The Palm Beach County School Board and the Palm Beach County Commission approved amendments to the proposed one-cent sales-tax increase at a joint meeting Wednesday.
The changes removed the money earmarked for business development and cultural programs included in earlier versions of the referendum, set to go before Palm Beach County voters in November.
Last week, the county commission approved the surtax referendum without the proposed economic and cultural benefits out of concerns that they would convolute an effort that originally had been only for infrastructure improvements.
The revised interlocal agreement approved Wednesday leaves the school board with 50 percent of the revenue, the county with 30 percent and municipalities with 20 percent.
The revised agreement will go back to the Palm Beach County League of Cities for approval by a majority of the municipalities.
School Superintendent Dr. Robert Avossa opened the meeting, saying that he and County Administrator Verdenia Baker had been working together for the past several months on the proposal.
“We’ve done so in a way to collaborate and be collegial,” Avossa said. “After our last meeting, the school board provided some additional input to coordinate a joint meeting and to share with the county commission where we stand.”
School District Chief Financial Officer Mike Burke said his staff began with an ordinance that had been amended by the county commission on May 3 to eliminate the cultural and economic benefits, and added its own amendments stipulating that the agreement would automatically terminate if the county commission does not enact the ordinance as presented on or before June 7, and a majority of the county’s municipalities do not approve the revised agreement on or before June 10.
Another amendment expands the sunset provision to stipulate that the surtax will cease once the goal of $2.7 billion is reached, even if that happens before the 10-year sunset provision.
Avossa said school board members had expressed consternation about the time remaining to put the referendum on the ballot, and whether to continue collectively or go individually. “We want to make sure that we can put our thoughts and ideas out there, and make some decisions so that we could meet the deadlines,” he said.
Baker said she thought the agreement was in the best overall interest of the community. “It addresses all of our backlog needs,” she said.
The ordinance is set for final approval by the county commission on Tuesday, May 17.
Commissioner Steven Abrams asked whether any consideration had been given to reducing the sunset amount of $2.7 billion by the 6 percent, or about $161 million, that would have gone to economic and cultural development.
Baker said that had been discussed among staff, but the list of infrastructure improvements for the county and the cities is already longer than the amount of money that will be available. Avossa said that the school district’s list of needed projects also far exceeds the amount to be raised.
School board members Debra Robinson, Sharon Brill and Marcia Andrews said they wanted it clear that there would be no further amendments to the ordinance.
The joint meeting adjourned, and the county commission convened to approve the amended interlocal agreement and the language added at the request of the school board.
During public comment, Palm Beach County League of Cities Executive Director Richard Radcliffe said that his board had directed him not to oppose the revised agreement.
“There are at least 14 cities that, without this, just like the school board, are millage-challenged,” he said. “Without this, there is no way to raise ad valorem taxes or to ever get the funds necessary to take care of the schools and take care of the roads. I want to congratulate everybody for being here and doing what we do so well, working together.”
Daniel Martell with the Economic Council of Palm Beach County said that he and his board agreed that infrastructure in the county is needed.
“We understand that first-class communities are built on infrastructure and first-class schools, which we have today, but we cannot let that slip,” Martell said. “For that reason and more, our executive committee voted to support the ordinance that’s before you today. We are in full support of the schools and the county and cities coming together, and we also support and are happy to see the sunset provision.”
He urged all of the entities to come together.
“This is a historic moment,” Martell said. “We have the opportunity to build and be a part of the largest infrastructure effort ever conducted in our community, and we would encourage both the school board and the county to come together and stay together with the cities to make this all happen.”
Commissioner Melissa McKinlay made a motion to approve the interlocal agreement as amended, which carried 5-2 with Abrams and Vice Mayor Hal Valeche opposed.
Once the county commission special meeting adjourned, the school board’s meeting convened, where Robinson made a motion to approve the same agreement, which carried 6-0.
On Tuesday, the Wellington Village Council approved the amended agreement. Village Manager Paul Schofield estimated that the extra sales tax, if approved by voters on Nov. 8, would bring about $1.35 million per year to the village.