Palm Beach County officials reacted with anger Wednesday to the passage in the Florida House of Representatives of a joint resolution that would allow voters to decide if they want to expand the homestead exemption from $50,000 to $75,000.
The expansion plan, approved on a vote of 81-35, must be approved by three-fifths of the Senate and then by 60 percent of voters before it could become law on January 1, 2019.
County officials argue that the expanded exemption will suck at least $29 million from its budget. The overall impact on area governments is more than $70 million, they say.
“I’m disgusted that the House leadership would think this is a tax cut for the people,” Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said. “This is a tax shift.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.