Several residents of The Acreage attended the Palm Beach County Commission meeting Tuesday to ask the county for equitable financing for recreation facilities in their community.
The requests came during budget discussions and the commission’s consideration to set the maximum property tax rate, which was approved at 4.7815 mills, the same as last year.
Acreage residents asked specifically for assistance in expanding the southern portion of Acreage Community Park, which the county traded to the Indian Trail Improvement District several years ago in return for the property where the new Acreage branch library now stands.
Acreage resident Sandra Love-Semande, a former ITID supervisor, said she and other residents were asking for the county’s support of the park expansion.
“We have approximately 1,500 children in our sports programs, which is keeping them off the streets and out of trouble,” she said. “We have a waiting list, and we don’t have the fields and some of the facilities that the residents are asking for. So, we’re looking to you to help us fund those future projects for Acreage Community Park.”
Love-Semande said county help is needed because ITID is split between competing recreation and drainage priorities.
“We do have people who don’t want any more park additions, and we have people who want additions, so it’s a catch-22 for the officials of the Indian Trail Improvement District and the [Acreage] Landowners’ Association to try to take care of both sides,” she said. “But there is a need, and we would ask your support and future help with trying to provide those services to our residents.”
ITID President Jennifer Hager thanked Commissioner Jess Santamaria for his support in the district’s efforts to come up with a plan.
“As you are probably aware, the Indian Trail Improvement District is a 298 special district whose main purpose is to protect reclaimed land within its boundaries from the effects of stormwater by means of the construction and maintenance of our canal system,” Hager said, reading from a prepared statement. “Our mission statement clearly indicates that our primary concern is surface water management.”
ITID has seven neighborhood parks, one equestrian park and one community park, but the ITID board receives a continuous flow of requests from residents for additional amenities, including athletic fields, memorial dedication areas, a splash zone, a BMX track, equestrian trails and indoor recreational facilities, Hager said.
“As president of Indian Trail, it is my sworn duty for me to consider all sides in an unbiased manner, all the while protecting the health, safety and welfare of my constituents,” she said. “Since the infamous [Tropical Storm] Isaac and severe flooding that occurred, we’ve had to step back from the promise of expanding Acreage Community Park and redirect our focus with our current budget, carefully contemplating the design and function of our neglected infrastructure.”
Hager asked commissioners to consider what Acreage residents are paying in taxes to the county compared with what they receive.
“Part of the county’s budget is to provide parks and park services,” she said. “We would like to ask that you allocate more money back into our area and match what our residents are currently paying in taxes. This will allow our community to decide the best way in which to spend the money that is allocated back to us.”
Hager said park vs. infrastructure development is a sensitive topic in The Acreage because people have difficulty agreeing on where the priorities should lie. “However, we can all agree, and we desire the monies that are paid to the county for parks are fairly distributed back into our community,” she said.
On behalf of the ITID board, Hager asked for the commission’s consideration of support and in-kind services for future development and expansion of Acreage Community Park, and also recommended that the commission consider building a community center for Acreage residents at the county-owned Samuel Friedland Park, located at 18500 Hamlin Blvd. in the northwestern reaches of the community.
At that point, Palm Beach County Mayor Steven Abrams told Hager that she was at the end of her three-minute time allocation for input, saying, “We’re not at the end of the process; we’re at the beginning.”
Acreage resident Anne Kuhl read the rest of Hager’s statement, saying that locating a community center at Samuel Friedland Park would enable the county to staff and maintain the facility.
Kuhl said she supported the ITID board’s decisions to prioritize infrastructure improvements.
“Our infrastructure is our most pressing need, but the children of our area have needs, too, as far as summer activities to keep them busy and out of trouble,” Kuhl said. “We also know that we pay taxes to the county for parks, and we understand that money does go for other parks that we can’t utilize. The ones that are closest to our residents are the ones that are most important because they can’t always travel to different places.”
Acreage resident Alan Ballweg asked for the county commission to support an analysis of what ITID residents are paying to the county in taxes for parks relative to what they receive in parks benefits.
“Based on some calculations from the clerk’s office, about 75 percent of the taxes we pay for parks are being spent on the regional park system, and only 25 percent is being spent on the local park system,” Ballweg said. “This ratio may need to be reviewed. It is appropriate that we support the beautiful park system, but our local park needs should be considered as well.”
Santamaria said the request from the Acreage residents should be taken seriously. He summarized their points into two concepts.
“One has to do with equitableness and the other has to do with where we can get the best return on our investment,” he said. “If you sum up, what they were asking regarding parks is to reevaluate how we have allocated our financial resources throughout the park system in Palm Beach County.”
Residents of The Acreage number about 40,000, he noted.
“We certainly have one of the best park systems in the country. We have received all kinds of accolades on how great our park systems are. I think the whole county appreciates that, but I think the message that the folks in the Indian Trail Improvement District are saying is that they feel they are not getting an equitable investment in their parks compared to other communities in the county.”
Abrams pointed out that they were only setting the proposed millage rate that day. “When we were last here, staff was recommending an increase in the tax rate,” he said. “Now, staff has been able to come in with a flat tax rate. Also, the sheriff was able to come to the table with almost $900,000 in savings.”
Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Priscilla Taylor acknowledged residents’ comments on the budget and said she thought they should be considered, but she reiterated Abrams’ comment that their purpose Tuesday was to set the tax rate, and she made a motion to approve the rate submitted by staff, which carried 7-0.
The first public hearing on the county budget will be Sept. 9, with the second on Sept. 23, both at 6 p.m.