County Federal Requests Include Repay For Presidential Visits

The Palm Beach County Commission approved its federal legislative agenda on Tuesday, which includes efforts to get reimbursement for costs associated with visits to Palm Beach by President Donald Trump.

It is expected that when the president is in town, local law enforcement and other security-related functions will be required of the county and other local governments, according to the legislative staff report. In a brief pre-inauguration Thanksgiving stay in Palm Beach, more than $250,000 in security expenses related to the then president-elect’s visit was incurred by the county.

The legislative staff will work with the federal government to ensure that local costs associated with presidential visits to his home in Palm Beach County are reimbursed by the federal government to area governments. Additionally, it will work with the Secret Service to minimize the economic impact to the county and area businesses from closures to the Lantana Airport related to those visits.

“It’s an interesting time in Washington, D.C., in 2017,” said Assistant County Administrator Todd Bonlarron, who heads the county’s lobbying force. “Obviously, it’s a time of a little bit of uncertainty and new things that are going on, so we hope that this year, when we put our legislative agenda together and looked back at our plan, we kept some of them on.”

Bonlarron said he and his staff would report back to the commissioners periodically for updates as new issues and policy decisions are made.

Legislative Affairs Director Rebecca De La Rosa said things are moving quickly with the new administration, cabinet and a new member of the Palm Beach County congressional delegation, Rep. Brian Mast (R-District 18).

Another county initiative is controlling truck size and weight. De La Rosa said there is concern that Congress is considering changes to federal standards that would increase the allowable truck size and weight, but the heavier weight accelerates the deterioration of roads and bridges, putting additional pressure on local governments to finance infrastructure.

The county is requesting $7 million for Palm Tran to install new technology programs on its buses. It also seeks $11.8 million to completely overhaul its 334 bus shelters and add 250 more shelters for a total of 584.

Additionally, the county seeks to strengthen the National Environmental Policy Act, which plays a part in most of the county’s habitat restoration activities, by requiring biological opinions from agencies in a timely manner.

The county also supports the Southeast Florida Regional Climate Change Compact, which includes a commitment to develop and advocate for state and federal policies. The compact counties have adopted a federal energy and climate legislative program each year since 2011, and will identify legislative issues that compact members support.

Bonlarron’s office will continue to monitor the Waters of the United States rule, which could negatively affect local governments that would be forced to adhere to water quality rules that are unclear, but would continue to welcome the opportunity to work with the Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and regional and state governments to develop reasonable and rational rules.

The county will continue to work with the Department of Housing & Urban Development on its administration of sober homes, where there has been increasing abuse and exploitation of the patients/residents by the operators. The county will seek clarification from HUD as to what action can be taken by state and local governments in order to protect the health, safety and welfare of both the residents in the homes and the surrounding community.

The county will also support grants for law enforcement initiatives and a community-based violence prevention initiative intended to reduce gun and other violence among youth gangs.

In addition, the county favors a federal catastrophic insurance fund to pool the risk to states and reduce the burden on taxpayers from natural disasters through an amendment to the National Flood Insurance Program to allow multi-peril coverage from a national catastrophic insurance fund.

The county will also seek to protect the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds. As Congress and the new administration work to reduce the federal deficit, removing the tax-exempt status of municipal bonds is a major concern of counties across the nation.

Since the federal income tax was imposed in 1913, the interest earned on municipal bonds has been exempt from federal taxation. The tax law was specifically designed to encourage investment in public infrastructure.

The county pledges continued support of the South Florida Inland Port and the development of an inland logistics complex in western Palm Beach County, including completion of rail connections serving ports of South Florida and Tampa Bay.

The inland facility, which has gained significant regional support, would be a hub for goods assembly, warehousing and manufacturing, as well as furnishing logistics providers with a central intermodal location between ports that lack sufficient waterfront acreages to accommodate trade volumes that are projected to double by 2020, according to the staff report. It would also create options for freight movement and distribution.