This article, originally published by Al Zucaro on BocaWatch.org, is preserved for historical purposes by Massive Impressions Online Marketing in Boca Raton.
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On Nov 8th of this year Palm Beach county residents will have the opportunity to vote for the largest tax increase in the county’s history. A 1 cent sales tax increase going from 6 to 7 cents designed to raise $2.7 billion over a 10 year period. 50% will go to the schools, 30% to the county, and 20% to the 38 cities. This increase is actually a whopping sales tax increase of 17%.
If this was a property tax increase, which would never pass, it would be the same as a significant increase in property taxes. The political powers know that the residents would never approve such a property tax so disguised it as a modest sales tax that no one would notice or care about. After all what is a simple 1 cent, what difference does it make? The elected officials must think we are insane or stupid to even consider more taxes when you consider the taxes coming at us next year.
Citizen’s hurricane insurance is going up 10 to 30% if you can even get it or its replacement. Health insurance for a family of 4 is currently around $4500 and increasing $2000 to $6500. Premium increases from 19 to 43%. Property values increased 8% for 2015. For 2016 forecasted 10% increases. In next 10 years property owners could see as much as 50% increase in property taxes. FPL is increasing its charges. Because of property values exploding, the county will see an influx of dollars that will negate the reasons for a sales tax increase.
Now, let us examine the school board argument that most of the 196 schools are crumbling and they all need new roofs, air conditioning, computers, stadiums, and maybe throw in 3% for teachers’ salaries. They also pointed out that there will be a need for 40 new schools. Interesting since the original goal of this tax increase was to repair and/or replace existing schools. Remember the Florida Lottery! What happened to the normal budget?
For several months the school board was asked how they would spend $1.3B. They were very vague. They were coerced to be specific. Up until May they lacked any transparency.
They then provided a list by schools of what dollars were needed. This list was a gross exaggeration totaling $1.4B. It could easily have been recognized as a flock of turkeys. When I examined the list just for Boca, I was shocked. Olympic Heights needs $23M in repairs, Estridge needs $24M, Addison Mizner needs $20M, and Spanish River needs $20 M. This list goes on and on totaling $1.4B. Is this a bad joke, gross exaggeration, or a deliberate misinterpretation of the truth? Maybe all three. I met with several contractors and they said all three. This list was absurd.
Now let’s examine original lists by cities that included schools and infrastructure compared to surtax revenue. I will give just 3 examples out of 39 to make my point. Wellington will generate because of this tax around $7.2M a year yet wants $56M in projects, Palm Beach generates $1M per year and wants $97M, and Loxahatchee Grove generates $400k and wants $63M in return. Is this a joke? Remember the Florida Lottery.
Now let’s examine the $1.3B for the county and cities which has been described as the largest slush fund ever created in Florida.
The original goals of this surtax were to repair and replace existing infrastructure such as roads, buildings, and parks. The normal budget process was designed for any new projects. Here is a list of projects that were discussed: $35M for Palm Beach County Courthouse, $31M for affordable housing, $29M for new parks,$10M for a shooting range for sheriff’s office, and $1M for a museum for an ex-convict. This project was a mystery and has since disappeared.
But this brings us to an important issue. What projects will be supported? Who decides on funding distribution? Apparently, Administrator Verdenia Baker has this responsibility. Supposedly, an impartial audit committee will be set up. No politics involved here! An example can be seen in that the new mayor of Boynton Beach has already thanked the county for a new city hall, civic center, library, public works complex, several parks, fire stations, etc. All of this estimated to be over $100M. No favors involved here.
This whole process of this surtax has been described as a goat rodeo from the beginning. Can you believe that the county actually was discussing $100M to be given to the cultural group for things like toilets in the Kravis Center and cages for monkeys at the zoo?
Now, let’s examine how this surtax will affect Boca and its residents. In next 10 years Boca will go from 47k to around 60k in dwellings. Population now around 97k will go to around 125k. Assessed property values around $21B and going to $25B over next 10 years.
Boca accounts for 13% of assessed values for the whole county when compared to total county assessed value at $161B. This makes Boca the largest contributor to the $2.7B in taxes. Several economists have estimated that around $250M to $300M will be sucked out of Boca over the years to pay for this surtax. This comes to around $500 per year per resident or around $7k to $9k over the next 10 years.
Now the bombshell!
There is no intention of spending any dollars in Boca until all the needs of everyone else is satisfied. I don’t believe what the school board published for spending or what the county has published.
Since March this writer has been to all the meetings where this surtax was discussed. In virtually every meeting there was open hostility expressed to any dollars going to Boca. Things were said such as “They are too rich”. “Those people should be taxed double”. “Can we make sure they got nothing?” In order for Administrator Baker to get a majority of votes to pass this referendum she had to ensure that she would set up a priority list and Boca needs would be last.
Now this is an accusation of favoritism and petty tribalism that this writer can prove. There are over 30 hours of discussion posted on the county website. If you go to the video of the 6 hour meeting where this tax was discussed you will see as many as 8 times that Boca or in some cases coastal cities in the southeast part of the county were referenced in a severely negative form. Most of us will be dead before we see any of those dollars allegedly promised to Boca.
In summary, vote no on the surtax. The school board would be smart next year, after they get their act together, to go it alone for a one quarter tax increase over 5 years. County and cities should explore bond issues.