Briny Breezes: Water rates come up for further discussion

By Margie Plunkett
Armed with history and a 1926 plat map, Briny Breezes Mayor Roger Bennett appealed to Boynton Beach to extend lower, resident water rates to the town that he said is “technically an extension of Boynton Beach.” Briny Breezes’ water charges rose 51 percent when Boynton Beach boosted water rates earlier this year, compared to the 25 percent increase in the residents’ rate, which Ocean Ridge pays, Bennett said during his presentation to Boynton Beach commissioners. The rationale behind the difference, he said, is that Ocean Ridge was once a part of Boynton Beach.
“The plat map shows Briny Breezes was at one time part of Boynton Beach,” Bennett said, and it, too, should be assessed the lower rate.
The history was more complicated than that, however, according to Boynton Beach City Manager Kurt Bressner. Ocean Ridge was a part of Boynton Beach until the 1920s or ’30s. Boynton Beach fell into hard financial times, and Ocean Ridge struck a deal to pay a portion of the city’s debt and in exchange would become its own town. That’s when the agreement setting the inside water rates took place. “It was essentially a divorce decree — and they got custody of the inside rates,” he said.
History wasn’t the sole issue, however. Boynton Beach Mayor Jerry Taylor raised the point that the city raised the rates to cover debt costs and is still hearing from residents feeling the pinch — even though the city subsequently lowered the rates by 7 percent. Commissioners also have to consider the precedent that would be set if they granted Bennett’s request: Others charged the outside rates, including condominiums, would want the lower, inside rate as well. About 42,000 water users pay the outside rate, they said.
Bennett also pointed out that Boynton’s water is delivered through three Briny Breezes meters, that Boynton Beach doesn’t have to read each resident’s meter or send them a separate bill. Briny Breezes does that. Boynton Beach does read and bill Ocean Ridge residents. Boynton should take into consideration its labor costs are lower for Briny Breezes and bill accordingly, Bennett argued.
When Boynton commissioners compared Briny Breezes to other trailer parks that are billed the outside rates, Bennett reminded them that Briny Breezes is not a trailer park, it’s a town. Earlier the mayor had quipped that before the deal to sell the town, its “opulent neighbors” north and south called it a trailer park, but now it’s a “quaint South Florida village.”
In the end, Boynton tabled a decision on Bennett’s request until its second meeting in November to allow Bressner to assess the impact of changing the rates. The city manager said he would prepare a comparison of current inside and outside rates using Briny Breezes’ 2009 water usage figures during the peak season, when the population swells to an estimated 1,100 from about 400 in the summer.

— Mary Kate Leming contributed to this story

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