ITID Board Concerned About Troubled Youth Housed In The Acreage

With five group homes for young offenders located in The Acreage, members of the Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors are expressing concerns that the area has become a dumping ground for problem teens.

“These homes are in residential areas close to families and children,” ITID Vice President Betty Argue said at the board’s Wednesday, May 17 meeting. “It’s affecting property values and the quality of life. People are concerned.”

Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Craig Turner was at the meeting and spoke to the board on the issue.

“Most are good kids, but some are in and out of the system… [and] they keep getting put back into the same homes,” he said.

Turner oversees PBSO District 15, which includes The Acreage, and was on hand to give his monthly report. He said later that while crimes committed by occupants of the group homes have been cut by some 50 percent since he took command in 2017, they still account for considerable amount of the criminal activity in the area. That activity most often includes car break-ins.

The group homes are “the last stop” for many offenders who have multiple convictions, including for violent crimes such as armed robbery and carjacking. “We’ve looked at shutting down these homes, but there’s just no viable option,” Turner said. “We stay on top of these kids as much as possible, but the problem is not going away as long as you have kids who get arrested, go away for 21 days, and get put right back in the same home. There’s a breakdown in the system, and I don’t think it is at the house.”

He said that there needs to be a way to hold these youthful repeat offenders accountable but added that it is a difficult issue all across the country.

The Florida Department of Children and Families contracts with providers to run the homes. One adult oversees a maximum of five children. That means as many as 25 young offenders could be housed in The Acreage at any given time while, for instance, Royal Palm Beach has only one such home, Turner said.

ITID is not responsible for housing or supervising these youngsters, Argue noted, but in a broader sense, she said, “Are we really meeting the needs of these kids or just sticking them somewhere? I’m not a not-in-my-backyard person. But the programs aren’t out here to service these kids.”

Turner said that he is trying to change that by establishing either a Police Athletic League or a Boys & Girls Club program in the area. As with most things, however, it comes down to funding and availability of resources, noting that his budget request for two PAL coordinators for the area had been rejected. “But that’s something that can be revisited,” he said. “We can look at grants.”

In response to a question from Supervisor Keith Jordano, Turner said that a space at one of the parks where athletic equipment could be stored and a couple of desks could be housed would be helpful. ITID Executive Director Burgess Hanson said that he could work with Turner for use of some outdoor facilities by a possible startup PAL program.

All of that is well and good, Argue said later, but the larger question is, “Who should be providing these resources? It should not be on the backs of ITID residents,” she said.

In other business:

• The supervisors noted that on Sunday, June 4, ITID will be hosting “Safety Day” in conjunction with the PBSO and Palm Beach County Fire-Rescue at Acreage Community Park.

PBSO K-9s units, the department’s SWAT truck and the mounted patrol unit will be on hand, along with police explorers handing out “swag bags.” Volunteers will be doing child ID kits. A fire truck and rescue vehicle also will be present.

The event is happening along with the Acreage Landowners’ Association Rock Your Park Concert Series, featuring the classic rock cover band Roulette. Both events get underway at the park’s amphitheater at 5 p.m., with music to begin at 6:30 p.m.

• The supervisors unanimously approved the creation of the Equestrian Trails and Infrastructure Advisory Committee (ETIAC) to assist ITID in collecting, studying and recommending improvements to the area’s equestrian trail system. It also will help educate drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists and others as to how to respect horses and riders.

The committee will consist of five regular members, five alternates and two advisory members.

Historically, most of the equestrian trails in the district have been along dirt roads and in swales, but with population growth and increased traffic, that has become dangerous. Some have suggested that creating protected trails, such as Wellington’s, would cost millions.

Argue, who proposed the committee, said that is not necessarily so. Multi-purpose paths, which could include horse trails, already are part of the district’s mobility plan developed by the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council and approved by the board in 2020, she noted.

“It’s a matter of prioritizing,” she said. “What we can do with our budgets, plus grants. Equestrians are still an important part of our community, and we need to respect that.”

• The supervisors approved a $487,000 contract for a quarter-mile turn lane on 162nd Drive North near Loxahatchee Groves Elementary School. The board had previously approved $173,000 for the project. The Palm Beach County School District has promised to give $50,000 to ITID to help cover costs.

“I don’t want us to move forward and spend nearly $500,000 of our tax dollars [on this project],” said Jordano, suggesting that construction could wait until next year. “The school board needs to come up with more money.”

ITID staff explained that the $314,000 increase was driven by higher material costs and the fact that the project must be completed by July 28, a very short period for such construction. The only bidder was Heavy Civil Inc.

Supervisor Elizabeth Accomando said that perhaps the project should be postponed in an effort to seek more bids.

Noting that backups along 162nd Drive for pick-ups and drop-offs at the school were a longstanding issue, ITID President Michael Johnson favored moving forward now.

“If we keep waiting, what if it’s another $100,000 next year,” he said. “I’m afraid if we pull out of this, it’s going to snowball, then we’re going to start nickel-and-diming every project down the road.”

In the end, the project was approved 4-1 with Jordano dissenting.

• Hanson suggested to the board that the planned $1.5 million artificial turf football field planned for Acreage Community Park South be built as the centerpiece of Acreage Community Park North, which already has lighting. The existing grass field in the south park would be refurbished instead. That would save the considerable cost of installing lights on the south field, he said.

“I think that’s a marvelous idea,” Argue said.

However, because the project would be built using part of $3 million from the county’s Infrastructure Surtax Funding Agreement, the shift of locations will have to be approved by the county. Hanson said he would reach out to begin the process.

• Finally, Hanson encouraged board members to reach out to county commissioners in an effort to get movement from county staff regarding proposed changes to 120th Avenue North to slow speeds and curtail the volume of cut-through traffic between Northlake and Orange boulevards. “We’re not even asking for money,” he said. “We have serious issues here, and we need to address them… [Staff has] tried to do everything we can, and it’s getting nowhere.”