The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: City Council offers to take over golf course project

By Steve Plunkett

The City Council is poised to take over building the 18-hole golf course at the proposed Boca National site if the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District agrees and promises not to raise taxes.

“Details would need to be worked out in a new interlocal agreement after joint deliberations,” City Manager Leif Ahnell said in a follow-up letter to the district Aug. 28.

The city’s offer comes with two other major conditions. Council members said they want to manage the construction on the west side of Northwest Second Avenue and they want a new golf course plan.

“I think selecting other designers at this stage of the game is crucial to moving forward,” council member Andrea O’Rourke said.

Council member Andy Thomson, whose “design challenge” in July drew responses from 16 golf course architects, was blunter.

“I don’t know about you all, but I’m not inclined to use Price/Fazio on the western side. … That would not be my preference,” Thomson said, referring to the Nick Price-Tom Fazio design team chosen by the Beach and Park District.

The district-approved Price/Fazio design has a nearly $28 million price tag. Beach and park commissioners trimmed that to $20 million by postponing a clubhouse and a tunnel between the east and west sides.

But both figures were too high for the City Council, prompting Thomson to look for alternatives and beach and park commissioners to set a tentative tax rate of $1.1956 per $1,000 of taxable value, a 35.7 percent increase from the rollback rate of $0.88 per $1,000.

That rate was printed in the Truth in Millage tax notices that went out in late August.

“A lot of residents have contacted me asking me since they got their TRIM notices, ‘Why is the city raising the taxes?’ ” Mayor Scott Singer said. “I’ve had to politely explain, ‘Well, it’s not exactly the city doing that.’”

In Singer’s case, for example, his city tax will rise by $61.57 to almost $2,725 while his beach and park tax jumps to $838, up almost $210, county records show. (County, school district and other taxes make Singer’s total bill $13,581 before discounts; his home has a taxable value near $700,000.)

A consultant at the council’s Aug. 27 special golf workshop noted that 18 percent of Boca Raton households have incomes of at least $150,000, suggesting that the community can easily afford greens fees.

“That’s great,” Deputy Mayor Jeremy Rodgers said. “But it means 80 percent of our residents don’t. Do they want their tax dollars going up to fund this if they’re not going to play? I don’t think so. I think there’s a better way to do this.”

Council members agreed to refine their ideas on golf at a future meeting and to schedule a joint meeting with beach and park commissioners before the district approves its final tax rate. District commissioners can lower but cannot raise the tentative rate at their two public budget hearings this month.

The first budget hearing is 6 p.m. Sept. 11 at the Swim and Racquet Center, 21618 St. Andrews Blvd.

The tentative $1.1956 rate would need votes from four of the five commissioners and would raise an additional $9 million; a rate of $1.1110 would need only three yes votes and bring in an additional $6.6 million.

The higher rate would also mean the district would pay Boca Raton’s Community Redevelopment Agency an extra $435,000, for a total of $1.85 million, commissioners learned at a separate special meeting Aug. 26.

Briann Harms, the district’s interim executive director, told commissioners in July that they would have to raise taxes just to keep up with rising costs and planned improvements. The amount it pays the city to operate and maintain parks has gone up 24 percent in five years, from $14 million to $17.3 million, she said, while the district went to its rollback tax rate in 2017 and kept the same rate the next two years.

And a new pump and piping system at the Gumbo Limbo Nature Center to be installed in the coming year will cost $3.2 million, up $300,000 from the original estimate. Ú

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