Former Palm Beach County Commissioner Priscilla Taylor is putting together a breakfast meeting Saturday to call attention to legislation she argues will harm residents of the Glades, an impoverished area along the banks of Lake Okeechobee.
The object of Taylor’s ire is a bill filed in the Florida Senate (SB 10) that calls for the purchase of land south of the lake for a reservoir project that would end the necessity of the lake discharges blamed for the algae bloom that fouled water along the Treasure Coast last year.
The legislation, authored by Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, calls for the land to be purchased from willing sellers. But Taylor, a former state legislator whose district included the Glades, worries landowners in the area would be compelled to sell.
One area of particular concern, Taylor said, includes a mill that employs more than 1,000 people.
The closing of that mill “would be devastating to that area,” Taylor said, adding that she is frustrated that there have been no public discussions of the legislation’s potential impact.
Taylor is organizing a “call to action” breakfast from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Saturday at Payne Chapel A.M.E. Church at 801 9th St. in West Palm Beach.
A 2-story building at 171 Booker Place is owned by a Lake Worth church that had hoped to renovate it as a homeless residence. But that plan fizzled, and the complex “has become a blighted nuisance to the surrounding community, and a haven for illegal activity (drugs being sold, prostitution, drug-use, and other illicit activities),” City Manager Chandler Williamson said Tuesday in an email to County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, whose district includes the Glades.
“The Broken Window Theory is in plain sight,” Williamson wrote, referring to a doctrine that says a broken window suggests no one cares and helps lead to blight and crime.
Williamson said the owners have offered to sign the place over. But there’s $22,000 in back taxes. Williamson asked for a break. No, the county said. Its hands are tied.
“We cannot waive taxes,” Sherry Brown, director of the county’s Office of Financial Management and Budget, said in an email. “If the city takes ownership, they are responsible.”
Williamson couldn’t be reached to learn the city’s next move.
The commission is set at its regular meeting to vote on a resolution urging the U.S. Congress to find the money for the Herbert Hoover Dike rehabilitation project, the first major rehab in some 75 years, and calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers “to expedite its repairs to the dike to ensure the public health, safety, and welfare of the cities surrounding Lake Okeechobee and the Corps’ ability to manage the lake’s water level in a way that will significantly reduce the impact to the coastal estuaries,” an agenda item says.
The first part of that refers to concerns about breaches in the dike during the hurricane season; it’s just now starting its busiest stretch. The second part is related: heavy rains have left the giant lake swollen and high, and to reduce pressure on the dike, the Corps has been sending millions of gallons of fresh water down to the St. Lucie Inlet in Stuart and the Caloosahatchee estuary in Fort Myers, where the imbalance altered the fresh-salt mix, endangering plant and animal life and leading to a massive, odorous and ugly algae bloom that’s devastated the Treasure Coast economy.
The money in question is part of a phase of a project to redo a part of County Road 880, also called Old State Road 80, in an area south of “20 Mile Bend,” the jog in State Road 80 that marks pretty much the halfway point between the coast and Lake Okeechobee. He said this phase involve rehabilitating a bank of an adjacent canal.
“They found the contractor was able to do it with less material and less work,” bringing the cost for this phase down from about $4.1 million to about $2.8 million, O’Neil said. He said the savings is unusual but not unheard of.
This summer, for the first time, the Glades will host a “citizens’ criminal justice academy.”
The academy will meet from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. on consecutive Thursdays, June 9, 16, 23, and 30, at the Belle Glade Library/Civic Center, at 725 N.W. 4th St., in Belle Glade.
Sponsors are the Palm Beach County Criminal Justice Commission, Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, and Palm Beach County Office of Community Revitalization.
The academy is designed to teach lay people about specific aspects of the criminal justice system and how decisions are made. Participants will see demonstrations, meet with decision makers involved with criminal justice, and tour the jail.
Participants must be at least 16 and can earn up to 12 community service hours.
Belle Glade Mayor Steve Wilson urged Palm Beach County commissioners to use some of the money from a proposed sales tax increase to pay for cultural projects.
The County Commission is scheduled to hold a public hearing at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday on a plan to raise the 6-cent sales tax by a penny on the dollar. If the tax increase is approved by commissioners and by voters in November, it would generate $2.7 billion over 10 years for repairs to roads, bridges, school and county buildings.
Cultural institutions like museums, theaters and the zoo can apply to receive $121 million from sales tax money for their projects. Some commissioners, business officials and county residents oppose using sales tax money on cultural projects, arguing that all of the money should be used on county and school projects.
The Cultural Council of Palm Beach County had identified specific projects it recommended for funding, and those projects were initially included in the sales tax plan put together by County Administrator Verdenia Baker.
In a letter written on April 18 and forwarded to commissioners Friday by Cultural Council President Rena Blades, Wilson said he backs using sales tax money on cultural projects.
“While we definitely need additional funding for infrastructure, we also need help in bringing tourism to Palm Beach County, and particularly to western Palm Beach County,” Wilson wrote. “I want to see cultural arts opportunities become more readily available to youth throughout the county, including children and young adults in the Glades region.”
Tuesday’s public hearing will be held on the sixth floor of the Weisman Governmental Center at 301 N. Olive Avenue in West Palm Beach.