Feds Must Help County Mitigate Expense Of President’s Visits

If it’s the weekend, there’s a good chance we’ll be having another visit to the Palm Beaches by President Donald Trump. This means another weekend of Secret Service, staffers and the news media all packed in front of his Mar-a-Lago estate. Another weekend of closed-off roads, hurt businesses and perhaps a protest or two, often met by counter-protests.

When Mr. Trump was a private citizen — essentially, before last November — his visits to Mar-a-Lago drew little notice, and certainly didn’t have the far-reaching impact on the region. Four months later, it’s quite a different story. Palm Beach County officials are worried about the amount of law enforcement overtime being racked up every time the president visits, and some Palm Beach County business owners are worried that the regular visits could irreparably harm their operations.

For many residents, two months into the Trump presidency has meant business headaches and travel restrictions — both on the road and in the air. Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputies assist with security and traffic management when the president comes to town, which includes rerouting traffic along A1A from Southern Blvd. to South County Road.

Because Mr. Trump’s frequent visits are affecting both area business owners and local taxpayers, the county has requested reimbursement from the federal government. Sheriff Ric Bradshaw estimates that the president’s visits cost $60,000 a day in deputy overtime, and there are broader estimates that each weekend visit costs area taxpayers millions of dollars… and there appears to be no end in sight.

It’s not just the Mar-a-Lago area which is being impacted. In fact, the most devastating impact is on the Palm Beach County Park Airport in Lantana, better known as the Lantana Airport. While Palm Beach International Airport shuts down temporarily when Air Force One is arriving or departing, the Lantana Airport must shut down entirely for the full length of Mr. Trump’s visit. Federal Aviation Administration restrictions ban all flights in and out of the airport. This puts a serious hurt on all businesses that are airport-related, from companies towing advertising banners targeting beachgoers in Palm Beach County and skydiver operations to flight schools and sightseeing flights. It’s unknown how many millions in lost business revenue will be the result of the president’s trips to his Palm Beach home.

Now, granted, there are some positives with Mr. Trump visiting on a regular basis. Tourism officials have reported hotel occupancy in central Palm Beach County has seen a slight uptick compared to last year during a recent presidential visit. And with every trip, a slew of security personnel, federal staff members and pool reporters covering the administration follow suit, staying in area hotels and dining out. Economic development officials are thrilled about the free publicity provided by reporters’ live waterfront shots. However, this is little comfort to the small business owners who may never recover, nor the county taxpayers as a whole.

If the president is going to indeed continue such frequent visits, then it is incumbent upon the federal government to provide some sort of financial assistance to the county for its role in protecting Mr. Trump. Furthermore, there must be some way to afford the necessary protections required by the president’s visits without fully shutting down a local airport for days at a time.