County Considering Sales Tax Hike To Pay For Capital Improvements

Royal Palm Beach Councilman Jeff Hmara reported last week that County Administrator Verdenia Baker had been back at the recent Palm Beach County League of Cities meeting touting a sales tax increase to cover a backlog of capital improvements.

“She gave us some recent estimates on the cost of the county backlog of maintenance of roads and bridges, buildings and parks,” Hmara said at the Dec. 3 meeting of the Royal Palm Beach Village Council. “It totaled somewhere between $650 million and $750 million.”

While a sales tax referendum has not been decided upon, discussion appears to be moving in that direction.

“The county is preparing a comprehensive list of all the projects, specific roads, parks and so forth that need maintenance, and the Board of County Commissioners will decide whether or not to put a referendum item on the November ballot,” Hmara said. “At the present time, we are still hearing a half of a percent. It could be a full percent, and that will depend upon the cost of the projects on the comprehensive plan.”

He added that the extra sales tax, if approved by referendum, will be specific to the list of capital improvements and will be monitored by an oversight committee that watches the expenditures.

The period of time that the extra sales tax will be in effect is still being discussed.

“They’re still talking about a 10-year period,” Hmara said. “It will have a sunset clause to it, which would revert back to a 6 percent sales tax from whatever it will rise to if approved by the voters.”

There has also been discussion of Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue, the School District of Palm Beach County and other agencies joining in the sales tax plan.

“What they are talking about is perhaps partnering with the school district, and maybe the Cultural Council of Palm Beach County, so there’s a lot that has yet to be determined,” Hmara said.

He noted that the cities are typically offered 40 percent of the proceeds based on their populations.

“She kind of hinted that there might be a reduction in the 40 percent, and that the cities might get less. She got some considerable pushback from the board at that particular point,” Hmara said. “One thing she was hoping for that she did get was a consensus from the [league of cities] board as to whether they would support going forward with the sales tax.”

In other business, the Royal Palm Beach Village Council decided to continue sending council members and/or other representatives to meetings regarding the planned GL Homes development northwest of The Acreage.

The vote on the issue was 3-1 with Councilman Fred Pinto dissenting and Councilman Dave Swift absent.

At its previous meeting, the council passed a resolution opposing the application to the county asking for a land use amendment change from 0.1 units per acre to 0.8. Pinto said he felt that the resolution was sufficient.

Hmara asked to direct a council member to be at the Palm Beach County Planning Commission meeting on Dec. 11 and to subsequent county meetings, but Pinto was opposed.

“I don’t see a point to push this any further,” Pinto said. “I think we’ve done what we should have done.”

Councilman Richard Valuntas, however, felt that Royal Palm Beach should continue to participate and apply pressure.

“We’re going to be more affected than anyone else,” Valuntas said. “I’m comfortable sending someone to stand up. It shows residents that we’re doing our jobs.”