Corbett Levee, Controlling Incorporation Top Legislative Agenda

Palm Beach County’s list of state legislative priorities includes funding for completion of the J.W. Corbett Wildlife Management Area levee, controls on the ability of developers to incorporate their projects before people are actually there, support for infrastructure improvements and action to control sober homes.

All these items are included on the Palm Beach County Commission’s wish list for the next legislative session in Tallahassee.

County staff presented the proposed priorities at the county commission’s workshop meeting Tuesday.

Legislative Affairs Director Rebecca De La Rosa said financing to control substance abuse, especially opiates, is needed not just in Palm Beach County but statewide.

De La Rosa added that State Attorney Dave Aronberg is also involved with the effort to control the growing problem of opiate use, and Aronberg and county staff will support sober home and opiate abuse legislation.

Better intergovernmental coordination on transportation and infrastructure issues is also on the list.

Requiring residency of elected officials is an issue that Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Melissa McKinlay introduced, which sprang from the incorporation of the City of Westlake, which has nonresidents sitting on its first council.

Senior welfare is an issue that Commissioner Mary Lou Berger has been pushing. De La Rosa said this issue is important because the senior population is increasing rapidly in the county and statewide.

Also at McKinlay’s request, staff is focusing on agriculture and individuals who choose to farm land.

Environmental and natural resource issues remain a priority on the legislative agenda.

Assistant County Administrator Todd Bonlarron said appropriation requests include infrastructure requests to deliver potable water in the Glades area, the $28 million beach and inlet management program, the Loxahatchee River preservation program of more than $4 million, the Lake Worth Lagoon project for $3.4 million as the state share, the Lake Okeechobee restoration component asking for $2 million from the state, and the Corbett levee system improvement project for about $3.5 million. That project was partially completed with a previous $4 million from the state.

Bonlarron said the Corbett project needs to be finished so that runoff from Corbett will spill over a dam into the Mecca property and not threaten The Acreage.

Funding for the C-51 boat lift project is also on the list, which would take small boats over existing water control structures on the C-51 Canal from the Lake Worth Lagoon to Lake Okeechobee.

The plan also calls for support of mosquito control efforts, which became an issue during the Zika virus outbreak over the summer.

It also calls for continued support of land purchase efforts by the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.

“We will continue to ask the state to look at opportunities, whether it is acquiring new land, but specifically for management of the local lands and being able to provide some type of a match to local governments to manage some of the land we currently own more effectively,” Bonlarron said.

Regarding the City of Westlake, Commissioner Mack Bernard asked whether there is any legislation moving to change how new municipalities are created.

Bonlarron said the only legislation proposed would deal with municipal elected officials and their residency in that municipality. “We’ve included that in our package to the state legislature to make some changes in state law ensuring that municipal officials when they are elected must reside in their municipality, unlike the case in Westlake right now,” he said.

Regarding municipal incorporation, Bonlarron said that the growth management section of the legislative priorities list talks about attempts that have been made at the state level to hamper local governments’ ability to control land use.

“That’s one of the ways that Westlake came about,” he said.

McKinlay favored repealing a Florida statute that enabled the creation of Westlake, which was with the help of Seminole Improvement District.

“That’s my position on it. I think your language preventing any further changes to the statutes that allow for an independent district or special district conversion is a very smooth way of putting it,” she said.

McKinlay also supported the residency requirement for elected municipal officials. “I just think that if you are elected to represent a city, you also should reside in that city,” she said.

Commissioner Dave Kerner said that Westlake and the residency issue might be dealt with through the county charter.

“One of the things I’d like to do is examine our charter,” Kerner said. “I think there is the ability for a county charter to preempt a municipal charter. We do that in certain areas right now for our charter on issues of law enforcement and environmental issues, so it’s possible that we could place a provision before the voters to mandate that for any municipality within Palm Beach County, their elected officials reside in that municipality.”

Kerner also asked if there is something commissioners can do to support the C-51 Canal boat lift project for the coming legislative session.

Bonlarron said the commission was successful in getting some kind of appropriation to support the boat lift project.

“In terms of what the specific number is going to be this year, I don’t know if that has been determined,” he said. “When that has been determined, there is a coalition of different constituencies working together as a team to do that, and we will work closely with them.”

The commissioners approved the priorities list in concept.