By Rich Pollack

For more than a decade, Highland Beach town leaders have been searching for a way to increase the cap that requires voter approval to spend more than $350,000 on any one project — a provision incorporated in the town charter in 1991.

In 2012, commissioners passed an ordinance raising the cap to $1 million only to discover — after a critical Palm Beach County inspector general report — that any change in the limit needed voter approval.

Then two years ago, voters shot down a proposal that would have raised the cap based on a percentage of the town’s total budget, after strong opposition from an influential group of residents.

Now town leaders — who say residents will benefit once the financial handcuffs are removed — are hoping the third time will be the charm.

“It will give us a more direct and efficient path to tackle small capital projects,” Town Manager Marshall Labadie said.

Voters will have a chance to raise the spending limit to what town leaders say is manageable when they go to the polls March 19 to vote on three referendum issues.

Town leaders say they are optimistic all three questions — raising the cap, approving $3.5 million to line sewer pipes, and letting the supervisor of elections oversee the town’s election canvassing board rather than requiring commissioners to be on it — will get the green light.

“It appears voters are willing to give full consideration to the referendum issues,” Labadie said.

To make changes to the spending limit more palatable to voters, town leaders propose a cap of $900,000 per project, with adjustments for inflation each year beginning next year.

The $900,000, says Vice Mayor David Stern, equals what the $350,000 limit set more than 32 years ago would equate to in today’s dollars.

“This just makes sense,” he said. “It’s very clean, it’s very clear and it’s very much needed.”

Stern has said in the past that one of the reasons the last effort to increase the cap failed was that it was difficult for voters to understand.

Jack Halpern, who leads the vocal Committee to Save Highland Beach, the political action committee that opposed the idea in 2022, says his group supports raising the spending limit this time because it’s simple and makes sense. The group is also in favor of the two other referendum issues.

“The spending cap has needed to be raised for years,” he said. “It’s ridiculous.”

Labadie said the $350,000 cap, one of the few spending limits on local elected officials in Florida, makes it challenging for Highland Beach to get things done.

With the town starting its own fire department, increasing the spending limit takes on a bit more importance because of the high cost of replacing equipment and apparatus, he said.

Labadie said inflation is also driving the need to increase the spending cap.

“Items that were previously under $350,000 now exceed $350,000,” he said.

Labadie said that increasing the cap will take away some of the concerns that come with presenting important spending issues to voters.

“There’s a real risk to day-to-day operations of systems if you have a referendum and don’t get voter approval,” he said.

E-mail me when people leave their comments –

You need to be a member of The Coastal Star to add comments!

Join The Coastal Star

Activity Feed

Mary Kate Leming posted photos
Wednesday
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Wednesday
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Wednesday
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Wednesday
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Wednesday
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in OCEAN RIDGE
Wednesday
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in BOCA RATON
Wednesday
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in OCEAN RIDGE
Wednesday
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Wednesday
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Wednesday
Mary Kate Leming posted a blog post
Wednesday
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion
Wednesday
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in BOCA RATON
Wednesday
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion
Wednesday
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in GULF STREAM
Wednesday
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in OCEAN RIDGE
Wednesday
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Wednesday
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in DELRAY BEACH
Wednesday
Mary Kate Leming posted a discussion in BRINY BREEZES
Wednesday
The Coastal Star posted a blog post
Wednesday
More…