By Steve Plunkett

HIGHLAND BEACH — Ocean-front property owners would pay roughly three-fourths the cost of keeping beaches clean under a proposal being groomed by the town’s Beaches and Shores Advisory Board.
The plan calls for Highland Beach to establish a municipal special taxing unit, or MSTU, to clean the beaches three times a week, maintain the dunes, empty trash cans and remove waste. The taxing unit would need voter approval.
“All beach-goers will find their beach experience greatly enhanced by the absence of ugly plastic debris and dangerous glass and medical waste,’’ said Ronnie Svenstrup, chairwoman of the Beaches and Shores panel.
Svenstrup gave an overview of an assessment study by economist Hank Fishkind, an Orlando consultant, at the Town Commission’s Nov. 30 workshop.
“It’s important to note that everyone residing in Highland Beach has beach access,’’ Svenstrup said.
Fishkind recommended setting up a “base rate’’ that all property owners would pay and an additional “category rate’’ for beach-front properties. About half of the town’s tax base is on parcels either on the ocean or with access to an ocean-front clubhouse or similar facility, Fishkind said.
The base rate would cover 50 percent of the cleanup costs, the category rate the remaining 50 percent.
If the town decided to spend $220,000 a year for beach cleanup, the owner of a $690,000 home on Bel Air Drive would pay $37 extra while the owner of a unit at the ocean-front Townhouses of Highland Beach North would pay about $108.
“It truly is a very fair way of doing this,’’ Svenstrup said.
She said the Beaches and Shores committee will ask commissioners to put the proposal on a ballot “when we believe the time for this vote is appropriate,’’ no sooner than November 2011.
“We’re mindful of the recent election and the message it sent,’’ Svenstrup said, alluding to the defeated referendum on buying an $810,000 fire truck.
“I think the whole community was shocked that it [the fire truck] went down,’’ she said after the meeting.
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