Ah, April. Chamber of Commerce weather, fledgling screech owls in the yard and lingering twilights to enjoy with our neighbors — before the auto transports and seasonal residents bolt for the summer.
By now, most of them have returned to their northern homes and those of us who remain are charged with keeping a protective eye on our coastal paradise.
That means budget hearings! Yes, we need to drag ourselves to commission chambers and engage with issues that promise to affect our cities and towns for years to come.
And this summer, there is much to talk about.
Foremost is home rule — our municipalities’ ability to remain sovereign governing bodies with control over our future. The challenges to home rule are coming at us from all directions. The federal government is talking oil drilling off our coast, and the state legislature has tried to limit local control over vacation rental properties — among other things.
With hired lobbyists and organizations like the Florida League of Cities, we are able to track and fight myriad legislative efforts intending to erode our independence.
But there is a subtler threat that must be monitored: our own ignorance.
Did you know there is talk in our coastal towns about converting private septic systems to sewer? Did you know that commissioners in some towns have bought into the larger-city sales pitch concerning cost savings if they’ll just turn over all those aging water pipes to them? If we want to pursue our governmental independence, why would we ever do that?
If all of our infrastructure is owned by the larger city next door, why not just annex? Our small towns already contract for fire-rescue — and are held to their response times and annual cost increases.
We know the bigger cities would like to have our tax base, so it’s not hard to imagine, say, Boynton Beach’s height and density guidelines implemented on the barrier island in the future. That should keep you awake at night.
Some of our small towns are even talking about trading their local police forces for larger public safety organizations that say they can provide services for less money. Don’t be fooled. There is always a cost.
The largest portion of that cost is the lack of local control. Have you ever tried to get information from the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office? Good luck. Hope you have an attorney. Or how about depending on Boynton Beach to get the sewer lift stations operating when the power goes out after a storm? Think our island homes are going to be a priority with thousands of people in dark towers just across the bridge? I doubt it.
Same goes for police protection. Large agencies are going to respond where there is the greatest need after a storm — and that’s not likely to be our coastal towns.
There are other big-ticket items to be discussed over the summer concerning rising waters and infrastructure. Not sexy stuff, but if you want to continue living in communities with some semblance of home rule, I’d suggest you attend town meetings.
We’ll be there. Hope to see you.
Mary Kate Leming,