Voters heading to the polls on or before Tuesday, Nov. 8 will have the opportunity to help Palm Beach County rebuild from years of capital neglect brought on by the belt-tightening of the recent recession. They should take the opportunity to support these necessary road, infrastructure and school projects.
Nestled among the candidates seeking office is a countywide referendum question: a proposed one-cent sales tax increase, with proceeds to be split among Palm Beach County, the Palm Beach County School District and the county’s municipalities over 10 years. If approved, the county’s sales tax will increase from 6 percent to 7 percent. The tax would generate an estimated $2.7 billion over 10 years toward needed infrastructure projects. Once the $2.7 billion is raised, the surtax would expire, even if the 10-year expiration date has not yet arrived.
Half of the money — or $1.35 billion — would go to the school district, with the goal of performing seriously needed maintenance and upgrades of existing buildings, as well as security and technology upgrades needed across the district. This includes the replacement of air conditioning systems at many of the district’s school buildings. Additionally, there is a need to purchase $91 million in new school buses to handle growing student enrollment.
School Superintendent Dr. Robert Avossa noted that over the past decade, state lawmakers have shorted the district roughly $865 million in construction and maintenance money. That, plus a shifting of state money away from traditional public schools and toward charter schools, has led to the district postponing much-needed infrastructure repairs and upgrades. He also said that the district’s long-term capital forecasts include $1.34 billion over the next 11 years, which can only be realized if the referendum passes next month.
At the four local high schools alone — Palm Beach Central, Royal Palm Beach, Seminole Ridge and Wellington — there’s an estimated $49.5 million in upgrades and repairs, including replacement of exterior doors and windows, making Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliance upgrades, replacement of plumbing and boilers, roof repairs, classroom furniture, energy-efficient lighting and field improvements, plus the installation of campus security such as additional alarms and video surveillance.
An estimated $810 million — 30 percent — would go to Palm Beach County infrastructure repairs — primarily county roads, bridges, parks and buildings. Infrastructure repairs have been an issue nationally, and county roads are no different; nearly 30 percent of the county’s 300 bridges are in need of an upgrade. Roadway surfaces, drainage improvements, canals, park amenities and government buildings are also part of the proposal. Included are at least a dozen roadway projects in the western communities, along with a number of recreation projects — including five projects at Seminole Palms Park and a community center in The Acreage. Another big-ticket local item is the long-planned Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office substation serving the Acreage/Loxahatchee area. Also part of the plan, approximately $645 million — 20 percent — would go to county municipalities based on population.
In part because of the success of the now sunset 2004 surtax initiative, which led to numerous school district improvements, we believe it is the right move to support the current proposal. While it is true that there could have been a voter initiative to issue bonds for the needed expenses, this would have increased property taxes. A one-cent sales tax means that tourists, non-residents and those who do not own property would help with these much-needed repairs.
Learn more about the referendum at www.onecountyonepenny.org.
The Town-Crier endorses a YES vote on the One-Cent Sales Surtax ballot question.