By Steve Plunkett and Mary Hladky
The City Council’s decision to keep channeling property taxes into downtown redevelopment until the year 2042 may wind up creating a $60 million hole in the rest of Boca Raton’s budget.
The Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District, which has seen its share of tax increment funding (TIF) for the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency grow from about $70,000 in 1986 to $2.6 million this year, is threatening to withhold an amount equal to each future year’s TIF payment to the CRA from other city projects it funds. Palm Beach County also makes TIF payments to Boca Raton
“Something that we’re going to look at more closely is we have a lot of obligations to the city for different properties. There may be areas where we can relieve some of those obligations to make up for the loss of revenue that’s going to end up going to the downtown area,” Briann Harms, the district’s executive director, told Beach and Park District commissioners on Nov. 20.
They quickly embraced her idea.
“We’re going to have to look at options where we can divert funding from properties that we’re funding for the city now into our own, because we need the money,” Commissioner Steve Engel said.
“The city has been and it can be a very good partner to us, and I want that to continue,” said Commissioner Bob Rollins. “But we may have to look to what we’re funding and find some other ways, because we have some properties that we need to develop, and the funding that we’re paying to the CRA is certainly going to hold us back from those opportunities.”
The City Council unanimously voted to extend the district’s obligation to make annual payments until 2042 at its Nov. 14 meeting.
Ahead of the vote, Harms twice renewed her long-standing request for the district to no longer be required to make those payments and urged the city to work with the district to “find a more balanced approach.”
“This promised extension threatens to divert crucial funds away from our beaches and parks, resulting in a conservative estimate of a $60 million loss of revenue,” she said at the Nov. 13 CRA meeting. “This is not just a monetary loss, but a potential erosion of our community’s quality of life.”
She made the same plea the next night, and said that council members did not seem to be listening to her.
“The loss of these funds will impede our ability to do enhancements that we need to do to update our facilities, to expand park amenities and improve accessibility at all of our recreational buildings,” she said.
Only Mayor Scott Singer responded, saying that he did not agree with Harms’ calculation of how much money the district would lose.
At the district’s Nov. 20 meeting, Harms defended her fund loss estimate and said she didn’t get a chance to respond to Singer because she only was speaking during the public comment part of the council meeting.
“But for the sake of public clarity, the $60 million is an actual, real number,” Harms said, adding that the estimate was conservative.
“We base that on a 3% increase. I can tell you from last year to this year, our payment is at 13% higher. … So I just, I want to make it clear that this is not a characterization. It’s actually reality.”
The district’s current budget includes giving the city $2.2 million to help operate the athletic fields at De Hoernle Park and $350,900 for the Mizner Bark dog park and the Red Reef golf course.
District officials thought the CRA payments would end in 2019 when the bond for building Mizner Park was paid off. That didn’t happen.