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By John Pacenti

Former Delray Beach Fire Chief Keith Tomey is gone but the drama is not.

12703292300?profile=RESIZE_400xIn his whistleblower lawsuit against the city filed on June 25 over his dismissal, Tomey includes a 2022 text message exchange between himself and Delray Beach City Attorney Lynn Gelin in which she disparages City Manager Terrence Moore.

Tomey was fired May 1, one day after an investigation found no evidence to support his accusation that Moore inappropriately touched and groped him. He claims in the lawsuit the firing was retaliation for making a formal complaint against Moore.

The text exchange included in the lawsuit allegedly occurred Oct. 18, 2022. Tomey told Gelin that Moore had repeated his request to demote Craig Mahoney or get him to step down. Tomey had recently promoted Mahoney – the president of IAFF Local 1842, the firefighter’s union – to division chief of logistics without telling Moore first.

In the text exchange, Gelin said if Tomey did what Moore was asking, Mahoney would sue for retaliation. “It’s a stupid argument that reflects poorly on Terrence."

Tomey had said he felt pressure to demote Mahoney because Moore was his boss.

“And stop referring to him as your boss, Lol,” Gelin said in the same text, court documents show. “He’s your boss in title and nothing else. Every time he opens his mouth he confirms how incompetent he is.”

Screenshots of the text exchange are included as an exhibit in the lawsuit.

When asked if the city, Gelin, or Moore would comment on the lawsuit or the text exchange cited, spokesperson Gina Carter said as a policy Delray Beach does not comment on pending litigation.

Tomey was fired for his decision to allow on-duty firefighters to participate in the annual Guns and Hoses softball game in November, compromising the city’s readiness, according to Moore's termination letter to him. An on-duty firefighter was injured in the game and filed a workers compensation claim.

“I believe residents will find there is ample support for Mr. Tomey’s termination,” said City Commissioner Juli Casale. “It is unfortunate that a random text sent out of frustration is being used to bolster a claim that has already been found to be meritless by an outside investigator.”

Tomey was hired in 2016 and named chief in April 2020. Moore became city manager in August 2021 and Gelin has been the city’s top attorney since 2018.

The city employed an outside law firm to investigate Tomey’s sexual harassment complaint, finding there was no evidence to support the claim.

Tomey’s attorney, Isidro M. Garcia, said Gelin’s texts “speak for themselves.”

“There is some disconnect there between the City Manager’s Office and the City’s Attorney's Office, especially when it comes to the Mahoney thing,” Garcia said.

There have been other incidents as well.  

Tomey received a traffic ticket on June 17, 2023 from the Florida Highway Patrol on the Florida Turnpike for unknowingly driving on a suspended license, according to court records. At the time, Tomey often drove city-owned vehicles.

The lawsuit also revisits Tomey’s five-day suspension for not promptly reporting an Oct. 26, 2022 fender-bender on Interstate 95. While on paid leave as the city investigated the incident, Tomey suffered a stress-induced atrial fibrillation which resulted in a hospital stay, according to the lawsuit.

Tomey was denied workers’ compensation and sued the city and won, the lawsuit states.

The lawsuit claims the firing violated the state’s Whistleblower Act. Tomey reported Moore made sexual advances towards him on Aug. 3, 2022, as the two drove in Moore’s car to and from the Arts Garage. Tomey said Moore “rubbed up his thigh and just briefly made contact with his groin area.”

Tomey claimed in the lawsuit that Gelin was dismissive of his report of sexual harassment, which he first mentioned to her in August 2022. “As long as he doesn't rub anyone's knees I’m cool,” she allegedly said in a text from that time that is included as an exhibit.

After the city received a letter on the incident from Garcia in March, the commission asked for an investigation.

Read more…

12686797053?profile=RESIZE_710xSpacious homes with large lots and mature trees, like this single-family home in Manalapan being shown by Realtors Angelo and Antonio Liguori, continue to bring high prices. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

Related stories: Along the Coast: Condo sales slow; prices stay high |Property values increase at slower rate, but still chug along

By Charles Elmore

Headwinds like higher interest rates have slowed single-family home sales nationally, but high-end buyers, many paying cash, continue to make a splash along Palm Beach County’s southern coast despite a limited inventory, agents say.

A Boca Raton waterfront mansion sold for $40 million this spring, reported as a high for the city. A $50 million sale in May in Highland Beach ranked as the loftiest price in that town, according to the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office website.

And a town record was set June 27 in Gulf Stream, with the recording of the sale of a 12,717-square- foot residence at 3223 N. Ocean Blvd. for $39 million, county records show.

“The market peaked so high with COVID-19 that when it leveled off, people thought, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s going to crash,’” said Pascal Liguori, broker associate with Premier Estate Properties in Delray Beach.

“It didn’t.”

To be clear, not every municipality has exceeded its top individual home sale price reached during or shortly after the pandemic, as reflected in appraiser records.

Delray Beach’s highest price was $34 million in October 2021.

For Ocean Ridge, the top price shows up as $27 million from December 2021.

Manalapan’s blockbuster $173 million sale from June 2022 remains its top number.

12686798691?profile=RESIZE_710xOut-of-town home buyers, like one seen here at a Lake Ida property with Realtor Antonio Liguori (right), continue to be curious about total lot size and the ability to expand their new homes. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

Compared with the most intense moments of the pandemic, buyers have tended to be a bit more methodical, less inclined to jump at just any offering, and the overall number of homes sold has been limited by how few are for sale, real estate professionals say.

For context, existing home sales nationally fell 1.9% in April compared to March and to the same month a year before, according to the National Association of Realtors.

It’s hard to blame sellers for testing the top of the range in asking price, though some properties can sit for a bit while buyers shop around or wait for a price reduction, said Nick Malinosky, sales associate for Douglas Elliman Real Estate.

“It’s got to be accurately priced and hit the target,” Malinosky said.

For example, a property he thought was priced correctly at around $5 million in Boca Raton attracted plenty of interest recently, he said.

“We showed it 16 times in two weeks and now it is under contract,” he said in mid-June.

“That’s a very healthy market for this time of year.”

It would be difficult indeed to match the mania from the period after COVID-19 prompted lockdowns and states of emergency. If people had to work from home, those with means in places like New York, Chicago and California figured the time had arrived to get near the water in a location with no state income tax.

Luxury home sales in Palm Beach County increased 115% in the fourth quarter of 2020 compared to the same period a year earlier, the biggest jump in any major U.S. market tracked by Seattle-based real estate firm Redfin Corp. Redfin defines luxury as homes in the top 5% of market value in a metro area, which can be a county.

Such upper-end sales can have ripple effects across communities. They can raise home values for others, perhaps welcome for those who want to sell. At the same time, such higher valuations can drive up property taxes and insurance costs for those who want to stay put and make it difficult for people with more typical incomes and resources to find affordable places to buy.

The influx of avid buyers kept coming until the push factor of COVID-19 eventually eased and the market began to readjust.

Take Ocean Ridge. Its median sales price for homes of all types peaked at $3.6 million in October 2022, according to Redfin, compared to $2.9 million in May 2024.

In number of homes sold, Ocean Ridge’s recent high was 23 in March 2022, falling to five in May 2024, Redfin reported. Inventory remains tight.
Delray Beach’s median sales price for single-family homes stood at $925,000 in May, up 15% from the same month a year earlier but below a spike to $1.4 million in January 2023.

The number of Delray Beach homes sold in May was 80, unchanged from a year earlier and below a five-year high of 112 in May 2021, according to Redfin.

Highland Beach’s median sales price sat at $815,000 in May, under a recent peak of $1.5 million in March 2023, using Redfin’s numbers. The number of homes sold was 13 in May 2024, about the same as the 14 sold in March 2023, but far less busy than the 55 changing hands in April 2021, for instance. The median days on the market in Highland Beach stood at 167 in May, up 79% from the same month of 2023.

Boca Raton’s median single-family sales price dipped slightly to $1.1 million in May, from a five-year high of $1.2 million the month before, Redfin said. The number of homes sold in May 2024 was 128, down 10% from a year earlier and well below a five-year peak of 245 in June 2021.

The median number of days a home was on the market in Boca Raton landed at 85 in May, up 20% from a year before.

Unlike the COVID-19 boom, when anybody who ever thought of selling was giving it a whirl, it’s a time of tighter inventory, said Corcoran Group agent Steven Presson in Delray Beach.

“I would have 30-plus listings before, now I have 10 or 12 or 15, because there’s less listings to be had,” he said.

If people like the homes they are in, those who have a mortgage are not necessarily eager to trade one with near 2% interest for something like 7%.

It shows in the number of properties on the market.

By Presson’s count, there were 20 properties for sale in Ocean Ridge in mid-June.

Make it 10 in Gulf Stream.

Those numbers might be double at other times, he said.

It adds up to a market where volumes are settling down, but big-ticket sales are still happening.

“During COVID, we were driving like 95 miles an hour,” Presson said. “Now we’re going 70 or 75.”

Read more…

Related stories: Homes sales fetch high prices despite slowdown in volume after pandemic |Condo sales slow; prices stay high

By Mary Hladky

After soaring for two years, taxable values of Palm Beach County properties are now heading back to earth.

12686789686?profile=RESIZE_584xCountywide property values increased by 10% — 9.99% to be exact — a very healthy amount but lower than last year’s nearly 14% jump and 2022’s 15.2% increase that were fueled by a hot real estate market and spikes in new construction, according to the July 1 preliminary tax roll released by Property Appraiser Dorothy Jacks.

This marks the 13th year in a row that taxable values have increased in the aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession.

“The overall increase in taxable value has slowed compared to previous years,” Jacks said in announcing her office’s estimates in late May, before the updated calculations were made in June. “Market values for some building types have begun to flatten in Palm Beach County. …”

That includes the residential market, which is “somewhat flat” but not declining, she told county commissioners June 11.

One factor is the 2021 collapse of a Surfside condominium in Miami-Dade County, which resulted in new laws requiring regular inspections to make sure buildings are safe and have adequate financial reserves to pay for maintenance and repairs. The changes forced many condo boards to increase maintenance fees and impose special assessments.

Owners who can’t afford the higher costs are selling at a loss, which will result in a decline in condo values over the next few years, Jacks said.

But condos that already required reserves and conducted regular maintenance will not face this problem, she said.

The overall picture, however, is positive. Total taxable value in Palm Beach County is at $318 billion and the county’s market value now exceeds $500 billion for the first time. New construction added to the tax rolls this year totaled more than $5 billion.

“Five billion is the highest I have seen in my time in office,” Jacks, first elected in 2016, told the commission. “New construction is strong. More apartments are going up everywhere. I don’t see that stopping.”

Of the county’s 39 towns and cities, Boca Raton continues to have the highest taxable value at $37.6 billion, followed by Palm Beach at $32.1 billion.

All southeastern Palm Beach County municipalities saw taxable value increases, although less than the gains of the last two years.

Briny Breezes saw the largest percentage increase at 11.3%, followed by 10.9% in Delray Beach and 10.3% in Ocean Ridge.

South Palm Beach was at 10%, Highland Beach at 9%, Lantana at 8.9%, Boynton Beach at 8.7%, Boca Raton at 8.5%, Gulf Stream at 6.6% and Manalapan at 5.7%.

Briny Breezes Town Manager Bill Thrasher said a couple of new mobile homes were installed last year, “which is significant for Briny,” and called the jump in the town’s taxable value from around $85.5 million to $95.2 million “a material increase.”

South Palm Beach Town Manager Jamie Titcomb noted the town’s increase is right in line with that of the county as a whole.

“Our value increase is really just straight positive growth in valuation of all properties,” he said, adding that the town has not seen much new construction (just $903 according to the preliminary figures).

Manalapan’s modest percentage rate increase reflects the countywide slowdown in taxable value growth, said Assistant Town Manager Eric Marmer.

“The entire housing market has stopped moving at the freight train speed of the past few years,” he said, noting that Manalapan remains “one of the most sought-after places to live in the country.”

Taxable value increases are great news for municipal leaders as they work to finalize their budgets for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1.

Local governments use taxable values to calculate how much property tax money they can expect at various tax rates. They then set their proposed annual budgets and tax rates.

An increase in taxable value means they will collect more money from property owners even if they keep their tax rates the same as last year.

Unless governments lower their tax rates, homeowners will face higher property tax bills at a time when inflation and rising interest rates are straining family budgets.

To prevent a tax increase entirely, elected officials would have to use the “rolled-back” rate, which state law requires them to calculate and advertise. That rate would generate the same amount of property tax revenue as the previous year — except for the extra revenue coming from new construction.

But municipalities are loath to use that rate, because they all face rising costs. For example, Boca Raton, a rapidly growing city with resident demand for quality services, usually lowers its tax rate by a minuscule amount, which allows city leaders to say they have cut the rate while still benefiting from increased revenue.

Homeowners with homesteaded properties, however, don’t feel the full brunt of rising property values because state law caps their taxable value increase at 3% a year. Non-homesteaded properties are capped at 10% annually.

The taxable value numbers are based on market conditions as of Jan. 1. They will be submitted to the state Department of Revenue. Local governments finalize their tax rates during public hearings in September.

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12686787862?profile=RESIZE_584xJohn Everett of Atlantis was one of a dozen lawn bowlers at a June 4 Delray Beach commission meeting seeking to keep the courts at Veterans Park. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

City Commission’s decision could add years to construction of Atlantic Crossing

By Anne Geggis

Lawn bowling scored a reprieve from plans to convert the area’s last remaining courts at Veterans Park into a parking lot to expedite the construction of a mammoth downtown development’s next phase.

A shortened construction timeline that would mean fewer traffic stoppages along major downtown corridors — paired with a promised $1 million contribution to upgrade the park — was not enough to persuade the Delray Beach City Commission to allow the developer to use city property for its plans.

The mixed-use project could shorten its construction work by two years if the city agreed, a developer’s representative said.

“It does expedite the construction portion of this overall phase to completion by two years, which would reduce disruption to the neighborhood, and gets the benefits of the … added tax base on the tax rolls much quicker,” said attorney Bonnie Miskel, representing the developer, Edwards Cos.

Atlantic Crossing opened its first phase in May 2023 after more than a decade of planning.

Previous commissioners had agreed with what Miskel outlined at a June 4 commission meeting. That proposition would have redesigned the park and had it back in working condition after construction was finished — in addition to a $1 million investment from the developer to redo the park. Those plans would have converted the current parking area into additional green space.

Commission changes tack
But, in probably the most dramatic reversal so far resulting from a new majority elected to the dais this year, the commission gave the developer’s proposal a thumbs-down. It would have meant eradication of the area’s last lawn bowling courts for at least four years.

The decision was a victory for the Delray Beach Preservation Trust, which in December had passed a resolution asking the commission to halt plans to change Veterans Park.

Newly elected Mayor Tom Carney voted against Atlantic Crossing’s plans for residential, retail and office space when he was previously on the commission in 2012. He said he considered the Atlantic Avenue development east of Federal Highway that is taking up several city blocks too big back then. Twelve years later, he recalled that the commission majority agreed to it after getting certain promises.

“I was part of the original deal … part of the discussion that we’re not going to be touching the park and I think that was kind of a sacred promise,” Carney said. “And I am going to stick with that. We are not going to touch the park and if it makes construction go a little longer, I’m very sorry.”

A dozen lawn bowlers in the audience — wearing the same white pullover shirts with their logo emblazoned on the breast — were ecstatic at the action.

“We’re very pleased,” said John Everett, 76, of Atlantis.

He picked the sport years ago as one he could play if he lives to 100, as it challenges eye-hand coordination as players try to hit a small, white ball using a weighted, slightly oblong, softball-sized bowling ball.

“I see a lot of honor in the commission,” Everett said.

Carney, Vice Mayor Juli Casale and Commissioner Tom Markert ran for office promising to constrain development’s effects on residents and leave the park as it is.

A missed opportunity?
Miskel, however, said the plan to use Veterans Park temporarily — and relocate the lawn bowling eventually — represented the best way to minimize the effects of construction on residents. And part of her presentation included slides showing parts of the park in poor condition.

This “minimizes the intermittent closure of area streets” — including Atlantic Avenue, northbound Federal Highway, Northeast Seventh Avenue and Northeast First Street — from “often shutting down, which happened with the first phase,” Miskel said.

Commissioner Rob Long supported the proposal.

“It feels like an offer that’s being made by a developer to make a $1 million investment in our park and substantially mitigate the impact of an already approved project,” Long said. “ … We know from the construction of the first phase of this, it really does impact residents in a substantial way.”

Residents who spoke evoked the historic nature of the current complex that opened in 1962 and Atlantic Crossing’s history that has involved the city giving up roadways and agreeing to increased height and density for the development.

Sandy Zeller, 80, noted that the city and Atlantic Crossing had been in a lawsuit and the settlement doesn’t mention changes to Veterans Park.

“It does not allow Edwards to come back to the city seven years later (after the settlement) and say, ‘Oh, here’s some more things that we want the city to give us,’” said Zeller, who is on the executive board of the Preservation Trust. “This proposal was categorized by Edwards and Atlantic Crossing as a public-private partnership. This is not a public-private partnership. They’re asking the city to give away valuable park land for private development.”

The Edwards Cos., based in Columbus, Ohio, could not be reached for comment.

Read more…

Related stories: Along the Coast: Boy presumed drowned while fishing at inlet with father |Manalapan: Attempts fail to revive woman pulled out into the ocean |Lantana news brief: Lifeguards rescue two swimmers from rip current

On June 13, my morning walk was interrupted by the sound of emergency vehicle sirens and hovering helicopters.

This happens along the beach with some frequency: migrants smuggled ashore, boating accidents, medical emergencies and drownings.

This time it was the heartbreaking death of an 8-year-old who fell from a sea wall while fishing just before dawn at the Boynton Inlet.

The emergency response from multiple agencies was impressive. The first responders were dedicated and focused on their duty. Unfortunately, the result was tragic: A little boy who reportedly loved fishing with his father was pulled under by the inlet’s swift current.

It’s difficult to say if anything could have been done to prevent this tragedy. According to Palm Beach County Fire Rescue, an investigation is continuing.

There are no railings along the sea walls on the west side of the A1A bridge. I’m sure the lack of barrier is popular with the people fishing. But it’s notable, as I walk around the area, that there are no warning signs about the inlet’s swift currents and no life rings or other accessible flotation devices. The signs at the inlet are all about closing times and what to do with injured marine life.

And signs can only provide information, not safety.

And they can’t be everywhere.

At least six visitors to Florida have died after being caught in rip currents since May. Another of these deaths happened along Manalapan’s beach just north of the Boynton Inlet.

In this case a 56-year-old Boynton Beach woman was pulled offshore and drowned while swimming with her friends. It’s possible there have been other rip current fatalities in our area this summer. Unfortunately, social media are often the only way locals — and local news media — learn of the deaths. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, more than one-third of the 97 rip current and surf zone fatalities across the U.S. in 2023 happened during June and July. The agency cautions never to assume the ocean is safe, even if the weather is nice.

Those of us who live and swim here know the dangers and have learned what to do if caught in a rip current: Stay calm; call and wave for help; swim as best you can parallel to the shoreline until free of the current’s pull.

It sounds simple, but of course it’s not when you feel you’re being swept out to sea. Tip one is the most important: Stay calm.

With the state’s rapid population influx and increasingly popular tourist destinations, there will likely be more water-related deaths before the summer is over.

Learn to swim. Teach your children to swim. Our state, after all, is surrounded by more than 1,300 miles of coastline.

Stay safe.

— Mary Kate Leming, Executive Editor

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12686775695?profile=RESIZE_710xDanuta Fein with the shell collection at Sandoway Discovery Center. The retired nurse wanted her volunteer work to be completely different from her former career. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star

By Brian Biggane

When Danuta Fein and her husband moved from just north of New York City to Delray Beach seven years ago, Danuta wasn’t sure what she wanted to do, but after working as a nurse for 36 years, she knew it wasn’t that.

“I didn’t really have to work, which for some people sounds wonderful, but when you’re used to working, you’ve got to find a life,” said Fein, 64.

“So it was, What can I do here? I’ve always loved nature, so I ended up looking for volunteer opportunities online. And one day I saw Sandoway was looking for volunteers, and

I came here for the interview and found I just love this place.”

Part of the attraction was the building that houses the Sandoway Discovery Center. Built in 1937 and restored in 1997-98, the two-story house is the rare structure just across the street from the beach that is still standing after more than 85 years.

And she likes the people, both staff and visitors. As the person who works the door every Thursday, Fein is typically the first staff member visitors see and she does what she can to make them feel welcome.

“I’m doing the admissions, the sales and the gift shop, answer questions, directions, whatever,” she said.

With only four full-time people on staff, the center depends heavily on its volunteers, and Suzanne Williamson, the director of education and volunteer coordinator, said Fein is among her most valuable.

“She takes charge when she comes in, makes sure everybody has what they need,” Williamson said. “It’s really busy in the summer but she’s really good at managing the chaos.

“She’s so warm when people come in, greets them with a smile. And she’s really good with kids. And I love having a former nurse around. Especially in the summer,” when people need to stay hydrated.

When the center needs an enforcer, she can be that, too. “She even kicked one guy out for not paying,” Williamson said.

While Fein takes charge inside the building, other volunteers keep busy outside. “Some really enjoy the animal care,” she said, “and some enjoy doing landscaping. We have amazing landscapers here who have transformed the property. We have a gorgeous garden.”

Open Tuesday through Sunday, Sandoway hosts school-age children from summer camps on a daily basis and has people of high school and college age volunteering to help with the larger summer workload. A big attraction is the feeding schedule: Sharks and stingrays are fed daily at 1 p.m. and the rest of the aquarium animals at 2 p.m.

Fein enjoyed her experience at Sandoway so much that she also has become a volunteer at Gumbo Limbo Nature Center in Boca Raton.

“I just love sea turtles,” she said. “I’ve had some amazing experiences coming across them while we’ve been on vacation, and I just love that they have the hospital there.

“They closed for a little while, and when they reopened all of a sudden, they needed volunteers. So, I’m like, yeah, I can do that.”

Again, Fein said, she “kind of gravitated” toward the front desk, answering phones and welcoming visitors. Admission is not an issue, because Gumbo Limbo is free to enter, whereas Sandoway costs $10.

Fein also volunteered as a Girl Scout leader for three or four years when her daughter was involved up North.

“Until you volunteer you don’t really realize the joy in it,” she said. “Because in my opinion, that’s what you get out of it. That’s why you end up doing what you do.

“You have to pick something you’re happy about doing. I tried to pick something completely different than what I did for my career, because I’d done that. But when you find it, it’s like effortless to just keep doing it.

“It opens up a whole new world.”

Danuta’s husband, David, works for a Fort Lauderdale-based company, Atlantic Coast Enterprises, training customer service reps for Jiffy Lube stores up and down the East Coast.

Daughter Allison does social media marketing for a pharmaceutical company in Boston and son Daniel is an oncologist, also in Boston.

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By Anne Geggis

Increases in the value of residents’ homes should not mean paying more to run city government, Mayor Tom Carney said, asking for a budget proposal that won’t require residents to write bigger tax checks than they did last year.

Delray Beach’s tax rate has been dropping for 10 consecutive years, but the amount the city is spending has been on a steady upward trend.

As a result, property owners have been paying more taxes every year as the value of their homes increases. In that vein, Carney challenged city staff to end that trend and come back with a budget with a tax rate that raises no more money than last year on existing property owners. In that scenario, the city would get additional taxes only from new construction.

“I really think we need to be talking about actually saving the taxpayers money by ensuring they are not going to pay any more taxes this year than they did last year,” Carney said.

City Manager Terrence Moore did not make a specific recommendation at the June 11 budget workshop, but he had charts that showed various scenarios.

At current estimates, adhering to Carney’s request would drop the current operating tax rate from $6.36 per $1,000 of taxable value to $5.65 per $1,000. That would mean Delray Beach’s property tax revenues would drop by 11% to $97.98 million, compared with what it would collect if the city kept the current rate.  And the amount of revenue that the city takes in would be about $23 million less than it plans to spend.

One of Moore’s charts showed how the general fund expenditures have risen from $117 million in 2017 to $188 million in 2024 — a 60% increase.

Delray has been able to pay for it with a lower tax rate because taxable property values are increasing even faster. But for the next year, the climb in taxable real estate values appears to be cooling: After growing 13.4% in 2023 and 15.2% the year before, the city’s property values this year are up a smaller 10.9%, according to property appraiser figures.

Moore said he thought that staff could find $8 million in savings strategies in departmental budgets and take $6.8 million from the fund balance, which is currently at a level greater than the target the city set.

Moore, however, noted that some $7.4 million in projected increases are beyond the city’s control: general liability insurance, increases in staff salaries and wages, pension costs and garage rental rates for city vehicles.

The mayor was unmoved from his budget goal, however.

“I cannot tell you how I think that we have the room to do it,” Carney said. “And I didn’t say it was going to be easy, but I just think the taxpayers deserve to not just pay more taxes because their property values went up.”

Specific details are scheduled to be presented at the July 9 commission meeting.

Right now, the city has a fund balance that is $8.5 million more than the target it set, which calls for the city to have $40.2 million, or 25%, of the general fund budget saved.

Moore highlighted how Delray Beach’s creditworthiness has been upgraded by one of the biggest credit agencies. Moody’s upgraded Delray’s credit from its third-highest rating to its second-highest, he said.

“Delray Beach has done an excellent job in keeping alignment,” Moore said.

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Related: Talk of move rattled students: Art school ‘is for Boca, not for Delray’

By Anne Geggis

A plan for having art activities in newly renovated classrooms at the Crest Theatre building continued to elude the Delray Beach City Commission in June.

Six arts organizations made proposals in May to bring art classes to the city-owned space that’s been dark for five years, but confusion ensued about how long of a run the city is prepared to offer.

At one discussion, Mayor Tom Carney said that he wanted something to start this summer and only for a short contract. Given that renovations at the Crest Theatre itself haven’t been completed, Carney said he didn’t want a multiyear contract for the classrooms, because it could potentially limit the city from engaging someone who could run activities at both the classrooms and the theater.

At the June 18 commission meeting, Carney instructed the staff to come back with some definitive numbers on what it will cost to fix the Crest Theatre itself and plans for getting activities started in the classrooms.

“We keep dancing around the numbers, we keep dancing around the issue,” Carney said. “Let’s get something definitive. What is it going to take to fix it?”

Two of the major players, Boca Raton Museum of Art and Old School Square Center for the Arts, have dropped out of consideration for running classroom activities. Other discussions have involved the Downtown Development Authority or the city Parks and Recreation Department running the classroom activities.

A June letter to the community from the Old School Square Center for the Arts provides a peek into the behind-the-scenes chaos in the efforts to enliven the building.

“On June 5th, a phone call was made to 3 of the previous applicants, requesting a proposal within seven hours; only to occupy SEGMENTS of the building and fill the classrooms just for the summer months,” the letter reads. “We declined to follow through with this last request, due to the fact that we have never been short-term thinkers.”

 Gina Carter, city spokeswoman, said that the city is homing in on a possibility, although the potential for summer classes was melting away quickly.

“The commission is going to be working with the city manager to come up with a plan,” Carter said. “I can confirm that they are eager to come up with a plan to get the classrooms up and running.”

The discussion has reopened some old wounds about the previous 30-year engagement the Old School Square Center for the Arts had at the downtown center, which has been credited with making the city a draw for art lovers.

The nonprofit arts organization was instrumental in starting performances and other artistic endeavors at the former site of Delray Beach’s high and elementary schools. The old campus is the home of the theater, the Cornell Art Museum, the Fieldhouse (the former gymnasium), and an outdoor performance stage called the Pavilion.

But that run in the city-owned public facilities halted in 2021, when the City Commission ended the group’s lease amid allegations of financial mismanagement. The organization then sued the city, some commissioners personally and even some of its former board members — a suit that went away after a commission less hostile to the organization took office last year.

 

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By Steve Plunkett

Gulf Stream’s license plate recognition cameras are “actually working phenomenally” a year after being installed, Police Chief Richard Jones said.

“What we currently have in place has been very effective,” he told town commissioners on June 14. “Need to knock on wood, we’ve had very, very little criminal activity — almost none — in the last 12 months probably as a result of our enforcement efforts and obviously, the installation of those cameras.”

Jones reported having “one burglary by definition” in May, “but really what it was, was leftover roofing material that was stolen from a job site,” he said. A suspect has been identified and the case was still being investigated, he added.

The chief also said he attended an FBI-hosted conference to learn what the federal agency can do for small departments such as Gulf Stream’s, “as well as give us some training opportunities to see things that we may not be aware of in technology and funding and various other areas.”

The FBI paid for the full cost of Jones’ trip, he said. Jones was one of 70 invited to attend.

Also at the town meeting, commissioners approved their side of an agreement to extend for five years getting fire rescue services from Delray Beach. That city’s commissioners were to sign off on the deal in July.

Delray Beach has provided Gulf Stream with fire rescue protection for more than 30 years with the latest agreement coming in 2009. The proposed extension has a built-in cost increase that will stay the same as under the current agreement, which is either 5% or the All Urban Consumers United States April Consumer Price Index, whichever is greater.

“So we are pleased with the services we’ve been provided,” Assistant Town Attorney Trey Nazzaro said.

Interim Delray Beach Fire Rescue Chief Kevin Green was “very positive” about his department’s relationship with the town and its residents, Nazzaro said, “and I returned the sentiment and thanked him for his department’s continued service to the town.”

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Thank you so much for the article on “predatory parking.” I think we have fallen victim to the same scam. My 23-year-old son borrowed my car and we were slapped with a fine. I, of course, questioned him and he said he drove through the lot on Second but did not park. They had a picture of my car, so …

It would be great if the public could be notified as to which lots in Delray Beach or other areas are “private lots.” Dealing with these parking companies is extremely frustrating and often futile. It is my impression that they bank on the fact that many folks will just pay instead of embarking on a time-consuming process. 

The residents and visitors to Delray Beach should be given the opportunity to vote with their wallets. The only way companies like this will change their practices is through public pressure. In short, we should know which lots we should not even enter to look for parking unless we are willing to engage in the aftermath.  

— Tracy Souder, Gulf Stream

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By Anne Geggis

From now on, State Road A1A will be dedicated to the man who drove home how changes in latitudes can change one’s attitude.

12686761671?profile=RESIZE_400xGov. Ron DeSantis on June 27 signed a bill that passed unanimously in both chambers of the state Legislature designating the oceanside road that extends from Key West to the Georgia line as “Jimmy Buffett Memorial Highway.”

The legislation also calls for the Florida Department of Transportation to erect suitable markers for the designation by Aug. 30.

Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, who sponsored the Senate bill identical to the one DeSantis signed, toasted the beloved balladeer synonymous with beach bumming.

“With this road naming, we are paying tribute to Jimmy not only as a musical icon, but also as a fierce protector of Florida’s natural treasures and our precious manatees,” Book said in a prepared statement.

Buffett died at age 76 in September from skin cancer.

“It truly is ‘a sweet life, living by the salty sea,’ and we could not think of a better way to honor one of our most legendary Floridians than by memorializing him along Florida’s coastal highway,” Book said. Buffett’s fifth studio album, released in 1974, was A1A.

DeSantis also signed a bill calling for the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to develop a “Margaritaville” specialty plate.

The plate that recalls Buffett’s most famous song will raise money for the Singing for Change charitable foundation that Buffett founded.

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Tri-Rail, the South Florida commuter rail service, launched its weekday express service between West Palm Beach and downtown Miami on July 1.

The train will stop only at its station in Boca Raton, at the one servicing Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport and at the Metrorail transfer station, which will allow it to shorten the trip time to 95 minutes southbound and 90 minutes northbound, about a 30-minute reduction.

Travel time from the Boca Raton station is 70 minutes to Miami and 64 minutes back.

The express train goes directly into downtown Miami and passengers do not need to change trains at the Metrorail transfer station.

The train will depart the West Palm Beach station at 6:30 a.m., stop in Boca Raton at 6:55 a.m. and arrive at MiamiCentral at 8:05 a.m. The return trip will depart MiamiCentral at

5:35 p.m., reaching Boca Raton at 6:39 p.m. and stopping in West Palm Beach at 7:05 p.m.

The one-way fare from West Palm Beach to Miami is $8.75; round-trip is $17.50. One-way from Boca Raton is $6.25 and round-trip is $12.50, all the same as before. Monthly passes are available as well as discounts for children, seniors and employees of certain companies.

“We are thrilled to unveil this new enhancement to our train service,” David Dech, executive director of the South Florida Regional Transportation Authority, which operates Tri-Rail, said in a news release. “By offering a one-seat ride and reducing travel time, we aim to provide an enhanced commuting experience for our passengers and attract new riders to Tri-Rail.”

Tri-Rail began planning the new service before Brightline eliminated on June 1 a monthly trip pass that had greatly reduced its fares. Brightline also de-prioritized riders who use the higher-speed train as a commuter service, concentrating instead on those taking trips to and from Orlando.

— Mary Hladky

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Delray Beach: News briefs

Beach gunfire disturbance — Delray Beach police responded to reports of multiple rounds of gunfire shot in the air near the beach as June 21 turned into June 22 near South Ocean Boulevard and East Atlantic Avenue, said police spokesman Ted White.

A large group of young adults had gathered near the beach around midnight and dispersed when the shots went off, White said. No one was hurt, but the incident remains an active investigation, White said. Anyone with information about this crime is asked to call Detective Kyle Kinney at 561-243-7828.

Another would-be DDA board member in question — A whistleblower whose complaint resulted in a Downtown Development Authority board member’s ouster now faces the same question of ineligibility that she raised about the ousted board member she replaced.

And the twist is that the ousted board member is the one who raised the issue about the whistleblower’s eligibility.

Got that?

Businesswoman Mavis Benson was appointed to a seat on the DDA board June 18 after her complaint about how board member Rick Burgess was ineligible to serve resulted in his ouster in April. But before Benson was seated, City Attorney Lynn Gelin said Benson was ineligible based on Burgess’s report — for the same reason the City Commission kicked Burgess off the board that oversees marketing for Delray Beach’s downtown.

Neither Benson nor Burgess pays taxes on property in the downtown district as DDA board guidelines require, although Burgess has since moved his business.

To fill two other seats, the City Commission chose Harold Van Arnem, in the investment business, and Jim Knight, who runs the real estate brokerage business Knight Group. Two incumbents who wanted second, three-year terms, Mark Denkler and Christine Godbout, did not get nods.

Police chief’s employment extended — Chief Russ Mager is going to extend his 28 years with the Delray Beach Police Department past the 30-year mark, after he agreed to continue leading the force for two additional years after his planned retirement in December.

Mager, a Tallahassee native who grew up in South Florida, entered the Deferred Retirement Option Plan program in January 2020, so that his last day would have been Dec. 31, 2024. But City Manager Terrence Moore has announced Mager is staying on, considering the flux at the city’s Fire Rescue Department.

Fire Rescue Chief Keith Tomey was fired from his job in May and Kevin Green has taken the reins on an interim basis there.

“I’ve determined that the continuation of stable organizational leadership structure for the time being in the Delray Beach Police Department is in the best interest” of the city, Moore wrote in his June 14 newsletter.

Golf course updates carry $15 million price tag — Renovating the city-run Delray Beach Golf Club rose to the top of city priorities at the City Commission’s May goal-setting session, and Missy Barletto, public works director, gave a status update at the June 18 commission meeting.

Full-scale renovations are needed for irrigation, tees, fairways, and maintenance building facilities, she told commissioners. Consultants also recommended new maintenance equipment and increasing annual operational resources.

The city has re-engaged Sanford Golf Design to provide design, bidding and construction services, Barletto said. A 2020 contract with the consultant ended when the city considered pursuing a public-private partnership to run the club at the point that 60% of the contract had been completed.

Barletto showed the commission a list of golf course projects that total more than $15 million. A replacement of the water main, which would cost $1 million, might not need to be done, Barletto said.

— Anne Geggis

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By Sallie James

Ocean Ridge residents could pay a tax rate as high as $6.00 per $1,000 of assessed value under a tentative proposal town commissioners OK’d during a July 1 budget workshop.

But don’t swoon from sticker shock just yet: The town’s final tax rate is expected to be lower. Town officials are required to submit a maximum rate to the county by July 31, explained Town Manager Lynne Ladner. And in this instance, commissioners decided to give themselves some wiggle room in case more tax dollars are needed.

“It’s not our intention to go there but we can’t go back up,” explained Vice Mayor Steve Coz. “It’s our intent to lower it.” The final tax rate won’t be approved until September and residents will have a number of opportunities to weigh in.

Property owners in Ocean Ridge currently pay a town tax rate of $5.40 per $1,000 in taxable value.

The preliminary tax rate is bound to send off alarms, Ocean Ridge resident Roland Steies warned during public comments.

“You are exposing yourself publicly to $6 and that will encourage public discussion on that,” Steies said.

The good news is that the town’s overall taxable value is 10.3% higher than last year, higher than the county’s overall 10% increase, according to preliminary figures released by the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office. Ocean Ridge’s total taxable value for 2024 is almost $1.7 billion, the property appraiser reported.

Ocean Ridge is expecting an estimated $9.1 million in property taxes if the tax rate remains at its current rate of $5.40 per $1,000 assessed value, Ladner said.

Figuring out what to spend that money on is the next step, said Commissioner Ainar Aijala Jr.

The fiscal year 2025 estimated $12.5 million budget includes a range of long- and short-term projects with different levels of urgency and necessity.

“We have to figure out how much of that is left over (after expenses) and what we want to spend it on,” Aijala said.

The town has plenty of choices.

Commissioner Carolyn Cassidy supports hiring a lobbyist for $30,000 to help the town succeed in getting more money from the state.

“There’s a great return on the investment if it works the way we hope it will work,” Cassidy said.

Ocean Ridge recently lost out on an anticipated $250,000 to help fund the cost of a much-needed $500,000 water valve project when Gov. Ron DeSantis unexpectedly used his veto power to cut the money from the state budget last month.

A budget workshop last year revealed that the town had lost track of hundreds of valves that are part of its drinking water distribution system. As a result, the valves have fallen into disrepair and when a water line ruptures, it requires crews to dig along the water line until they can find and then uncover the buried valve.

The proposed project would find, raise, excise and pour a concrete collar for each valve so that all valves are in working order and visible.

Other tentative expenses include:
• $190,000 to hire two police lieutenants
• $75,000 for a water distribution engineering plan
• $750,000 for a water main replacement project

Town commissioners will discuss potential FY 2025 expenditures again at an 11 a.m. workshop on July 25, and during a 2 p.m. workshop on Aug. 5. Both workshops will be held at Town Hall.

The commission is slated to hold two budget hearings, both at 6 p.m., on Sept. 9 and Sept. 23 at Town Hall, before adopting the final budget and tax rate.

Property tax bills also include sums paid to the Palm Beach County School Board, the South Florida Water Management District, park districts and other entities.

Anne Geggis contributed to this story.

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12686752461?profile=RESIZE_710xThe roof of this home on Harbour Drive North has been in need of repair for years. Coastal Star photo

By Anne Geggis

A house in disrepair — for years now — is among the reasons that Ocean Ridge town leaders plan to consider dedicating a new position to keeping properties looking shipshape.

A Town Commission budget discussion June 3 pointed up the need for code enforcement to become a town employee’s designated job again. It turns out code enforcement hasn’t been assigned to a specific person since a police officer doing the job retired last year.

And it shows, Commissioner David Hutchins said.

“We want people to realize they have to take care of their property,” Hutchins said, noting that the house at 62 Harbour Drive North with missing roof tiles and a garage door that doesn’t close hasn’t been inhabited for years.

Even if commissioners are pointing at it, the house has not generated any code enforcement complaints since the current owner, Michael Hemlepp of Delray Beach, purchased the property in 2018. His attorney, John Nadjafi, said his client intends to tear down the building, but has run into delays designing the new home and finding the equipment and workers to do that.

“There are a lot of reasons construction projects get delayed,” Nadjafi said, citing the supply-chain woes during the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors.

Regarding the new staff position, Town Manager Lynne Ladner warned it is more dangerous to have someone who doesn’t wear a uniform doing code enforcement.

“Code enforcement is considered to be one of the higher risk professions,” Ladner said. “I have been to a code enforcement officer’s funeral. … He was shot, attempting to serve a friendly notice to someone about their yard.”

But police officers are not thrilled about doing it, either, and being in uniform unnecessarily escalates the situation, officers said during a discussion at the June 3 Town Commission meeting.

“Because we’re knocking on the door and saying, ‘Hey, you put out your debris in your yard’ … the homeowner might see that as something petty,” Ocean Ridge Officer Aaron Choban said.

Chief Scott McClure explained further: Sending police out to cite people for dirty roofs does not build community trust and rapport.

“Having someone with a gun and a badge tell you your house is dirty, it’s not the way to build good will,” McClure said, noting that his officers are stretched thin on road patrol, keeping dogs off the beach and checking for crime.

“We’ll handle complaints, but I think code enforcement should be strictly a civilian function. Our focus is keeping residents safe,” he said.

Among South County municipalities, the handling of code enforcement has taken on different forms. In Gulf Stream, for example, the police take note of homes that don’t comply with the code and notify town administration, which mails out official notices. 

South Palm Beach has a company doing its code enforcement, as does Briny Breezes. Highland Beach has the job attached to its Building Department, but police do the job when a code officer is not working. Boca Raton has a separate code enforcement division within City Hall, which works closely with police, according to city spokeswoman Anne Marie Connolly. Boynton Beach also has a civilian division within City Hall.

Delray Beach, however, is trying something new to beef up its civilian community services division that handles property not meeting code, said Police Chief Russ Mager.
If a police officer sees a quality-of-life issue, such as an unleashed dog, he or she will be empowered to write a ticket for the infraction that comes with a fine, Mager said.

Dr. Victor Martel, an Ocean Ridge resident since 1997, said the town should either enforce its codes or take them off the books. Since state law in 2021 made it so that complaints can’t be anonymous, he said he has seen the situation getting worse.

“This one house, the roof is close to black,” Martel said. “They are nice people. I’m not going to say anything, but it should be taken care of.”

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Ocean Ridge: News briefs

12686749462?profile=RESIZE_400x

Betty Bingham was honored by Mayor Geoff Pugh (background), who declared her 95th birthday on July 21 as Betty Bingham Day. After the speech, Town Manager Lynne Ladner and others presented her with flowers. Jerry Lower/The Coastal Star

Activism keeps her young as she prepares to turn 95 — No matter that her official birthday wasn’t for nearly three weeks. Ocean Ridge leaders celebrated local activist and longtime town resident Betty Bingham’s 95th birthday at the July 1 Town Commission meeting with flowers, hugs and a special proclamation designating July 21 as Betty Bingham Day in town.

The nonagenarian accepted the honor with grace, smiles and humor.

“I want to thank you all,” Bingham told the commission. “As far as I’m concerned, I’m chugging along.”

Originally from Baltimore, Bingham moved to Florida in 1971, eventually settling in Ocean Ridge where she has lived for more than 40 years. She is widely considered an expert on town history, and currently serves as an appointed member of the town’s Board of Adjustment. Bingham also served on the Town Commission for 12 years and spent another five years on the Planning and Zoning Board. She spent much of her younger years in banking and as a travel agent.

Bingham acknowledged that her activism keeps her young.

“I do enjoy working and doing things around town,” she conceded.

Of the proclamation?

“I think it’s kind of cool,” she said.

Garbage contract extended through 2029 — Waste Pro will continue to be Ocean Ridge’s approved garbage hauler for the next five years, but the company’s maximum annual fee adjustment will be linked to the Consumer Price Index.

Town commissioners on July 1 unanimously agreed to renew the company’s contract through 2029 for solid waste and recycling services with a few tweaks.

Commissioners also adjusted the company’s maximum annual fee increase to 5% instead of 3% after Waste Pro officials said rising operation costs necessitated the increase to continue providing the same level of service.

Commissioners linked the maximum annual increase to the CPI after Vice Mayor Steve Coz wondered what might happen if annual inflation reached only 1%, instead of 5%. He suggested an adjustable rate to address such a scenario.

— Sallie James

Tasers coming for all police officers — Ocean Ridge police officers will all have tasers assigned to them, instead of their cruisers, after Ocean Ridge commissioners agreed to the proposal at their June 3 meeting. They unanimously approved a $176,851 contract with Axon, based in Scottsdale, Arizona, that will include 16 new tasers, more than double the current arsenal of seven.

Ocean Ridge was the only South County police department that had not assigned a taser to each officer, according to Gulf Stream Police Chief Richard Jones, who left his position as Ocean Ridge’s top cop in 2023. 

— Anne Geggis

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By John Pacenti

Florida’s portion of the massive national settlement with opioid manufacturers netted Delray Beach more than $239,000 so far. But a leading advocate — and chair of a key advisory committee — says municipalities would be better served partnering up with the county than going it alone in providing services.

“It’s best if we put all of our money together to have the best outcomes and the most impactful changes in abating this epidemic,” said Maureen Kielian. She chairs the Behavioral Health, Substance Abuse and Co-Occurring Disorders Advisory Committee for Palm Beach County.

“Why would Palm Beach Gardens, for instance, want to open an ASU (Addiction Stabilization Unit)? They can’t afford to, whereas we could do it and service these folks.”

There was some confusion among officials and stakeholders about how much in settlement funds Palm Beach County and its municipalities will receive through 2039. On June 27, the county’s drug czar — John Hulick, head of the Office of Behavioral Health and Substance Use Disorders — clarified that the total is $122 million, of which $25 million has been distributed.

The wild card in all of this is the U.S. Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision June 27 rejecting the settlement portion with Purdue Pharma because it would shield its owners, the Sackler family, from liability for civil claims related to the manufacturing of OxyContin. How that will affect the $50 billion settlement with the states is unknown, but Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote, “There may be a better deal on the horizon.”

The Sacklers’ ill-gotten gains are badly needed in a settlement that involves multiple opioid manufacturers and pharmacies. Of the 7,769 overdose deaths in Florida in 2022, 6,157 were attributed to opioids, according to the state Health Department reports.

Delray Beach spokeswoman Gina Carter said the city since 2022 has received $239,554. The City Commission was set to address how to use the money at its June 18 meeting, but the matter has been pushed to the July 16 agenda, she said.

Ariana Ciancio, a mental health specialist with the Delray Beach Police Department and a member of the advisory committee, said nobody has talked to her about how the money could be spent.

Mayor Tom Carney did not return a phone or text message for his thoughts on the issue.

Commissioner Angela Burns, also on the county’s advisory committee, said she would call for a workshop, saying the whole subject area is new to her.

“Staff is working on something now,” she said. “I’m looking for something that would be educational.”

That’s exactly what Kielian fears, saying that good-intentioned educational efforts from the days of “Just Say No” have been ineffective.

“These are — again — once-in-a-lifetime funds. We don’t need any more nonsense poster contests, stress balls or tchotchkes — that’s costing lives.”

The 18-member committee, including many on the front lines of the crisis, has recommended that 90% of the money go to housing, recovery support, job training, youth assistance and prevention. The rest would be earmarked for acute crisis care, such as medical detox.

Burns did say the amount Delray Beach has to work with currently is “just not a lot of money.”

“You hate to start a program and then have to end it because the funds run out,” she said.

Delray and drug recovery
Still, Delray Beach remains one of the top centers for drug treatment and recovery in the nation, if not the world. The city is home to 35 certified providers, according to the Florida Association of Recovery Residences.

It also played a starring role in the fraud scandal that rocked the industry some eight years ago and saw operators, associates and doctors go to federal and state prison.

At the advisory committee’s June 13 meeting, Kielian criticized proposals to use the money for programs such as foster children aging out of the system.

“I want to be very clear, I’m very empathetic towards that population; however, that’s not what the settlement is for,” said Kielian, also the head of Southeast Recovery Advocates.

She also worried the county could see the money as a piggy bank to shore up unexpected budget demands — such as funding its portion of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ new law banning homeless people from public spaces.

There are no safeguards that prevent states or counties from using settlement funds on programs already funded — and then moving the money supplanted back to the general fund, she said.

Comedian and political commentator John Oliver dedicated a May episode of HBO’s Last Week Tonight to the opioid settlement, saying some states are funneling it to law enforcement.

The advisory committee on June 13 adopted a motion calling on the county to use the opioid settlement for what it is intended to do.

County Commissioners Gregg Weiss, Michael Barnett and Sara Baxter have said they lost siblings to the opioid crisis. County Mayor Maria Sachs said at a May 21 workshop on the subject that she would follow the recommendations of the advisory committee.

“People need a house, job training, meds and treatment — right there in their community. Those who have been through it, lead us,” she said.

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By Mary Thurwachter

Although the Lantana Town Council hasn’t officially voted to add a stormwater utility fee yet to cover the cost of drainage projects, officials are getting their ducks in a row to implement one. To that end, the town heard from the consulting firm it has hired, Chen Moore and Associates, during a June 10 workshop.

The fee is likely to cost property owners between $5 and $6 a month, according to Brent Whitfield, a project manager with Chen Moore and Associates.

Town Manager Brian Raducci said the utility fee has been a topic for the past eight to 10 months and was discussed at the council’s visioning session on April 19.

“Stormwater utility has a cost that has continued to grow,” Raducci said. “We anticipate it will be a larger part of our cost of operations in the future with probably the need for additional construction down the road. It’s time to take a good look at this.”

Lantana’s annual stormwater operations and maintenance costs are $320,030, according to a study done by the engineering firm.

That study also showed that the average monthly rate of utility fees for 130 Florida municipalities is about $8.

The fee is assessed based on the impact of stormwater generated from property within the town. The impact is calculated based on the amount of impervious area (land area covered or paved), and this is shown as an Equivalent Residential Unit or ERU.

In Palm Beach County, monthly stormwater rates range from $4 in Palm Springs to $19 in Wellington, with an average among eight municipalities of $8.91 (Palm Springs, Delray Beach, Jupiter, Lake Worth Beach, Boynton Beach, North Palm Beach, West Palm Beach and Wellington).

The council is expected to adopt a preliminary rate at its July 8 meeting. That rate would be sent to the county property appraiser by July 28 to be included in the TRIM (Truth in Millage) notice mailed to property owners in August. The final rate can be less, but not more, than the TRIM notice rate. The TRIM notice also includes all proposed property tax rates affecting a property.

The council is likely to have another workshop on a stormwater fee on July 22 when feedback from residents will be collected. First and second readings of the ordinance would be Aug. 12 and Sept. 9.

Although public comments were not accepted at the June workshop, one Hypoluxo Island man waited until the end of the Town Council meeting that followed the workshop to voice his objection during public comments.

“To go ahead and put an additional tax on the residents in my mind is not fair,” said Jordan Nichols. He also said hearings and meetings on important topics such as this should be postponed until February or March, since many island residents are away during the summer months.

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By Mary Thurwachter

A first look at Lantana’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year gives residents a good idea of the Town Council’s priorities — and is an early indicator that the town’s current tax rate of $3.75 per $1,000 of taxable value is likely to remain the same.

During the town’s first budget workshop on June 18, Town Manager Brian Raducci said the top three priorities are maintaining infrastructure, continuing with beautification projects, and responsible development. Other important goals include attracting and retaining valuable employees, continuing to attract businesses (especially along Ocean Avenue), continuing to support the library, resuming the dune restoration project, and installing an ADA-accessible ramp at the beach.

Stephen Kaplan, the town’s finance director for 17 years, shared pertinent numbers. For example, the town’s certified taxable value for 2023 was $1.792 billion and the estimated taxable value for 2024 is $1.952 billion (including $8.8 million in new construction). That’s an 8.9% increase, or $159.7 million.

Kaplan said property tax revenue — assuming a $3.75 millage rate and a 95% collection rate — will be approximately $6.9 million.

The finance director reports that all of the town’s $6.3 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds has been committed for operating and capital needs. ARPA money has to be obligated by the end of this year and spent by the end of 2026.

Lantana hopes to seize on grant opportunities, something at which it was very successful this year. It received $2.3 million with help from grants writer Ryan Ruskay of RMPK Funding.

Lobbyist Mat Forrest helped the town secure $1.3 million in state appropriations and Congresswoman Lois Frankel and her staff aided Lantana in collecting $2.2 million in federal appropriations.

In April, the town submitted a $1.9 million federal grant application to upgrade its water treatment plant.

Lantana’s budget is broken down into three categories, including 67% for personnel, 26% for operating expenses and 7% for capital projects. The town has no debt.

A second budget workshop is set for July 8 and the Town Council is expected to set the preliminary tax rate at its meeting that day. The preliminary rate will be included on notices sent out by the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office to property owners in August, alerting them to what their proposed taxes are estimated to be.
Public hearings on the town’s budget and tax rate are set for Sept. 9 and 18.

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Lantana: News briefs

12686736090?profile=RESIZE_710xLantana Marine Safety Supervisor Marc Fichtner gave awards to (l-r) senior ocean lifeguard Sam Janssen and lifeguards Jasper Castaldo and Catherine Girard for their rescues of two swimmers. Photo provided

Related: Manalapan: Attempts fail to revive woman pulled out into the ocean

Lifeguards lauded — Three Lantana lifeguards were given lifesaving awards for their efforts to rescue two swimmers during a strong rip current on May 5. Awards were presented at the June 10 Town Council meeting by Marine Safety Supervisor Marc Fichtner to Sam Janssen, Jasper Castaldo and Catherine Girard.

The rescues began after Girard observed a swimmer caught in the current. She swam out to assist the distressed swimmer and Castaldo went out to help another struggling swimmer farther offshore. Janssen saw that Castaldo needed help with the second victim and went in to help him.

County firefighter/paramedics arrived and both victims were checked and determined to be OK.

“Thanks to the lifeguard team remaining calm and professional throughout the ordeal, an almost certain loss of life event was avoided,” Fichtner said.

Speed bumps to stay — After studies that showed the speed cushions on West Pine Street and on West Ocean Avenue have proved effective, the Town Council voted to make the traffic calming measures permanent. The speed bumps were installed in October 2022 and residents said they have been helpful in slowing drivers.

— Mary Thurwachter

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