By Dan Moffett
Manalapan can move forward with a plan to improve water delivery to its oceanfront homes after the Town Commission approved two ordinances that will allow an easement for pipeline construction across property owned by Commissioner Hank Siemon.
One ordinance removes the requirement that homes be built before docks are added as accessories. The change means that Siemon can get his dock construction underway before completing his new residence at 1660 Lands End Road.
The other ordinance removes the requirement that the town’s Architectural Commission must review dock projects. Both passed unanimously on June 23.
Because the positioning of Siemon’s dock can now be laid out and approved, the town can determine its easement space and begin work on installing the pipe that will significantly increase water flow to homes along the ocean.
In January, the commission approved a variance to code that allows Siemon to build a dock some 30 feet farther out into the Intracoastal than existing limits. Some neighbors and two former mayors objected to allowing the exception.
Commissioner Stewart Satter commended Siemon for working with the town to get the water project going.
“He’s doing us a favor,” Satter said. “He’s not trying to pull a fast one. He’s trying to cooperate with the town because that dock needs to go in before the water line.”
Mayor Keith Waters said the commission has been talking about improving its water delivery for 15 years, and Siemon’s willingness to work with the commission is making it possible.
“We asked him. He didn’t ask us,” Waters said. “We asked him to go ahead and move forward because we need that dock in place.”
In other business:
• Manalapan commissioners are facing some hard choices as they begin deliberations in July on the town’s 2020-2021 budget. Tax revenues are down and expenses are rising.
Property tax valuations are essentially flat year-over-year, up only 1.5%, the lowest increase in Palm Beach County. Several Manalapan property owners petitioned the value adjustment board and had their valuations decreased, Town Manager Linda Stumpf said. Meanwhile, next door in South Palm Beach, valuations are up almost 22%, the highest in the county, which will take a toll on Manalapan.
The town and South Palm are connected in a package deal with the county for fire-rescue services. The big jump in South Palm valuations means both municipalities will have to pay the county significantly more this year.
Also, the COVID-19 pandemic has crippled business at Plaza del Mar and Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa, reducing tax streams to the town. Manalapan’s county and state tax receipts are down, too.
On the expense side, personnel costs keep rising, the Police Department has expanded and an ambitious multiyear, multimillion-dollar septic-to-sewer conversion project looms on the horizon.
“We’re working really hard to bring in the budget and make some cuts to it so hopefully we can absorb the reduction and not increase the tax rate,” Stumpf said. “But I can’t say for sure if I’ll be able to do that.”
• The commission unanimously approved an ordinance that allows the placement of liens on properties with unpaid water service charges. Until passing the law, the town had little means of enforcing collection of delinquent water bills, Stumpf said.
• Manalapan is claiming a first for the town. Because of COVID-19 restrictions that have closed Town Hall, video of the commission meeting on June 23 was streamed live via Zoom on YouTube.
“This is the first in the history of the town that we’ve had a video Town Commission meeting,” Waters said, smiling. “We are the astronauts of the future for town government.”