County To Stay With Treasure Coast Planning Council

The Palm Beach County Commission decided Tuesday to continue working with the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council rather than switch to the South Florida Regional Planning Council.

The commission heard about two hours of discussion from county staff and the public, including representatives from numerous municipalities and the Palm Beach County League of Cities, mostly in favor of remaining with Treasure Coast.

In October, the commissioners had discussed a switch to the South Florida Regional Planning Council to reduce costs, adding that Palm Beach County has more in common with counties to the south, including diversity, water issues, transportation, economic development and agriculture.

Deputy County Administrator Verdinia Baker said commissioners had also pointed out the county’s participation in other SFRPC entities, including the Tri-County Mayor’s Compact, the Gold Coast League of Cities, Tri-Rail, the Southeast Florida Transportation Council and the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, as well as numerous business entities. However, Baker also pointed out the county’s participation in numerous TCRPC entities.

At the October meeting, the commissioners instructed county staff to review the process necessary to terminate membership with the TCRPC and transition into the SFRPC.

Baker also pointed out that the boundaries of the state’s 11 regional planning councils are under the purview of the governor and have not been modified for decades.

County staff met in November with directors of the Florida Regional Planning Council, who acknowledged that conditions have changed during that time and that it might be appropriate to review the boundaries, and that Palm Beach County’s consideration of a change might have statewide implications.

At the meeting, Baker said directors of the League of Cities also expressed concerns, including that they had no input regarding a possible change, decreased municipal representation on the SFRPC, the metro form of government to the south, and commonality with SFRPC members.

After public comment both for and against the change, Commissioner Melissa McKinlay said she would prefer to remain with Treasure Coast but would like all the planning council boundaries to be re-examined.

Mayor Shelley Vana said she saw advantages to both planning councils and wished there was a way to participate in both.

“I think there is a definite benefit for the municipalities with Treasure Coast to give them what they need,” Vana said. “If there was some way, I think the communities might be interested in having that relationship with South Florida.”

Baker said county staff had looked into the steps that would be necessary to withdraw from the TCRPC and join the SFRPC, but had not looked into other options. “We did not look at the nine other regional planning councils,” Baker said.

Commissioner Mary Lou Berger said there had been a lot of discussion about how north and south county relate as far as water and transportation, but she had not heard discussion on public safety.

“I think that’s important to all the areas up and down the coast, being in the so-called ‘eye of the hurricane’ down here in the Southeast,” Berger said. “We seem to have a middle child syndrome going on here.”

Berger said she saw Palm Beach County as the ‘glue” that could hold both areas together.

“We have the uniqueness of being rural and the uniqueness of being urban,” she said, adding that she supported remaining with the TCRPC but found it interesting that representatives from the north and south had talked about working together. “I’d like to see a dotted line connecting to the South Florida Regional Planning Council, perhaps by having staff attending the meeting as ex-officio, because there are things that all the counties have in common that we should work together on, such as public safety.”

McKinlay said she saw advantages to being part of the SFRPC.

“It’s not like we want to be like Broward County, but that we don’t want to be like them and that’s why we want a seat at that table,” McKinlay said. “I think the most reasonable thing that I heard today [was] that we need to be looking at a new region in the regional planning council, and I think the best thing we can do right now is stay where we’re at and direct staff to review the current boundaries.”

McKinlay made a motion to remain with the TCRPC but to ask staff to work with the Florida Regional Planning Council to reconsider the council boundaries.

Commissioner Paulette Burdick said they had spent nearly two hours trying to identify the problem. “One of two things that I heard was that Treasure Coast lacks diversity on the council and that it’s $70,000 more,” Burdick said. “What I did hear is many of the cities in Palm Beach County who we partner with and collaborate with place a tremendous value and confidence in the work that the staff at Treasure Coast does.”

She added that TCRPC staff members often come out to the communities to discuss complicated issues with citizens, which Burdick felt is a very important service. “At this point, I don’t see a good reason to move,” she said.

Vana proposed as a compromise that the boundaries still include Treasure Coast. “It would not cut out Treasure Coast, it would include the whole area,” Vana said. “I definitely would not want to be simply in South Florida.”

Commissioner Steve Abrams said he would not prejudge what those boundary locations would be, and Commissioner Priscilla Taylor pointed out that the boundary decision would not be theirs but the governor’s.

Several commissioners, including Taylor, apologized to representatives from the Fort Pierce area who had been criticized during public comment regarding development there, or the lack of it.

“I am from Fort Pierce, and I don’t just ride on the east coast,” she said. “Unless you live there and walk those roads, I don’t think you have any reason to say anything about it.”

Abrams asked that county staff meet with Palm Beach County League of Cities representatives during their discussions on the boundary changes.

Commissioner Hal Valeche proposed a substitute motion to simply remain with the TCRPC, which failed 4-3, with McKinlay, Abrams, Vana and Taylor opposed.

McKinlay’s motion to remain in the TCRPC and work with the statewide council to examine boundaries — and include the county municipalities in discussions — then carried 7-0.