Palm Beach County declares state of emergency


With super powerful Hurricane Irma churning its way toward Florida, Palm Beach County has declared a state of emergency, effective at midnight, County Mayor Paulette Burdick said Tuesday evening.

No evacuations have been ordered in the county, one of a number of South Florida locations where Irma could make landfall this weekend.

County Administrator Verdenia Baker said residents who plan to evacuate should do so “sooner rather than later” to “avoid getting stranded on the highway.”

The county’s 6,000 employees are all considered essential employees and there is no plan to have them stop working before the end of the work week, Baker said, adding that she has no authority to direct other employers to let their workers leave early so that they can begin evacuating in advance of a potential landfall.

As of 5 p.m. Tuesday, Irma was a Category 5 hurricane with sustained winds of 185 miles per hour – a far more powerful storm than Harvey, which lingered over Greater Houston and brought devastating flooding to that area. Irma is one of the strongest Atlantic Ocean hurricanes on record.

Still, Baker said not everyone in the county will need to evacuate.

“Evacuations are based on storm surge, not on wind speed,” she said.

Residents who do not live along the coast and those who don’t live near Lake Okeechobee “do not necessarily need to evacuate.”

The county does anticipate operating shelters, including a special needs shelter for which residents must pre-register.

Special needs residents can pre-register at http://www.pbcgov.com or by calling 561-712-6400.

Baker urged residents to continue monitoring Irma and obtain enough supplies to last for five to seven days.

PBC looks to limit impact of Trump visits on Lantana Airport

Trump (Getty Images)

Palm Beach County has drafted a resolution seeking relief from temporary flight restrictions that impact the Lantana Airport during President Trump’s trips to his Mar-a-Lago mansion on Palm Beach.

The resolution, up for discussion when county commissioners meet on Tuesday, states that: “The frequent imposition of TFRs have resulted in, and will continue to result in, significant losses to the aviation businesses operating at the Lantana Airport.”

Temporary flight restrictions during Trump’s visits have impacted all airports in the county, but they have been particularly costly for the Lantana Airport, located six miles south of West Palm Beach.

A county report in February noted that the airport lost $30,000 in business during one of Trump’s visits.

The county’s resolution directs County Administrator Verdenia Baker or her designee to work with the county’s congressional delegation, the U.S. Secret Service, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Department of Homeland Security to find a way for the Lantana airport to continue operations during Trump’s visits.

It pays to manage a city or a county

Lantana Town Manager Deborah Manzo

When Palm Beach County commissioners recently contemplated extending the contract of County Administrator Verdenia Baker, they had at their disposal a salary survey to show where her pay would slot among peers in different parts of the state.

One consideration, in general terms, is this: the bigger the population of residents, the more responsibility for the county or city manager and, thus, the more loot they should be paid.

Baker’s salary is $273,183 per year – less than her fellow administrator in Broward, which has a larger population than Palm Beach County, and more than fellow administrators in Orange, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties, all of which have smaller populations than Palm Beach County.

But the salary survey didn’t just include county administrator pay. It showed how much some city managers rake in, as well.

Turns out, they rake in quite a bit, regardless of the size of the populations they serve.

Take, for example, Fort Lauderdale’s city manager, who, according the survey, pulls in a hefty $238,222 per year, despite the fact that the city only has 176,013 residents. Miami’s city manager makes $224,663 while the city’s population stands at 417,650.

But those are famous, large cities with complicated challenges, right?

Miramar’s city manager brings in a cool $199,000 overseeing services to a city of 130,288, according to the county survey. Pembroke Pines, with a population of 166,611, pays its city manager $274,996.

No administrators or managers, however, are making out quite as well on the pay-per-population scale as Lantana’s town manager and Palm Beach Gardens’ city manager.

Lantana’s town manager makes $131,586 overseeing services to a town of 10,737 residents. And Palm Beach Gardens’ city manager makes $225,835 to oversee services to 52,923 residents, the survey shows.

That’s more than the $224,789 West Palm Beach pays its city manager. West Palm Beach’s population is 102,436, nearly twice that of Palm Beach Gardens.

Another way for Palm Beach County to pay for Trump visits?

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.

President Donald Trump’s motorcade leaves Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach Saturday afternoon, March 18, 2017. (Bruce R. Bennett / The Palm Beach Post)

» COMPLETE COVERAGE: President Donald Trump in Palm Beach stories, photos, videos

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.

Abrams

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.

» Official: Tax Mar-a-Lago owner to help pay for cost of Trump visits

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.

READ MORE HERE.

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.

sales-tax-pic

County, water management district still at odds over Ag Reserve land

Palm Beach County and the South Florida Water Management District remain at odds over a 571-acre tract of land in the Agricultural Reserve, and the district’s governing board has not accepted the county’s invitation to have a meeting to hash things out.

At issue is whether the county will agree to the district’s request to sell the jointly-owned land in the reserve, a 22,000-acre farming zone located west of Boynton Beach and Delray Beach.

The county, using money from a bond issuance approved by voters, purchased the 571 acres in 2000 with the intent to keep it in preservation or agriculture.

The district later bought a 61 percent stake in it with plans to use the site for a reservoir. But the district has shelved those plans and wants to sell the land.

Some residents, however, are concerned that selling the land to a private party could one day lead to its residential or commercial development. Those residents are not mollified by plans to expand conservation easements aimed at preventing development.

Several commissioners share those concerns and rejected a staff recommendation that they join the district in a sale.

Instead, commissioners directed staff to arrange a meeting with the governing board of the district, which has indicated it will sue the county to force a sale if one isn’t mutually agreed upon.

County Administrator Verdenia Baker reported back to commissioners that the district’s governing board “essentially felt that a meeting would be premature.”

Baker said the district directed its staff to work with their counterparts at the county on three issues: ability to obtain state funding the county would use to buy out the district; identifying a third party/environmental groups to hold the conservation easements and evaluate potential projects on which the district would use proceeds from the sale of the 571 acres.

“Unless we receive objections from the BCC, County Staff intends to work with District Staff to explore these three(3) issues and report back to the Board for further direction at either the February or March meeting,” Baker wrote to commissioners.

Verdenia Baker
Verdenia Baker

 

County seeking reimbursement of Trump costs

Palm Beach County is seeking federal reimbursement for costs associated with escorting and providing security for President-elect Donald Trump, who spent the Thanksgiving holiday at his Mar-A-Lago mansion on Palm Beach.

County Administrator Verdenia Baker said the cost of escorting Trump’s motorcade and providing additional security over the holiday was roughly $250,000.

Baker’s staff is drafting a letter to the county’s U.S. congressional delegation to seek reimbursement. The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office is keeping track of Trump-related costs.

Click here for much more on this story.

Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump. (Getty Images)
President-elect Donald Trump. (Getty Images)

Scott meets with PBC officials, urges vigilance on Hurricane Matthew

After a briefing at the Palm Beach County Emergency Operations Center Monday, Gov. Rick Scott warned Floridians to remain vigilant as Hurricane Matthew bears down on Haiti, Jamaica and Cuba.

“If Matthew impacts Florida, the destruction will be catastrophic, and you will need to be prepared,” Scott said.

Matthew’s projected path initially had the storm staying well west of Florida’s coast, but recent updates now take the storm closer, heightening concerns about effects from a storm packing 140 mile per hour winds.

“These storms can change at the last minute,” Scott said. “They can change directions. They can get stronger.”

Scott met with a range of county officials, including county commissioners, County Administrator Verdenia Baker, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw and Superintendent Robert Avossa. The governor, who has declared a state of emergency for every county and put the Florida National Guard on alert, praised Palm Beach County’s elected officials and emergency personnel, saying they work well together.

Much of Scott’s focus, however, was on urging Floridians to get prepared for the possibility that the storm could change direction and bring its drenching rains and devastating winds to the Sunshine State.

He said residents should be prepared to take care of their own needs for three days, as storm damage could make it impossible for emergency personnel to reach some areas.

Scott also underscored the importance of heeding warnings from emergency officials. With the storm still hundreds of miles west of Florida, no school closings have been announced, nor have any evacuation orders been issued. But that could change if the storm’s path changes.

Residents should evacuate if ordered to do so, Scott said.

“You must leave before it’s too late,” Scott said. “We can rebuild a home. We can rebuild a business, but we can not rebuild your life. Do not ignore the direction of local officials. This is serious, and your safety depends on you being prepared.”

In addition to warning Floridians about Hurricane Matthew, the governor reminded residents about an ongoing threat – standing water, which serves as breeding pools for mosquitoes that could carry the Zika virus.

With Matthew expected to bring heavy rains to the state, Scott asked residents to act now to get rid of standing water.

“Get rid of standing water,” Scott said. “Wear bug repellent. Wear protective clothing. We’ve got to continue to fight Zika.”

Gov. Rick Scott
Gov. Rick Scott

 

 

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.

Bonlarron
Bonlarron

 

Body cameras for PBSO deputies could cost $10M

Body cameras for Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputies could cost as much as $10 million, County Administrator Verdenia Baker said.

County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor, campaigning for re-election, has made a renewed call for body cameras.

Taylor said she’d like to see money from a proposed increase in the sales tax used to pay for the  body cameras. Her colleagues on the commission would have to agree to use sales tax money for body cameras.

An initial sales tax projects list included $27.4 million for in-car cameras, body cameras and radios. Baker said the plan was to purchase the equipment together to save money.

As the sales tax debate moved forward, however, money for body cameras was removed from the projects list. When the commission meets on Tuesday, Taylor plans to urge her colleagues to put funding for body cameras back on the sales tax projects list.

Taylor
Taylor