The Coastal Star

Boca Raton: Parks district talks tax increase to pay for new golf course

By Steve Plunkett

The City Council’s reluctance to pledge any of the $65 million it will get from selling the municipal golf course toward building its replacement has the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District talking about a tax increase.

The district asked council members June 10 to contribute $20 million toward building the planned Boca National golf course. That amount is all of the expected construction cost but only a 45 percent share of its overall expense when the price of the land is included.

Council members have promised to discuss Boca National finances at their July 22 workshop. But that comes too late for district commissioners, who must set a tentative tax rate by the end of the month, so on July 1 they discussed how much to raise taxes.

Commissioner Robert Rollins said he was ready to increase the rate from this year’s 91 cents per $1,000 of taxable value. The district raised taxes when it bought Ocean Strand and the Swim and Racquet Center, he recalled.

“I can’t see us going to rollback; I can’t see us keeping the same millage rate. We’re going to have to have a rate increase. It’s just a matter of what it is,” Rollins said.

Merv Timberlake, the district’s financial adviser, prepared figures showing rates that would generate an additional $3 million to $9 million in tax revenue.

This year a home with a taxable value of $500,000 paid about $457 in beach and park taxes. If district commissioners determine they need an extra $9 million, that homeowner would pay about $598.

Commissioner Craig Ehrnst, who presented the district’s partnership proposal to the council on June 10, said he was more concerned about council members’ buying in to the golf course plan than he was the dollar amount they might give.

“To be the best project, it really needs both parties to be fully engaged and fully involved,” he said, fearful that without city support just getting building permits for the golf course would “take forever.”

District Vice Chair Erin Wright said she thought after speaking individually with four council members that they would contribute less than $20 million but more than $10 million.

“They didn’t give me exact numbers, but I threw some out there and they were like, ‘yeah,’” Wright said.

Some taxpayers in the audience urged commissioners to do the project without city financial help. Al Zucaro, publisher of the BocaWatch blog and two-time mayoral candidate, called the city’s track record on finishing projects “dismal.”

“The public perception out there is enough already. You guys are the better of the two entities, and the way to accomplish this deal is to take it on yourselves and just get it done,” Zucaro said.

Resident and onetime commission candidate Tom Thayer dismissed City Council member Andy Thomson’s idea of copying Winter Park’s $1.2 million renovation of its municipal golf course as being a “second-class” solution unworthy of Boca Raton.

“Fund the thing yourself,” Thayer said, proposing that district commissioners double their tax rate one year to pay for Boca National.

Last year the district told City Council members it could finance the new golf course and pay its other obligations without raising taxes. Since then the construction estimate has ballooned from $10.5 million to $20 million, not including the costs of a clubhouse or tunnel for golf carts to avoid traffic.

City Council members have not discussed how they might use the $65 million from the sale of Boca Municipal. Ú

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