The Wellington Chamber of Commerce hosted its annual State of the Village luncheon Wednesday, June 21 at the International Polo Club Palm Beach.
Wellington Mayor Anne Gerwig marked her second State of the Village address to chamber members.
“It has really been an exciting year,” said Gerwig, who will be sworn in next week as the first vice president of the Palm Beach County League of Cities.
She has been focusing on responsive government and gaining community input.
“You only come to meetings when you’re mad about something,” Gerwig said, noting that youth baseball, the swim team and controversial properties such as K-Park garner a strong reaction from the community.
Instead of waiting for the community to react, Gerwig has the village seeking community input. For example, on each table, there were notecards for luncheon attendees to provide feedback.
“We’re planning community charrettes, where the community can come together and talk about something before it’s something that you’re mad about,” she said.
Wellington, Gerwig said, was recently named No. 36 in the nation by Money magazine, and No. 19 by the South Florida Business Journal. Cost of living; income; education level; the ability to live, work and play in the community; and the value of living in Wellington were some of the criteria focused on for the recognitions.
Wellington, the fifth-largest municipality in Palm Beach County, does many unique things, Gerwig said, including providing the Keely Spinelli Education Grants to all 11 Wellington public schools. Each school receives $27,000 to use toward assisting the lowest-performing students.
The grants are named after Spinelli, a late Wellington school principal who Gerwig knew from her years with the PTA at Binks Forest Elementary School. “Her heart went out to the kids who needed a little extra help,” she said of Spinelli.
Those 11 Wellington schools, Gerwig said, are also home to 72 high-impact teachers recently recognized by the state.
“That’s how we really make a difference, having those high-performing teachers in high-performing schools, and meeting the needs of the lowest 25 percent,” she said.
Gerwig was proud that the entire Wellington Village Council joined many others to participate in Read Across America.
“We showed our kids how important it was to their entire local government that they learn to read and that they enjoy reading,” Gerwig said. “And I’m very proud of what everyone did in that regard.”
The upcoming budget will slightly lower the tax rate from 2.44 to 2.43 mills, she said. Though it is a reduction in the tax rate, it is actually an increase overall taxes for many property owners, because property values have increased. The village budget will increase slightly to $92 million.
“We’re going to be doing some interesting things with that $92 million,” Gerwig added.
This past year, the village made the road higher on Forest Hill Blvd. and replaced the culvert to prevent flooding. The parking lot at the Wellington Tennis Center will be expanded, and car charging stations will be added to the Wellington Community Center, among many other projects.
Wellington is already one of the safest places to live, Gerwig said, and two Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputies will be added to increase the safety of the community.
Many of the crimes in Wellington are crimes of opportunity, she noted. Last week, for example, two cars were stolen.
“The keys were in them, and they were unlocked. Which is usually what happens in Wellington, because we don’t guard ourselves very well,” Gerwig said. “We don’t guard ourselves well because we don’t expect anyone to take our car, even if we leave it unlocked with the keys in it.”
Wellington’s tree nursery, located off of Greenbriar Blvd., will have multi-purpose fields added as the trees are being used. Wellington purchased the trees at a discount and has been using them to replace other trees, or to plant them when redoing an area.
As Wellington has less property for new construction, it is now having to compete with other areas for residents. Gerwig requested resident input on how to make the Wellington brand better, and show off the amenities of the area. She invited residents to offer their input at meetings.
“I’d like to see more people showing up,” she said, noting that public comment is available for everything that is voted on.
Perhaps Wellington’s biggest weakness, Gerwig said, it that it is ranked low for walkability. Focus is being placed on pathway plans to increase the community’s walkability. For example, a pathway grant from the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) was used on Flying Cow Road for pedestrian use.
Other issues include working to encourage the equestrian industry and maintain the equestrian lifestyle. Additionally, a use for golf courses that are no longer golf courses is something the council is working on.
A number of new amenities have recently come online, such as the Paragon movie theater in the Mall at Wellington Green and the nearby Palm Beach State College campus in Loxahatchee Groves, just across Southern Blvd. from Wellington.
Government boards and committees are working together well, Gerwig said, giving input to the village. They are among the many volunteers that make the community run. “It’s not something that any of us do for the money; it’s something that we do out of community service,” Gerwig said.
Those interested in serving on committees are welcome to contact the village, she added.
Gerwig is also proud of the council, which brings different points of view to the table.
“I’m very fortunate to have a group of people who respect each other,” she said. “I’m so proud to be working with them, and for how smart and dedicated [they are]… The dedication to the community is at an all-time high for the council.”
Residents can keep up to date on Wellington issues through its web site, www.wellingtonfl.gov, and social media sites, such as Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube, Gerwig said.
ABOVE: Mayor Anne Gerwig addresses Wellington Chamber members.