of the money, which it plans to spend rebuilding parks, roads, bridges and county buildings. Cities will get 20 percent, and the School District of Palm Beach County will get the remaining 50 percent.

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Bock says she’ll monitor spending of sales tax money

Sharon Bock, Palm Beach County’s clerk and comptroller, has said her office will designate a special account so money from the recently approved increase in the sales tax can be closely monitored.

“A dedicated staff person will be assigned to monitor the receipts coming in, as well as audit any expenditures from this new fund,” Bock said in a statement released Friday.

She added: “Rest assured that my office will examine and account for every penny that is allocated and spent.”

Voters approved a 10-year increase in the sales tax from 6 cents on the dollar to 7 cents on the dollar. The increase is expected to generate $2.7 billion, with the School District of Palm Beach County getting half of that money, the county getting 30 percent of it and cities getting the remaining 20 percent.

County commissioners and staff have said they’ll use the county’s portion – estimated to be about $810 million – to repair parks, roads, bridges and buildings.

In approving the sales tax plan, commissioners also supported the establishment of citizen oversight committees to make sure the money is spent as originally planned. But Bock said she’ll be watching as well.

“As the official ‘watchdog’ of all county funds, I am constitutionally tasked to provide the necessary ‘checks and balances’ on the county’s budget, revenue and spending,” she said.

Bock’s office does have the power to refuse to release funds if she determines that the spending does not serve a public purpose.

“I know your tax dollars are in good hands,” she said. “We are here to protect and preserve public funds with integrity and accountability.”

Palm Beach County Clerk Sharon Bock (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)
Palm Beach County Clerk Sharon Bock (Damon Higgins / The Palm Beach Post)

 

 

Bonlarron to offer his two cents on one-cent sales tax hike

Politicians conduct listening tours. Over the next month, Assistant Palm Beach County Administrator Todd Bonlarron is heading up a talking tour.

Bonlarron, tapped by County Administrator Verdenia Baker to lead the county’s effort to educate voters on the proposed sales tax increase, is coming to a library near you.

He won’t just be talking sales tax, though. A flier from the county’s library system notes that Bonlarron will discuss ballot initiatives dealing with the homestead tax exemption, solar power and medical marijuana.

State law forbids Bonlarron or any other county official from making overt political arguments, but there is no law against telling voters how the county plans to spend its portion of the roughly $2.7 billion the sales tax increase is expected to generate over the next 10 years.

Bonlarron is scheduled to hit two library branches on Thursday – the Jupiter Branch at 2 p.m. and The Acreage branch at 6:30 p.m. He’ll be at the Lantana Road branch at 3 p.m. on Friday, and he’ll resume the tour on Wednesday with a 1 p.m. stop at the West Boynton Branch.

Voters are encouraged to pre-register and can visit the system’s web site to find out when Bonlarron is scheduled to visit a branch in their area.

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Bonlarron

 

Body cameras in the PBC budget?

Palm Beach County’s proposed $4.3 billion budget includes money for lots of things. But it doesn’t include a penny for law enforcement body cameras.

For Commissioner Shelley Vana, that’s a problem.

Vana agreed with a call made by fellow Commissioner Priscilla Taylor that body cameras should be purchased for use by Palm Beach County sheriff’s deputies.

The cameras, supported by some concerned about law enforcement misconduct, were to be bought with money from an increase in the county’s sales tax. However, as the sales tax debate moved forward, the cameras were removed from the sales tax projects list.

During the first of two public hearings on the proposed 2017 county budget Tuesday night, Vana said she thinks money for the cameras ought to be included in the budget.

“I just think that, if we do a budget without body cameras, it sends a message we’re not serious,” Vana said.

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw has said he’d have his deputies wear the body cameras – as long as he didn’t have to account for them in his budget.

Commissioners will hold a final public hearing on the proposed budget on September 19. It’s not clear if commissioners will decided to amend the budge to include the cameras, which, according to County Administrator Verdenia Baker, would cost an estimated $10 million.

Several commissioners have said that, while they are open to the idea of body cameras, they are concerned about ongoing costs associated with their use.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Shelley Vana (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Palm Beach County Commissioner Shelley Vana (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Push to raise PBC sales tax to pick up steam

Now that Tuesday’s primary is over, expect to hear more from Palm Beach County officials about why it’s a great idea to raise the county’s sales tax. Expect to hear a lot more about that.

On Wednesday night, county staff members began circulating a draft copy of a brochure laying out information about the sales tax and reminding readers that “Election Day Is November 8, 2016.”

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County officials can’t make political arguments in favor of raising the sales tax, but they can “educate” voters on what they see as the benefits of an increase. The county will rely on the Economic Council of Palm Beach County for the political push.

The proposed increase from 6 cents on the dollar to 7 cents on the dollar would raise an estimated $2.7 billion over the next 10 years.

That overall figure is not included on the brochure, which was put together by Assistant County Administrator Todd Bonlarron.

The brochure does note that the county would get 30 percent of the proceeds, with cities getting 20 percent and the School District of Palm Beach County getting the remaining 50 percent.

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Also included on the brochure are phrases residents should expect to hear often over the next couple months, including the argument that the funds are to be used on “the three R’s: Repair Restore Replace.”

And, of course, the brochure describes the plan as “one county, one penny.”

Indeed, the county has set up a web site so residents can learn more. The address? www.onecountyonepenny.org.

Bonlarron
Bonlarron

Proposed sales tax increase was great…before it was bad

A direct mail piece doesn’t just rip Palm Beach County property appraiser candidate Shelley Vana for attending what it described as a Donald Trump rally. It doesn’t just say she took gobs of money from developers and then voted for more growth.

The mail piece also says Vana, a county commissioner, voted for “the largest tax increase in Palm Beach County history.”

That vote, taken in May, was to have voters decide whether the county’s sales tax should be raised from 6 cents on the dollar to 7 cents on the dollar. That increase would generate an estimated $2.7 billion over 10 years for repairs to roads, bridges, schools and county buildings.

Vana does back that sales tax increase. Her opponent in the property appraiser’s race, Dorothy Jacks, would not say if she supports the proposed sales tax increase, which will be on the ballot in November.

“I do not think it is proper for me to advocate for or against an issue which does not directly impact the duties and responsibilities of the Property Appraiser’s office,” Jacks said when asked about the sales tax plan in candidate survey from The Palm Beach Post. ” I am glad the voters get a chance to make a decision on this in November.”

Jacks isn’t taking a position on the sales tax proposal, but Rick Asnani, the man behind the anti-Vana flier, was squarely behind the proposal earlier this year.

Working with the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, Asnani made presentations and pushed hard in favor of what the anti-Vana flier describes as “the largest tax increase in Palm Beach County history.”

When the commission voted not to use sales tax money to pay for projects backed by the Cultural Council, Asnani’s role in the sales tax push diminished.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Shelley Vana (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
Palm Beach County Commissioner Shelley Vana (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

New lighting shines brightly on county commissioners

Palm Beach County government is operating in a whole new light today.

Guess that’s what new lighting can do. New lighting was installed in the 6th-floor chambers of the Weisman Government Center where county commissioners meet.

Those lights were shining brightly when commissioners began their meeting this morning, but county staff say the building is in need of more substantial repairs, which could be made with money from an increase in the sales tax. (That’s if voters pass the sales tax referendum.)

new lighting installed in County Commission chambers
new lighting installed in County Commission chambers (Wayne Washington/The Palm Beach Post)