By Mary Hladky

Most Boca Raton City Council candidates facing off in a Feb. 8 candidate forum ahead of the March 19 municipal election advanced similar views on many issues, but the city’s tax rate sparked disagreement.

Brian Stenberg, who is running against former Council member Andy Thomson for Seat D, said city revenues must increase to pay for the rising cost of running a growing city. He acknowledged that suggesting a tax increase is “not a popular thing to say.”

Bernard Korn, a Seat C candidate who has been soundly defeated in three previous attempts to win a council seat, did not address the tax rate directly, but said the city has crumbling infrastructure and “is in bad shape.”

“We probably are going to need $1 billion to keep up to speed,” he said.

Thomson, an attorney who resigned from the council in late 2022 to make an ultimately unsuccessful run for the Florida House District 91 seat, was unequivocal.

“I am not going to be raising taxes,” he said. “We have one of the lowest tax rates in the state. That attracts a lot of businesses and residents to the city. … I will not dig into your pocket” to raise revenue.

Incumbent City Council member Yvette Drucker, who is challenged by Korn in her bid for a second three-year term, said she opposes higher taxes.

The city can improve efficiency and “run a lean machine” to maintain the revenue needed to continue providing quality services, she said.

Asked by the forum moderator about how to handle development and redevelopment, Korn, a real estate broker, was the most strident.

Builders and developers “hate me because I oppose unrestricted and unlimited development,” he said.

His top priority, Korn said, is to “end uncontrolled development. It must be fixed.”

Thomson acknowledged that the city will continue to grow. The role of the City Council, he said, is to manage growth “responsibly.”

Drucker, the council’s first Hispanic member and a longtime volunteer with many organizations, said the council must find the right balance so that development and redevelopment are done with “common sense.”

Stenberg, a partner in a medical office real estate management firm who made an unsuccessful council run in 2021, called for “respectful growth” that would prevent overdevelopment.

When candidates were asked about their top priorities, Thomson’s list included strong public safety, keeping taxes low, maintaining the high quality of the city’s parks, and addressing traffic issues.

Drucker has made fixing transportation problems a top focus as a council member. She said she would continue her work on traffic and mobility, along with increasing the stock of affordable housing.

“Public safety and making sure our children are safe,” said Stenberg.

The candidates were respectful of each other, with the exception of Korn, who repeatedly attacked Drucker.

He complained that Drucker had an unfair advantage in the 2021 election because council members months earlier had appointed her to temporarily fill the council seat left vacant when Jeremy Rodgers was deployed on an overseas military assignment.

Drucker, who became a candidate to replace Rodgers permanently, won 50.6% of the vote, defeating Korn and two other challengers. Korn garnered 4.9%.

He said Drucker had raised “all” her campaign contributions from developers. Drucker said that was “inaccurate,” noting that she obtained contributions from a “wide range” of supporters.

Her campaign financial forms show that while she has support from developers and land use attorneys, they are not the only contributors to her campaign.

Korn said Drucker was a “co-signer” on a city ordinance that “destroyed the elections system for years to come.” He contends it restricts a candidate’s ability to collect valid petitions that qualify the candidate to run for office.

Although Drucker did not know at the time what ordinance Korn was talking about, she immediately shot back: “You need to get your facts straight. I won my election.”

Ordinances do not have co-signers. The ordinance Korn cited resulted in large part from his previous candidacies when he created confusion about where he lives. Candidates must be city residents.

It lengthened the time people must have lived in the city from 30 days to one year before they can qualify to run and required residents to provide proof of residency. It also disqualified from running those who have a homestead exemption on a property outside the city limits. It eliminated a requirement that candidates pay a $25 qualifying fee, and instead requires them to submit a petition with the signatures of at least 200 registered city voters.

Council members started work on the changes about two months before Drucker joined the council.

They were approved by voters in the March 9, 2021, election, after which the ordinance was enacted.

For this election, as has been the case in his previous candidacies, Korn produced a driver’s license and voter registration card showing his address is on the barrier island at 720 Marble Way, but his campaign financial reports list his address as a P.O. box in the city’s downtown post office.

County property records show that Korn and his wife own a home at 19078 Skybridge Circle, in an unincorporated area west of the city. In the past, the records showed that the couple claimed a homestead exemption on the home.

But last year, Korn provided a homestead withdrawal form from the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office to the city. His wife still claims the exemption.

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