There is a problem. Regrettably, the Palm Beach County Commission has failed the 40 percent of unemployed minorities who live in Belle Glade, South Bay and Pahokee (the Glades). I believe the unemployed do want to work, and have worked for generations in agriculture. The fact is that the State of Florida has purchased farmland in the Glades to meet federal environmental mandates. As an unintended consequence, workers lost their jobs. Instead of employment opportunities, the government is handing out checks and costing taxpayers billions.
The county has borrowed multiple millions of dollars to build a library, a marina for yachts and a football stadium in the Glades. The county pays for police and fire protection. It pays for infrastructure in the Glades, but it has neglected the people who live there. There is no real tax base in the Glades, and no chance for local city governments to be self-sustaining.
There is a solution.
The commissioners should propose to sell investment bonds to finance, build and operate an environmentally neutral light manufacturing plant to train and employ a permanent workforce. It is within the county’s authority, and can be accomplished without new taxes. Taking workers off unemployment and offering them good jobs would save the state and county billions of dollars.
Interest on the bonds would be paid from the revenue produced, and bondholders will be paid in full by selling the operating facility and land to the workers, who will form an employee-owned corporation. Local government already owns 125 acres of suitable land that could be used for the project.
Jeff Atwater, who is now the Chief Financial Officer in Tallahassee, was president of the Florida Senate when I first proposed this plan. His office expressed interest in such a plan. It may be possible to obtain tax concessions from the state legislature and governor for the project. The problem is that we simply do not have people on the county commission who think out of the box. The proof is that for the past six years there has been 40 percent unemployment in the Glades. At this point, all I can do is pray for the families who are struggling to survive in the Glades, and I would ask you to do the same.
Frank J. Morelli