Royal Palm Beach Officials Discuss School Safety, CPA Report

Councilwoman Selena Smith takes the oath of office from Village Clerk Diane DiSanto.

Newly re-elected members of the Royal Palm Beach Village Council were sworn in for new terms on Thursday, March 15 at a meeting that included discussions of school safety and the village’s strong financial condition.

Returned to the dais for new two-year terms were Mayor Fred Pinto, Councilman Jeff Hmara and Councilwoman Selena Smith. During the annual reorganizational meeting, Smith was tapped to serve as vice mayor.

Amid concerns over school safety, Hmara gave an update on the situation in Royal Palm Beach. He shared details about a meeting he attended with Major B.K. Davis of the Palm Beach County School District Police Department. Also at the meeting, local school principals described the programs and safety measures in place within their schools.

“We learned that there are only five school districts within the State of Florida that have their own police department, and we are one of those,” Hmara said. “Our school police department works really well with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office and the local police. Having a school police department that focuses on school security means they really know the territory.”

That said, Hmara noted that more officers are needed.

“It was pointed out that there are two full-time police officers at Royal Palm Beach High School, one officer full-time at Crestwood Middle School, and one officer shared among the three elementary schools,” he said. “That is the way it stands right now. They think the schools would be more secure with more boots on the ground. So, hopefully, the money that has been earmarked by the State of Florida for school safety and gun violence will allow an increase in police officers available at our schools, at least one officer full time at each of the schools.”

Hmara reported that Davis also detailed several other initiatives being worked on now to be proactive in identifying individuals who may become a threat.

“They have mental health and behavioral units that are implemented right now in schools,” he said. “They are hoping with this state funding, there may be more health units available at more schools to identify kids at risk and engage with them sooner.”

Each school has many security measures currently in place.

“One is that there is a single point of entry into each school during the school day, and that has been in place for quite a while,” Hmara said. “The use of technology at each school with an annual vulnerability assessment to fill any missing gaps was discussed, as was the training of everyone in awareness in Code Red drills and emergency management drills on a regular basis for teachers, the administration and students.”

Hmara said that all threats must be taken seriously.

“It has risen to a much higher level now. Students are asked and encouraged to report anything they might find threatening. The slogan ‘See something, say something’ is encouraged,” he said. “One key to school safety are the relationships with the students. The students need to know that there is an ear available at any time whether that is a teacher, a counselor or an administrator. The schools here work hard to let the kids know that if anything doesn’t seem right, the student should bring that up to any member of the faculty.”

On a more upbeat note, the 2017 Financial Report for the village revealed excellent news.

CPA Mark Veil, the representative from the village’s accounting firm of Caler, Donten, Levine, Cohen, Porter & Veil, was pleased to report Royal Palm Beach’s financial condition.

“It’s always nice to make presentations when there is plenty of good news to present,” he said. “We gave the highest opinion that we can give as certified public accountants, in accordance with U.S. general accounting principles.”

The overview shows the village with a strong financial position.

“If you look at total assets, the village has a total of $173 million. We have cash and assessments, which is $90 million, around half of that number. And capital assets, which is your property, your land and infrastructure, and that is about $82.5 million which is the other half,” Veil said. “That is the makeup of all the assets for the village.”

Balanced against liabilities, the village remains in strong shape.

“At the end of the day, we end up with a net equity of $164 million; $82 million relates to the capital assets, and you have $79.5 million [that] is unrestricted,” Veil said. “That is the money you can use to do with whatever purpose you want.”

Meanwhile, recent changes have only improved the picture.

“In 2017, the new sales tax went into effect,” Veil said. “As of Sept. 30, the village had about $1.8 million accumulated that will be spent over time on general capital-related items. And you have a nice portfolio of triple-A rated investments.”

The revenues also look great.

“We budgeted for $20 million, and we ended up with $22 million. We came up with around $2 million in the good,” he said. “And the expenditures, our final budget was $23 million, and we ended up right at $22 million. So, we are $1 million under our budget.”

This puts Royal Palm Beach ahead of many other municipalities financially.

“It’s probably the most liquid city I deal with, and we audit quite a few,” Veil said. “It really is a good position to be in.”

In other business, the council also approved the purchase and installation of playground area setups for Penzance Park and Commons Park.

The next meeting of the Royal Palm Beach Village Council is scheduled for Thursday, April 5.