Royal Palm Beach Mayor Matty Mattioli is seeking re-election Tuesday, March 13, focusing his campaign on his 18-year record of accomplishments in the community. Mattioli faces a challenge from first-time candidate Felicia Matula.
As a 30-year resident, Mattioli was first elected to the Royal Palm Beach Village Council in 1994. He was elected mayor two years ago. Mattioli believes that things are going well for the village despite difficult economic times and said that dramatic change is not necessary.
“I don’t have a full-time job. This gives me something to do, and the end result is hopefully to make life better and easier for the people in Royal Palm Beach,” he said. “You’re not going to satisfy all 34,000 people, but hopefully we satisfy the vast majority.”
Originally from Pennsylvania, Mattioli spent his work career as a manager with Corning Glass before he retired to Florida.
Mattioli got involved in management of the condominium where he lived, which led to a position on the Royal Palm Beach Code Enforcement Board, which in turn led to his election to the council.
As his top accomplishments as mayor, Mattioli cited not increasing the tax rate for the 17th consecutive year despite economic challenges, as well as the village’s luring of the grocery chain Aldi to build its regional distribution center in the community. That’s a project that Mattioli said he worked on for two years with the Palm Beach County Business Development Board.
“I think that’s one of the highlights because of the after-effects of employing at full blast 500 employees,” he said, noting that they’ll be patronizing a variety of businesses and help stabilize Royal Palm Beach’s housing market.
Mattioli is optimistic that the economy is on its way to recovery and that the tax base will start to rise again. “Hopefully, when we get our 2012-13 budget, we’ll have a 2 or 3 percent increase, which isn’t a lot, but it takes the pressure off,” he said.
No matter what happens, though, Mattioli vowed not to raise the village’s property tax rate. “I’ve said it publicly at meetings and I’ll say it again, I am not going to suggest an increase in taxes,” he said. “We have a substantial reserve.”
Mattioli cites progress on plans to extend State Road 7 all the way to Northlake Blvd. as another top accomplishment, fighting Ibis residents who have objected to the road.
“We’ve been fighting for that for 15 years, and we got part of that done, and on [March 21] we have another meeting, and I’m 99 percent sure that that will be done by 2015 or before,” he said.
The extension of Roebuck Road is a goal that has not quite been reached, but Mattioli said Royal Palm Beach will not give up on it. He noted that Roebuck Road was promised 15 years ago when the three West Palm Beach communities of River Walk, Andros Isle and Baywinds were built.
Improvements to Okeechobee Blvd. and partial completion of SR 7 have temporarily taken pressure off for completion of Roebuck, Mattioli said, but Royal Palm Beach demanded that the county complete the acquisition of the necessary right-of-way for the road.
With the reliever roads still years away, Mattioli said that little can be done to ease existing traffic problems in the short term. “The problem is that we only have one road that we control, Royal Palm Beach Blvd.,” he said. “The rest are county roads.”
He did note that the village recently took action to make traffic run more smoothly on Okeechobee Blvd. when it made speed limit changes on the road.
Mattioli said he is the best person to serve as mayor because of his experience. “I know what’s out there, I know what’s coming in and what we have to do to make ends meet,” he said.
His goals for the next two years are to see projects underway, such as the Aldi distribution center, come closer to fruition. “The timetable doesn’t seem like that’s going to happen in two years, but maybe if I’m successful in getting another two years, it will be three-quarters of the way complete,” Mattioli said.
The amount of revenue the village will derive from the center has not been determined, but he pointed out that the utility franchise tax collected alone from 100,000 square feet of refrigerated space would be large. “We have a 4 percent tax on electricity,” he said, “so that’s going to be a couple of dollars.”
Just as Mattioli was elected mayor two years ago, longtime Village Manager David Farber unexpectedly died, which thrust the village into upheaval. The council had to decide whether to search for a new manager or put Village Engineer Ray Liggins, Farber’s second in command, in charge. “It would have taken at least six months for a new man to find out where Royal Palm Beach Blvd. is,” Mattioli said. “I felt it was not the right time to do that.”
Mattioli said he highly approves of Liggins’ job performance. “He works harder than three men,” Mattioli said. “He dots every ‘I’ and crosses every ‘T’ and leaves no stone unturned. He’s new on the job, and he wants to prove that he is the manager and he has the answers to most of the questions.”
Asked if there is anything he would like to see done differently, Mattioli did note the personality differences between Liggins and Farber. “There was only one Farber, and his approach and personality [were] altogether different,” he said. “This guy is more like an Army captain.”
Mattioli approves of the council hiring a private contractor to manage its new foreclosure registry, primarily to take pressure off code enforcement. He believes that the program is working well in keeping track of the mortgage holders and whom to hold responsible for the upkeep of abandoned homes.
Regarding future uses for the former wastewater treatment plant site, Mattioli said he would favor single-family homes with a small public park since there are none west of Royal Palm Beach Blvd. “My feeling is it is in the heart of a residential area, and to have any kind of business or industrial construction is impossible,” he said.
As for the top issues in this campaign, Mattioli came back to money and taxes.
Pledging still another year of no tax rate increases, Mattioli said he would take money from the reserves to balance the budget before he would raise taxes.
“When we sold the water works, after we paid our bonds, we netted $60 million,” he said. “Today, that is worth $73 million because interest rates a few years ago were much higher. To make up for [a budget] shortfall, if we had to take a million dollars, it would be taking a million in interest, and our capital hasn’t been touched.”
The mayor said that future tax rate stability depends on the economy. “We get our preliminary statement on June 1 from the county on our valuation, and we get our final number on July 1. If that number doesn’t decrease too much, and I pray that the economy goes up 2 or 3 percent, we will have a little money and the strain will not be on us to deplete the reserves,” he said.
Mattioli’s opponent characterizes him as an ineffective leader and criticizes the way he conducts meetings. He said that is unfair. “I’ve been here a few years, and she came on stream the last six months, if that,” he said. “Her campaign manager is the lady that I led the charge to stop her from having lessons at her swimming pool. I would never support an effort to make an illegal operation legal in a residential area.”
Matula has also criticized the village for a lack of communication with residents. One example she gave was not properly preparing neighbors of the Aldi site as to what was coming. However, Mattioli said the Aldi location was handled largely by the Business Development Board, which necessarily kept information confidential. The land was also clearly zoned for the use, so there were no public hearings.
Mattioli added that newspaper coverage as well as showing all public meetings online and on Channel 18 gives residents more than enough information if they are interested.
Mattioli said he really likes what he is doing and hopes to keep the job for another two years. “I don’t have a full-time job,” he said. “I’ve always liked politics; that’s one thing that drives me.”