Preserve the Lifestyle of the Acreage Now (PLAN), a political action committee exploring incorporation of The Acreage, conducted another in a series of meetings attended by about 30 residents at the Acreage branch library on Monday.
Brett Taylor, a PLAN member and group organizer, said that the organization formed about a year ago to look again at the possibility of incorporation after an effort in the early 2000s led by the Indian Trail Improvement District was derailed when a different faction came to power on the ITID board.
“We want to re-examine the incorporation process and try to dispel some of the rumors and myths that go along with it… higher taxes, increased restrictions, more code enforcement, all these things that would inhibit our way of life,” Taylor said.
PLAN has met with members of the Florida League of Cities, which provided a blueprint for incorporation, conducted a feasibility study and developed a proposed charter.
“[Incorporation] is a possibility, especially in light of all the encroaching development and overdevelopment,” Taylor said. “We’re going to be surrounded by something like 22,000 new homes. We’re trying to look at incorporation as a way to take control of our own future, because in the meantime, we’re relying on Palm Beach County. Palm Beach County is led by seven county commissioners. We have one elected official who represents us. The other six don’t live in our area; they don’t represent us.”
Taylor noted that if The Acreage were to incorporate, it would have its own locally elected council whose members would live in The Acreage.
“We will retain control over our community,” he said, adding that incorporation is a complicated process but when done would entitle the new municipality to millions of dollars in revenue sharing from the state.
“We’re not talking about any increased taxes,” Taylor said, explaining that the feasibility study shows that an incorporated Acreage would receive about $15.5 million directly from the state that currently goes to the county.
“You could actually sustain yourself as a small town with a limited government, fairly limited services… and it is actually a doable process,” Taylor said.
The proposed charter and other documents are posted on PLAN’s web site at www.preservetheacreagenow.com. The charter includes a mayor and council with term limits, as well as transitioning ITID into a dependent district.
The feasibility study was done by professors at Florida Atlantic University.
“Once everything gets reviewed to the minutest detail, everything you say here, everything you read here, you don’t have to take our word for it because the state is going to look at every single dot, every single comma, and they’re going to say whether it’s viable,” Taylor said.
After vetting by state organizations, the incorporation request will go to elected officials in the Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation for approval to take to Tallahassee for the legislature’s blessing.
“Then and only then will it go for a vote [by residents],” Taylor said. “When will this happen? Not until November 2018. That’s 18 months from now. If it passes, you go through the election process in March 2019, when the official government would take effect.”
Taylor said he felt that expedience was important in light of surrounding development taking place now.
Former ITID Supervisor Bill Gotthelf said comments have been made that incorporation would raise taxes. He pointed out that everybody pays the same rate in county taxes, but incorporation would incur no municipal taxes for three years after incorporation.
“If we incorporated, we still would pay the same county taxes,” Gotthelf said.
PLAN evaluated three houses of similar value in The Acreage, Royal Palm Beach and Wellington, and found that Royal Palm Beach at a millage of 1.92 pays $146.45 per house. Wellington with a millage rate of 2.44 pays $186.12. However, solid waste disposal in The Acreage is much higher because the villages negotiate a price for solid waste disposal, but negotiation for unincorporated areas is by the county.
“Because we’re considered a rural area, they take all of the 5-acre subdivisions and they add them in with us, and if you’ve ever talked to one of the garbage carriers, they will tell you that the 5-acre subdivisions are expensive because there’s 1,000 feet sometimes between driveways and the roads are twisty and turny, worse than ours, so they negotiated $352, it’s on your tax bill,” Gotthelf said. “In Royal Palm Beach, they pay $170 a year for solid waste fees, and Wellington pays $135, so now all of a sudden we’ve just passed Wellington and Royal Palm Beach in taxes.”
For his sample properties, Gotthelf said that assessments to ITID for a 1.21-acre tract are $645.84 for a total tax bill of $2,546.12, he said. Royal Palm Beach has no special district, so taxes there were $1,864. Wellington has the Acme Improvement District, which charges a flat fee of $230, for a total tax bill of $2,099.40.
“So, you can see that if you live in The Acreage, you pay $447 more than someone who lives in Wellington with the same value house,” he said. “We don’t actually pay less than anybody else. We would be the fourth-highest-taxed municipality in Palm Beach County.”
Gotthelf said a lot of misinformation was put out during the initial incorporation effort when he was on the ITID board in the early 2000s that taxes would increase significantly, and when he joined PLAN’s effort, the biggest thing he wanted to bring out was that the proposed charter states that there would be no ad valorem taxes at least for the first three years.
He explained that the county currently receives money from state revenue, gas taxes and surtaxes that are paid by residents of The Acreage that do not necessarily get redistributed in the community. The feasibility study conducted by FAU professors estimated that The Acreage would receive $15.5 million directly from the state.
“We put in the charter that there would be no taxes for the first three years,” he said, pointing out that the proposed charter states that in the first year, the incorporated Acreage tax would be 0.3 mills or about $45 for a house valued at $150,000.