Keep your information, thank you very much

As Palm Beach County commissioners sifted through challenges regarding the 2017 budget during a meeting at the Palm Beach County Convention Center Tuesday, Commissioner Paulette Burdick had an idea.

The county should look into tying insurance costs to the lifestyles of employees, Burdick suggested. Making healthier choices – say, quitting smoking or losing weight – could reduce an employee’s health care costs.

The county has a voluntary program like that now, and Burdick’s colleagues made it clear they didn’t want it to go beyond voluntary.

After several skeptical questions – Commissioner Steven Abrams wondered aloud if employees would be asked to provide blood for testing; Commissioner Shelley Vana asked how the county might learn about an employee’s binge drinking on the weekend – Burdick told county staff she still wants her colleagues to get information on how such an insurance program could work.

“It’s clear they don’t understand it, or I am not articulating it well enough,” Burdick said.

That comment didn’t sit well with her colleagues.

“I don’t want the information,” Abrams said, saying he’d oppose implementing such a program, which he described as overly intrusive.

Vana didn’t want the information, either.

“If I need more information on a topic, I will request it,” she said. “I don’t need another commissioner to request it for me.”

After an uncomfortable pause, County Mayor Mary Lou Berger stepped in: “Moving on to another topic…”

Palm Beach County Commissioner Paulette Burdick talks about her desire to discuss issues regarding Uber and public safety, instead of putting it off, during a Palm Beach County Commission meeting on Sept. 22, 2015. The commissioners voted to extend Uber's temporary operating agreement until the end of March 2016 or until the state legislature makes any decisions.  (Brianna Soukup/Palm Beach Post)
Palm Beach County Commissioner Paulette Burdick (Brianna Soukup/Palm Beach Post)


Minto, PBC prevail in legal challenge to development project

Minto Communities and Palm Beach County have prevailed in a legal challenge to the 4,500-unit development project in The Acreage.

ALERTS of Palm Beach County, a Loxahatchee community group, 1000 Friends of Florida and two Acreage residents sued Minto and the county, arguing that the county did not adhere to its comprehensive plan in approving the project.

But on Tuesday acting Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge Edward Garrison ruled in favor of Minto and the county.

The ruling was one of several that have cleared the way for construction to take place.

Check with later today for more on this story.

John Carter, vice president of Minto Communities, discusses the company's controversial Minto West project in West Palm Beach, Florida on July 30, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)
John Carter, vice president of Minto Communities, discusses the company’s controversial Minto West project in West Palm Beach, Florida on July 30, 2014. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

County to explore ways to get more affordable housing

Palm Beach County commissioners will hold a workshop Tuesday to explore ways to increase the amount of affordable housing in the area.

The county has a program that requires builders to include affordable housing in their development plans, and the workshop session – scheduled to begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Weisman Governmental Center at 301 N. Olive Avenue in West Palm Beach – will give commissioners an opportunity to determine its success.

Commissioner Paulette Burdick has raised objections when developers choose to pay a fee in lieu of including affordable housing in their plans.

Commissioner Paulette Burdick (Brianna Soukup/Palm Beach Post)
Commissioner Paulette Burdick (Brianna Soukup/Palm Beach Post)

No friend of Baker’s, BIZPAC opposes sales tax vote

A pro-business political group that last year endorsed Verdenia Baker’s chief in-house competitor for county administrator announced it’s opposed to Baker’s first major push as administrator — putting a proposed sales tax increase on the November ballot.

Verdenia Baker
Verdenia Baker

The Business Political Action Committee of Palm Beach County released a statement Thursday afternoon saying its Board of Trustees voted overwhelmingly to oppose the referendum because of the board scope of projects the extra tax would cover, particularly cultural ones.

“The county government has strayed too far from what it truly needs,” BIZPAC chairman John R. Smith said. “The belief of most BIZPAC Trustees is that the amount of money proposed to be collected, about $1.4 billion, is too large and the proposed expenditures list has too many ‘wants’ rather than ‘needs.’ There’s no need to increase the sales tax.”

Smith’s statement also said, “this is not the time for a regressive sales tax increase,” which is one that has a greater impact on the poor than the rich.

BIZPAC, along with another business group, the Economic Council, last year endorsed Assistant County Administrator Shannon LaRocque rather than Baker for the county government’s top job. The County Commission overwhelmingly chose Baker last summer.

Baker this year has spearheading an effort by the county, the Palm Beach County School District and the Cultural Council that would have county voters decide whether they want to increase the sales tax in the county from 6 percent to 7 percent.

The projected revenue of $2.7 billion over 10 years would be split among the county government, school district, municipal governments and cultural projects, although proposed ballot language released Wednesday doesn’t mention cultural projects. It does, however, say the tax increase would be to “create local jobs through economic development projects.”

Baker to address black concerns about sales tax plan

Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker is scheduled to address concerns some black business owners and residents have about the plan to raise the 6-cent sales tax by a penny on the dollar.

Baker will discuss the county’s plans at 6 p.m. today at Gray’s Temple CME Church at 523 18th St. in West Palm Beach.

The sales tax increase would raise $2.7 billion over 10 years for upgrades to roads, bridges, schools and county buildings. Cities, the county, the Palm Beach County School District and arts projects backed by the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County would share the proceeds.

Some black business owners have asked Baker how they can make sure their firms get an opportunity to bid for some of the work that will be undertaken if the sales tax is approved by voters.

UNIFY, a black community group, says today’s town hall is the first of eight that will be held throughout the county on the sales tax plan.

“These town halls will give an opportunity to the county, school district, the municipalities and Cultural Council to earn the votes of the black community in favor of this referendum,” the group said in a statement announcing the town hall with Baker. “Pervasive segregation and discrimination have long prevented many minorities from achieving equal access to economic opportunities. The case is not different for Palm Beach County. While there have been some efforts to provide a more inclusive environment for (minority- and women-owned businesses), the focus is still far from where it needs to be.”

Verdenia Baker
Verdenia Baker

Baker tells commissioners cities are backing sales tax plan

Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker told county commissioners that cities are approving a plan to raise the 6-cent sales tax by a penny on the dollar to raise money for roads, bridges, schools and county buildings.

The sales tax increase would generate $2.7 billion over the next decade. Cities are entitled to some of that money. Because the Palm Beach County School District will also get some of that money, elected officials representing a majority of city residents were required to approve the split.

Baker said Tuesday that elected officials representing about 60 percent of city residents have approved the plan, which will be on the county’s May 3 meeting agenda.

If commissioners vote to move forward at the May 3 meeting, a second meeting will be held on May 17. Approval at that meeting means the plan will be placed on the ballot in November.

VB pick_DSC_5325B_lighter

Palm Beach County gives a “go” to rules for Uber-style firms

Uber01Palm Beach County Commissioners Tuesday finally set rules for Uber and Lyft and similar app-based ride operations.

The ride companies have said the rules are enough to guarantee they will operate safely. But taxi firms say rules don’t go far enough to protect the public and give the ride services an unfair advantage.

Palm Beach County set a temporary operating agreement for app-based ride services in September 2014. A year later, the county opted not to set its own permanent rules and continued its temporary agreement, hoping that the Florida Legislature would enact uniform regulations for the entire state. In mid-March, the state body adjourned without a law in place. With the county’s temporary agreement set to expire April 30, the issue came back to commissioners.

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Stretch of Interstate 95 in Boca to close overnight for construction

If you’re planning some late-night traveling in May through southern Palm Beach County, you may need to check your route.

(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
(Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Work on the Spanish River Boulevard interchange at Interstate 95 will close first the southbound and then northbound lanes of the highway overnight in May, according to a news release from the Florida Department of Transportation.

The project, which FDOT said is expected to be completed by the summer of 2017 and costs an estimated $69 million, will add an interchange at Spanish River Boulevard, widen Spanish River west of FAU Boulevard, add 13 bridges between Spanish River and Yamato Road, and build sound walls along Yamato and on the east side of I-95 north of Yamato.

In addition to occasional lane closures in the area, which travelers most likely already have experienced, I-95 southbound will be closed at Yamato from midnight to 5 a.m. May 1-6. Northbound I-95 will be closed at Palmetto Park Road from midnight to 5 a.m. May 8-13.

Palm Beach County Commission set to OK Uber today

020115-UBER-3UPDATE: Clerk Bock has postponed her report.

Palm Beach County is set today to, finally, approve rules for Uber and Lyft and similar app-based ride operations. After spending more than two and a half hours on April 5, the commission approved the package of rules 7-0, on the first of two votes. The companies say the rules are enough to guarantee they will operate safely. But taxi firms say they don’t go far enough to protect the public and give the ride services an unfair advantage.

Also on Tuesday’s agenda:

Bock: The commission will hear Clerk of Courts Sharon Bock’s annual financial report. Last year, Bock reported that county assets dropped $99.1 million, mostly because the county sold the Mecca Farms property at a $33 million loss and locked into $50 million in new debt over the Max Planck Institute and the Palm Beach County Convention Center.

Trespass: A second and final vote on new rules that allow for banning people from county parks and recreational areas for a year or more for various violations.

Housing: Approved its required Local Housing Assistance Plan for the next three years, as required by the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP). The plan’s goals are to preserve and increase the stock of affordable housing.

Bus vs. House: Is set to approve a $51,593 settlement for a West Palm Beach man whose home was damaged in March 2013 when it was struck by a Palm Tran bus.

Palm Beach County Commission Meeting:

When: 9:30 a.m. Tuesday. Where: Sixth-floor chambers, Weisman Palm Beach County Governmental Center, 301 N. Olive Avenue, West Palm Beach

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Palm Beach County judge hears call to toss Minto lawsuit

A judge Monday heard arguments in a call to throw out a lawsuit trying to block the massive development once called Minto West and now known as Westlake.

Palm Beach County Circuit Judge Edward A. Garrison made no ruling Monday, saying he’d study the case a080914-Minto-West-1nd get back to the lawyers.

In December 2014, the environmental group 1,000 Friends of
Florida, and a grassroots coalition of Loxahatchee and Acreage residents, filed separate motions, seeking to overturn the Palm Beach County Commission’s October 2014 green-lighting of the sprawling mixed-use development.

It would feature 4,500 homes and 2.1 million square feet of offices and retail on 3,800 acres that once raised citrus trees in the heart of The Acreage. The plaintiffs said it would snarl traffic, invite urban sprawl and alter the area’s rural way of life.

Robert Hartsell (l) and Ralf Brookes, attorneys for plaintiffs (Staff photo/Eliot Kleinberg)
Robert Hartsell (l) and Ralf Brookes, attorneys for plaintiffs (Staff photo/Eliot Kleinberg)

In its motion for summary judgment, the county had argued law doesn’t allow 1000 Friends or the residents to get the relief they seek. Plaintiffs had filed a response disputing that.

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