Deal with Virgin Trains, ‘innovative’ policing highlight past year
By Mary Hladky
“We have got great news to share,” said Mayor Scott Singer. “The state of our city is strong.”
Singer’s assessment of how the city is doing was delivered in a Feb. 18 State of the City speech at the Mizner Park Cultural Arts Center that drew a crowd of about 200, including many of the city’s leading citizens and volunteers.
While Singer and mayors in the past have offered similar assessments at Boca Chamber breakfasts or Federation of Boca Raton Homeowner Associations meetings, this marked the first formal address open to all residents — prompting Singer to call it the first State of the City speech.
While not mentioning Fort Lauderdale by name, he noted its ongoing sewer and water pipe breaks. Since December, 211.6 million gallons of sewage have spilled into waterways and streets, prompting the state to slap Fort Lauderdale with a $1.8 million fine in February.
“We are working hard to avoid that type of disaster,” Singer said.
Since Fort Lauderdale’s problems trace back to years of not funding pipe maintenance and repairs, the breaks “are stark reminders of the importance of investing in infrastructure,” he said.
Boca Raton has budgeted $50 million for upgrades this year, Singer said, and plans to spend as much as $750 million over the next 15 years to repair or replace water and sewer pipes.
The 40-minute speech included video appearances by interim Police Chief Michele Miuccio, Fire Chief Tom Wood, Sustainability Manager Lindsey Nieratka and Florida Atlantic University President John Kelly.
Singer, who is seeking re-election on March 17 with only token opposition by Bernard Korn, said City Council members “seized the opportunity” to reach a deal with Virgin Trains to build a station in Boca Raton, and described it as a “game changer.”
(At a March 3 meeting of the Federation of Boca HOAs, Korn said his “grassroots” campaign had spent only $459.)
Singer lauded the police department for its “innovative community policing” and the fire-rescue department, noting that the city is spending $2 million on new fire-rescue equipment with the aim of improving response time.
Singer also noted the City Council’s decision not to outsource residential garbage collection and recycling services. Since that vote in May, the city has spent millions on replacing aging equipment.
The city’s economy is healthy, he said, and Boca Raton is home to more than half the corporate headquarters in Palm Beach County.
Singer reminded residents that the city has one of the lowest tax rates in the state and has not raised taxes in seven years.
He also mentioned the city’s AAA bond rating and ample reserve fund that “allows us to respond to opportunities,” such as having money to pay for most of the cost of a train station parking garage.
Another accomplishment is the opening last fall of a temporary campus for the new Verde Elementary that will ease overcrowding. The city donated land for the school.
Singer cited the city’s residents as its greatest strength. “The people are the heart of our city,” he said to applause.