RPB Council Reviews Budget As Canal Weeds Irk Residents

The Royal Palm Beach Village Council gathered for a budget workshop on Thursday, July 19. About a dozen residents joined the council for the workshop, including several who wanted the village to spend more to keep the community’s canals free of excess vegetation and weeds.

Royal Palm Beach’s proposed total budget for the 2018-19 fiscal year is $44,374,773. Of the $44.3 million, 55 percent is expected to cover the village’s general operating costs, 27 percent is expected to cover its capital project costs, 15 percent is in reserves and 3 percent is for stormwater costs.

The proposed 2018-19 budget will be very similar to the village’s 2017-18 fiscal year budget. The village’s millage rate, for example, will remain unchanged at 1.92 mils.

“This year’s budget was the first in which no money [had to be] used from the rate-stabilization fund to balance the budget,” Village Manager Ray Liggins said. “We funded all items from the strategic plan, and we are maintaining the 1.92 millage rate.”

A notable change within the budget is the addition of four full-time employees within the village’s Planning & Zoning, Engineering and Parks & Recreation departments.

While reviewing the overall allocation of funds within the village’s general fund expenses, Mayor Fred Pinto questioned the amount of money going toward all of the chambers of commerce that the village is part of. Pinto specified that his focus on chamber dues and fees is a result of the council’s recent invitation to join the Puerto Rican/Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Pinto said that if the council were to continue joining more chambers, he would prefer joining at a non-participatory level, and not ever as a trustee or board member.

“As local government, we don’t want to be part of the decision making or voting on a board of a chamber, but we want to support chambers and businesses in our communities by participating and being a member of these chambers,” Pinto explained.

Other council members expressed concerns over chamber memberships.

“If we are going to consider [becoming members of] this chamber, I would like for us to consider also becoming part of other countywide chambers, [such as] the black chamber and the women’s chamber,” Councilwoman Jan Rodusky said.

The council ultimately came to an agreement that, in order to be fair to all local chambers, they have to specify the amount of funds they wish to budget for chamber memberships before the budget is finalized, in the case that more chambers extend invitations to the council.

Along with chamber membership fees and dues, several residents expressed concerns regarding the money set aside for aquatic vegetation control. Specifically, the cleanup of excessive weeds found in the village’s canals during the rainy season.

This issue is not new for the village, and it was explained as an issue having to do more with timing than with funding.

“The cost to do that work is substantial, to [have] a harvester with a crew is about $250 an hour,” Public Works Director Paul Webster said. “The issue that we run into with that is always timing. We started to bring [professionals] out there in May to look at the canals and get some pricing to start work, but there wasn’t enough [debris] in the canals then to start. By the time we got [a contractor] out there in June, there was more than enough work. So, it’s a timing issue.”

Several residents, however, said that of the $237,000 allocated for this type of maintenance, more money should be put forth to efficiently remove the overwhelming amount of weeds found in canals throughout the village, and prevent them from coming back as a reoccurring issue every summer.

“Not only are the canals an eyesore, but the stench coming from the canals and not being able to use the canals at all [worry me],” resident David McCallum said. “I’m also worried that the amount of debris in the canals may clog up our water systems if we get heavy amounts of rain. You’re going in to deal with these types of weeds with a harvester, who is picking up the dead debris, but you’re actually making it worse. This is a weed that grows and, if present, will always continue to grow. If you do not attack the weed in an aggressive manner to get rid of it, it will just keep coming back every year.”

Other residents expressed ideas that could potentially free the village’s canals of the debris issue.

“For those of you who have had aquariums in your home, you probably know that if you don’t have some kind of a catfish — a sucker mouth catfish — or an algae eater, you are going to have the same problem [in your aquarium] as we do in our [canals],” resident Fred Eisinger said. “I have heard that this was a way that people in Indiantown dealt with their algae problems.”

The village has, this year, spent $30,000 removing a total of 280 cubic yards of weeds out of its canals. “The flow rates of May were high even though our contractor was applying herbicide,” Liggins said. “The stuff is dead, and what you see is [the] reaction of what grows from the bottom of the canal being chemically treated. We know that July and the first part of August are the worst for this, but we do have a guy out there who is working on this.”