County Lobbyists Highlight Successes In 2021 Legislative Session

The Palm Beach County Commission.

In its final 2021 legislative report on Tuesday, July 13, the Palm Beach County Commission learned that the county is receiving $51 million to continue the C-51 Reservoir Project, among other major funding grants, and that local bills passed that prohibit fireworks in Wellington’s equestrian areas and allow the Indian Trail Improvement District to conduct a study on the feasibility of incorporation.

“The big win for the county is the funding that the legislature made available for the C-51 project,” consultant Frank Bernardino said. “The state made enormous strides to not only put money in, but to establish procedures by which local governments can access these funds. We have already been working with the utilities department and ERM [Environmental Resources Management] on grants that the Department of Environmental Protection opened.”

The 2,000-acre C-51 Reservoir Project is situated near 20-Mile Bend. When implemented, it will store up to 61,000 acre-feet of water. The initial phase would hold approximately 16,000 acre-feet and supply 35 million gallons per day of water to participating utilities. Phase two will add an additional 45,000 acre-feet of water storage. While serving as a municipal water supply, the reservoir will be capable of capturing storm water that is currently lost to the Lake Worth Lagoon estuary.

“Interests and stakeholders have been pushing for years for the state to make a significant investment in identifying the source of water for both the Loxahatchee River and to help the Lake Worth Lagoon,” Bernardino said, adding that the funding will allow another lake to be added to the existing project. “This is an amazing investment, the largest investment that will directly benefit any local government in the state this year.”

Bernardino added that the Butterfly House sexual assault care center at Wellington Regional Medical Center was funded at $282,000.

Assistant County Administrator Todd Bonlarron said some financial issues that the lobbying team worked on included implementing an online sales tax.

“We were finally successful this year in allowing for the collection of those dollars for those transactions online, so we thank the legislature for doing that to create some parity with our brick-and-mortar buildings,” Bonlarron said.

He noted that the Constitutional Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years to consider constitutional revisions to go on the ballot, has been repealed.

Lobbying team members said significant progress was made in limiting legislation that preempts local municipal control of home-based businesses. The original bill was pretty much a straight preemption, but along the way, allowances were made for local governments to be able to address issues such as parking, appearance, noise, vibrations, odor and consistency of the property with the local community.

Anita Berry with the lobbying firm Johnston & Stewart said the legislature passed a bill preempting local restrictions on cottage food operations that the Department of Agriculture considers safe for production in a residence.

“It’s going to be things like breads, honey, cakes — anything that doesn’t have fruits and vegetables and meats in it,” Berry said. “That is an expressed preemption on local governments.”

The legislation also increased the limitation on gross annual sales from $50,000 to $250,000.

Bernardino said several local bills were passed and signed by the governor.

“The Village of Wellington bill sponsored by State Rep. Matt Willhite prohibits the sale and use of fireworks within the equestrian preserve,” he said. “The Port of Palm Beach updated its salaries and some titles. The Indian Trail Improvement District local bill allows them to investigate the feasibility of converting the district into a municipality. It doesn’t do that, but it allows them the process by which to do that.”

The total state budget of $101 billion was the largest ever approved. The legislature was able to keep $9.5 billion in reserves.

A total of $1.5 billion was vetoed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Palm Beach County had 12 items vetoed for a total of $6.2 million.

Commissioner Gregg Weiss made a motion to receive and file the report, which carried 6-0 with Commissioner Mack Bernard absent.