By Steve Plunkett
There’s a definite thaw in the cold war between the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District and city officials.
“There’s more of a mood of cooperation,” Steve Engel, the district’s vice chairman, said Sept. 23 after he and fellow commissioners adopted a budget that trimmed nothing from the city’s request.
Other actions point to a clear effort to improve relations. Arthur Koski, the district’s attorney, will step aside as its interim executive director in January after city officials insisted that the district have someone on the job full time.
And the City Council on Sept. 27 approved an interlocal agreement, comparable to a treaty between the independent governments, calling for a 50-50 split on the costs of beach renourishment. The district had agreed to pay half instead of its customary one-third at a joint meeting in June 2015, but both sides balked at written proposals drawn up afterward.
“I’m happy that we put this one in the books,” District Chairman Robert Rollins said when first announcing the pact.
Under the agreement, the district will send Boca Raton $1.5 million, half what the city already paid for last spring’s partial renourishment of the central beach, between Red Reef Park and the Boca Inlet.
But the agreement is for 10 years instead of 30.
“They’re getting what they want, and we’re getting what we want. I see good things coming,” Engel said.
Koski told commissioners in September that he had met with City Manager Leif Ahnell for “a very extensive conversation” on the beach agreement as well as on a “master” interlocal agreement the city has proposed to replace six or seven other pacts governing operations and capital improvements at parks.
The news heartened Engel.
“Before it was difficult to get Art and the city manager’s office together,” Engel said.
Koski also said he had researched 18 months of emails and found that city officials and district officials communicate regularly.
“There were 2,600 communications between the city and the district during that period of time. There is communication,” Koski said.
The $50.4 million budget commissioners approved uses the rollback rate, about 91 cents for $1,000 of taxable value, what’s needed to raise the same amount of revenue as the previous year.
New construction on the tax roll then lowers taxes for others. In Rollins’ case, for example, he will pay $451 in beach and park taxes on his $493,000 home, down from $474 a year ago.
Most district residents also pay city taxes.
When Koski first presented the city’s proposed recreation budget in mid-July he told commissioners, “We have our work cut out for us. The budget that’s being requested is $1.1 million higher than what was spent last year for operation and maintenance.”
Boca Raton officials also wanted $350,000 more for administrative, supervisory and technical costs, a 33 percent boost.
But two weeks later, Koski had juggled the district’s budget and revised his outlook.
“We have acceded to their requests and are giving them every dollar that they are asking for,” he said.
The district pays for the operation and maintenance of some city-owned facilities along with district-owned parks.
It also funds capital projects at the city sites.
By Steve Plunkett