By Dan Moffett
Despite opposition from southern neighbors and second thoughts among some residents, South Palm Beach is setting aside more money to pay for a controversial groin project that would stabilize the town’s eroding beaches.
In fact, South Palm Beach recently sent a check for $66,500 to Palm Beach County, its partner in the project, to cover some of the administrative costs of obtaining permits.
Town Manager Mo Thornton estimates the town will need roughly $2.1 million in construction costs over the next 10 years to pay its share of the project. This does not include costs of periodic replenishment with sand.
Thornton, during a budget workshop July 23, said about half the $2.1 million could come from the penny sales-tax increase county voters passed in 2016. The town could take in between $80,000 and $90,000 a year from the tax, which is restricted by law to infrastructure spending only.
Installing the concrete groins on the beach is one obvious place to use the penny tax revenue for a town that has no roads, schools or parks.
This won’t play well in Manalapan, however, where officials have threatened to sue to stop the groin project. Ocean Ridge also objected. The towns fear the groins will disrupt the sand flow to the south and damage their beaches.
Because of the opposition, South Palm Beach Mayor Bonnie Fischer and other Town Council members have considered looking at other possible solutions to stem the town’s beach erosion. But as that debate goes on, so does the county’s effort to get federal and state construction permits for the groins. And the project, 12 years in the making, continues to stagger forward.
Fischer says South Palm Beach, which has no public access to the ocean, became part of the county’s groin plan because its southern boundary borders Lantana Municipal Beach.
“Bottom line, the only reason this project was ever initiated was because of Lantana beach,” the mayor said. “The county is very concerned about redoing that beach. We’re lucky that we can tandem onto it.”
Thornton’s proposed budget, her first since taking over as manager in January, calls for dropping the millage from $4 per $1,000 of taxable value to the rollback rate of $3.79. The rollback rate keeps tax revenue flat from last year. South Palm Beach property values are up about 5 percent, according to the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office.
“My recommendation is full rollback,” Thornton said. “We’ll still have excess revenue of $80,000 with the full rollback. I feel very comfortable with that.”
The 3550 S. Ocean Blvd. luxury condo project, on the site of the old Hawaiian Inn, doesn’t come onto the tax roll for two years but has already been a significant revenue source. Last year, due to the project’s construction costs, revenues from building and permit fees nearly tripled to $524,000.