By Steve Plunkett
A week before a Dec. 7 joint meeting with City Council, commissioners of the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District abruptly pulled two items from the agenda.
Off the table will be any talk of interlocal agreements to replace grass sports fields at Patch Reef Park with artificial turf and to give the city $2 million for beach renourishment. Commissioners also decided not to discuss user fees that park patrons pay.
The reason: The city spent five months revising the agreements, then returned them Thanksgiving week.
“I’m disappointed in how this was presented to us,” Commissioner Dennis Frisch said at a Nov. 30 special meeting called in hopes of resolving the issue.
Arthur Koski, the district’s interim executive director, told commissioners the proposals “will require a significant amount of dialogue and discussion” before they talk with the City Council.
“You cannot be expected to have waited five months to get a document, receive it a week before a meeting — and during that week, you know, I’ve just come off a holiday — it just is the type of short-fuse kind of timing,” Koski said.
The proposal for the beach renourishment money would make the district also financially responsible for dredging the Boca Inlet, something it’s never paid for before. The draft of the sports field agreement also incorporates several other interlocal agreements between the city and the district and changes some of the finances.
“This document is throwing all those (other agreements) away and rewriting our obligations,” Commissioner Robert Rollins said. “I didn’t see anything wrong with the agreement that we signed because that’s the agreement that the city drew up for us to sign.”
“The agreement changes the relationship between the city and the district that has been in existence for the past 40 years. So it is not something that I recommend to you that you take lightly, and I’m sure you will not,” Koski told commissioners.
Commissioners worried that the city’s proposal gave short shrift to people who live inside the Beach and Park District but outside city limits.
“There are things that we cannot do in transferring powers or duties of this district to another agency that is not a representative of certain of our constituents,” Koski said.
“I can’t agree to this,” Commission Chairwoman Susan Vogelgesang, one of the non-city residents, said after the meeting. “They want us to pay for everything.”
“I think they look at us as their piggybank,” Commissioner Steven Engel said.
“I think that we have to be very careful so we don’t become a funding agency. We are an independent agency,” Rollins said.
Any discussion of park user fees was dropped from the agenda because the proposed agreement says the City Council will be in charge of setting the rates. The council raised fees for youth sports leagues to play at parks in September without consulting the district.
Koski launched an analysis of who pays how much to use park facilities and how the city and the district split the fees. Some commissioners have asked whether any fees should be imposed on residents who paid for the parks with their tax dollars.
Still on the district’s agenda is the city’s proposed comprehensive waterfront plan (the district wants to be included) and the recent Royal Palm Polo annexation (residents there are not inside the district’s boundaries and do not pay district taxes).
Frisch said he hoped council members would agree to let the district start on the second phase of DeHornle Park, which will be getting additional grass fields and restrooms.
Commissioners said a good starting point for ironing out the friction might be for Koski to meet regularly with City Manager Leif Ahnell as well as more scheduled meetings of the district and the council.
By Steve Plunkett