By Mary Hladky
Challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic and the city’s efforts to overcome them dominated Mayor Scott Singer’s State of the City address to residents.
“None of us could have imagined what this year would bring,” Singer said during the 43-minute virtual program on Feb. 17.
“But the challenges of the pandemic have revealed the character and the heart of the people of Boca Raton. I am pleased to report the last year has shown more than ever that the state of our city is strong, united and resilient.”
After COVID-19 was declared a pandemic, the city declared a state of emergency, ordered the wearing of masks and urged people to stay safe at home, Singer recounted.
Boca Raton also took steps to help hard-hit restaurants, relaxing rules so that they could post signs saying they offered takeout and allowing them to seat more people outside.
The city used federal CARES Act funds and $500,000 drawn from city coffers to make available mortgage and rent relief to residents and to help small businesses stay afloat.
With city offices shuttered because of the pandemic, department heads offered more services online. City meetings became virtual, with the technology experiencing very few hiccups.
“In many ways the pandemic has forced rapid adaptive changes in our technology and services,” Singer said.
Department heads recounted some of the year’s successes.
Fire Chief Tom Wood noted that fire-rescue personnel set up a COVID-19 vaccination site overnight at a city-owned building on Congress Avenue when the city received word it would get 200 vaccine doses to administer. Those doses went into arms on Jan. 16.
In a notable achievement for his department, Fire Station 6 was demolished last year and a new station is being built at 1901 Clint Moore Road.
Police Chief Michele Miuccio said the department opened a real-time command center. Singer said that the city’s crime rate dropped by 7% last year, the fourth straight year of declines.
The Development Services department continued efforts to streamline operations, making it easier for residents to do business with the city.
The city opened Hillsboro El Rio Park South last year and has begun construction of the Wildflower/Silver Palm parks.
Possibly the biggest piece of good news for the city last year was the Boca Raton Resort & Club’s decision to donate the 167-acre Boca Golf and Tennis Country Club to the city. It will begin operating as a city amenity in the fall.
Looking ahead, Singer said Brightline is expected to begin construction of its Boca Raton station this year.
The city is working to capitalize on an exodus of technology and financial firms from the Northeast and California to low-tax Florida. An added impetus is the new understanding that people no longer need to work in corporate offices to be productive.
“When you can work from anywhere, why not work from paradise,” Singer said.