Next City Council Meeting on Thursday, October 2nd at 7pm

The next City Council Meeting will be this Thursday, October 2nd at 7pm at City Hall.  It’s not an overly long agenda but there are a few items that may generate discussion.

Here are some highlights:

  • Consent agenda:
    • Several proclamations
    • 3 Purchase awards of which two are sizable, multi-year contracts: selection of a new independent auditing firm ($380K) and Microsoft Enterprise License ($418K)
  • Public Hearings:
    • Resolution 58,2014 which is a continuation of a discussion from a prior Council meeting regarding a date extension for a temporary modular structure at PGA National golf course
    • Resolution 61, 2014 regarding signage changes for Gardens Station PUD
    • Ordinance 16, 2014 – cleaning up the Land Development Regulations (LDR) and adding some new definitions
    • Appointments to the Planning, Zoning and Appeals Board (PZAB) and the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board
  • Items for Council Action/Discussion:
    • PBC Gas Signage Ordinance – since July, when this was first discussed, staff met with a small group of gas station owners in order to develop an alternative to the regulations passed by the County which are viewed as too confusing and expensive to implement.  The alternative will be discussed.

The agenda (with links to full detail) can be found here.

See a summary of the Final Budget Hearing, and the latest Martino Minute on the PBG Watch website.

We get the government we deserve – and it’s up to us to watch what they do.  Hope you can make it.  If you can’t make the meeting try and watch live-streaming or on-demand.

Martino: Council once again demonstrates dysfunction during District Park discussion

I have attended most of the regularly advertised Palm Beach Gardens City Council meetings since the baseball stadium fiasco surfaced in 2013. The functionality of the City Council as a body at these meetings is often chaotic and dysfunctional. The most recent September 18th City Council meeting was no exception. It had a sparse agenda with the approval of the 2015 budget as its highlight item. Except for the passionate leadership exhibited by the Mayor to lower the tax rate, the budget process and discussion was an episode not to be proud of.

However, the first issue on the agenda for discussion was a District Park Presentation on property owned by Palm Beach County off Central Boulevard. I prefer to focus on it…

  • A Councilperson, whose initiative should be applauded and appreciated, gave a professional and informative power point presentation concerning the property owned by Palm Beach County on Central Boulevard as to its possibilities for its use as a district type park. This is the same property that was involved in the baseball stadium fiasco.
  • Three options were presented for consideration; a) County to build and maintain a District Park using a County bond referendum; b)  lease with County for City to build, operate, and maintain; c) City purchase land from county to build, operate, and maintain.
  • As the other Council members’ entered the discussion not much of substance was added to the presentation.
  • With little thought or concerns that this property is in the middle of a residential area of some 1900 homes, with no discussion about comprehensive planning, with no recommendation advanced from the City Manager or the Recreation Administrative staff, with no evidence of counsel from the Recreation Advisory Board, with no Public input or discussion, a haphazard decision was quickly reached by the City Council.
  • Without a formal motion or vote that I could ascertain, the City Council instructed the presenting Councilperson to advise County officials that the County should retain ownership of the property and assemble a multi-purpose District Park at its expense funded by a future referendum.  In addition to Palm Beach Gardens, this District Park which would exist in the middle of Palm Beach Gardens and would be open to use by all residents of other municipalities, such as, Riviera Beach, Lake Park, North Palm Beach, Juno Beach, and Jupiter, as well as, all County residents.

How and when the presenting Councilperson is to advise County officials of the City Council’s option preference was not discussed. I would have presumed that a formal Resolution of City Council policy would have been discussed as it is a professional, correct, and recognized communication method to convey business decisions between various levels of government, but regrettably that methodology was not considered.

About the above issue, one thing I am certain of, clearly this City Council has erred again. In my opinion, the wrong option was chosen. The City of Palm Beach Gardens did not need a major league spring training facility and major league baseball stadium on the Central Boulevard property and it certainly does not need a County District Park in this particular residential location, either. From my perspective, the best of the three options is the City should negotiate for the outright purchase of the property and then comprehensively plan its use to suit the residents of Palm Beach Gardens.

Still further, a comprehensive recreational sports field study should be immediately undertaken and shared with the public. It should identify today’s participation rates and short term field needs and provide a path to correct deficiencies. The study should recognize, categorize, and quantify, tomorrow’s participation and sports field anticipations, as well. If a study exists, where is it, what is in it, and how does it cure the sports field deficiencies?

My advice, if you are listening City Council, is stop making deleterious decisions on the spur of the moment and by the-seat-of-the-pants.


Leadership Matters in Gardens Tax Rate Reduction

Last evening in a surprise move, the City Council voted 4-1 to reduce the planned tax rate slightly, from 5.74 to 5.67 mils, cutting the tax increase from just over $3M to about $2.5M.

September 18, 2014

This result was produced through the leadership of Mayor Bert Premuroso, who floated the initially unpopular proposal, made a reasoned and empassioned case for it, and put a stake in the ground over his opposition to the budget as written. At once reasonable, empathetic to counter-arguments, yet steadfast in his position, he convinced three of the four other members to follow his lead.

Public input during and since the September 3 meeting had been asking for a reduction, to share some of the property valuation windfall with the taxpayer. This specific reduction of about $500K was proposed by the Mayor at that meeting, but was met with skepticism and definitely not embraced by his four colleagues on the dais. Citing the “5 year plan” for flat millage, the endorsement by the volunteer Budget Oversight Committee, and the need for more money for capital projects, giving money back to the taxpayer was the last thing on their mind. City Manager Ron Ferris was also advising against it.

Last evening’s budget discussion started with Mr. Ferris listing a number of additional projects that could be done by using some reserves. Park usability in wet weather could be improved by a drainage field project proposed by David Levy. Additional ball fields could be created with a proposal by Marcie Tinsley. His report also cast cold water on any plan to reduce the millage, forecasting dire consequences if the stabilization fund were to be depleted, maybe forcing a tax rate increase in future years.

After comments from the public were heard (most asking for a millage cut), the normal order of council discussion was flipped and Mayor Premuroso went first. In a prepared speech, which he said he had been working on since the last meeting, the Mayor repeated his desire to reduce the millage by about $500K, to give a little something back to the residents who stuck with the city through the downturn. Laying out a well researched case involving economic conditions and projections, trends in the reserves, and a discussion of the conservative nature of the city’s planning, his arguments were compelling. With all due respect to staff and colleagues, he said he would not support the budget without a millage decrease.

In the ensuing discussion, Joe Russo first panned the idea, wandered around some other issues, then came back to the possibility of accepting it. David Levy said he could understand the argument, but would prefer to wait until next year to entertain any reductions. Eric Jablin was 100% against giving any money to the taxpayers. Marcie Tinsley, after considering the proposal in the period between the meetings had already convinced herself that it was the right thing to do.

The turning point was when the Mayor restated his intention to vote against the budget as written. On a board that values consensus and usually is unanimous in its decisions, that rattled Joe Russo. Trying to force the issue, Eric Jablin moved that the budget be approved, but it failed 3-2, with Russo joining the Mayor and Tinsley. That was enough for David Levy, who wasn’t as strong in his position as Jablin, and he made the motion to adopt the Mayor’s proposed millage of 5.67 and it passed 4-1, with Jablin remaining opposed and stating that it was the first time he had ever voted against a budget.

The decision process, at times heated, but always cordial, is a credit to this Council, and particularly to the Mayor’s leadership. Decision making by public officials at all levels is sometimes painful to observe, given the partisan and ideological divides and the undue influence of special interests. There was none of that in evidence last evening.

Gardens $3M, 6.5% Tax Increase – is it Justified?

At the last Council meeting on the budget, with the big jump in property valuations providing a windfall in city taxes, several members of the public suggested that some of it should be returned to the taxpayer in the form of a millage reduction. On the Council, only Mayor Premuroso acknowledged that the outlook is favorable, and the city can afford to do so, proposing that $500K be taken from the “budget stabilization fund”.

Is this appropriate?

Several on the council objected on the basis of the city’s “5 Year Plan”, which calls for the millage to remain at 5.74 for the next 5 years. The Plan is really about revenue and expenditures though, not millage.

Three years ago, in the 2012 budget, the “5 Year Plan” forecast ad-valorem tax revenue in 2015 to be $45.6M. Today’s budget, is in fact $49M, up $3.4M or 7% above the “5 Year Plan”. When including revenue from all sources, it is up $8M or 12.5% above the “5 Year Plan”.

More to the point, in 2012 the “5-Year Plan” projected the 2015 undesignated fund balances (ie. reserves) would be 22% of expenditures – instead we are at 32% – relatively flush with cash.

So it seems that the Mayor is correct – the city certainly has the ability to reduce the millage by some amount.

If you believe that growth in the size of government should be only undertaken with careful consideration, then any increase in spending above what is dictated by population growth and inflation (currently about 1% and 2% respectively) requires an explanation. Holding to that measure would suggest that half of the windfall should be claimed by the city, the other half returned, resulting in a millage of about 5.56.

Any increase above that level should be justified on the basis of specific needs that are immediate and cannot be deferred until future years.

Final Budget Hearing on September 18 at 7pm

The next City Council Meeting will be this Thursday, September 18 at 7pm at City Hall.  It’s a short agenda.   Note that this is the final of two required 2014-2015 Budget hearings for the City.  

Ordinance 15, 2014 and Resolution 51, 2014 are the budget items. If approved as recommended by staff, the new budget will increase taxes over rollback by 6.14%.  Please read our summary of the first budget hearing here describing comments on the budget. Additionally – former Mayor Martino challenges the Council to go to rollback here.

There will be a District Park Presentation by Council Member Tinsley.  And for those of you who live in the Sunset Drive area – in Resolution 64, 2014 on the Consent Agenda, the County agrees to transfer ownership of the rights-of-way and improvements of Sunset Drive and 40 Terrace North and pay the City $50,000 for maintenance assistance of the roadways within sixty (60) days of execution of the lnterlocal Agreement.  See the details here.

The complete Agenda can be viewed here.  The proposed 2014-2015 Budget can be viewed here.

We have a new feature on the PBGWatch website – The Martino Minute compiling his frequent postings together in a blog.

We get the government we deserve – and it’s up to us to watch what they do. Hope you can make it.  If you can’t make the meeting try and watch live-streaming or on-demand.

Former Mayor Martino on the Budget: Tell the Council to move to Rollback!

In my opinion, the most important responsibility of an elected City Councilperson is the preparation and presentation of a City’s annual budget. A City budget should be fiscally responsible while providing for the health, safety, welfare, and recreation of its residents. It should provide for livable wages and benefits for the employees who provide and maintain the City’s necessary municipal services. In essence, a City’s budget provides for the quality of life that residents expect to enjoy as a result of their tax contributions. From my perspective, a City’s budget is more than just an Administrative to do list; it is an annual “living promise” that the City will protect, improve, and enhance, the lives of all of the City’s residents with fiscal integrity.

The taxpayers of Palm Beach Gardens have incurred the same economic hardships in the last several years as referenced in the Finance Department’s budget comments to the City Council. The beleaguered taxpayers are constantly hit with the drip, drip, drip of small but steady tax increases every fiscal year, by all and various taxing bodies. Residents are facing rising costs, such as, health care, food, utilities, and so forth. Many of our City’s residents are on fixed incomes and some have faced the ugliness of unemployment.

In recognition of these realities, it is my recommendation that the Palm Beach Gardens City Council set operating millage policy at the rollback level of 5.4082 mills, instead of the proposed 5.7404 millage, and instruct the Administration accordingly. This would be a minimal amount of appreciated relief for the taxpayers. I would strongly urge and encourage the City Council to move in this direction.

The 2015 budget proposes to spend $ 135,329,444. To reach the rollback millage rate of 5.4082 would require an estimated $ 3,000,000 decrease in spending which is approximately 2.2%. As a former Mayor and City Councilman I feel comfortable in stating that by combining some spending reductions with a small revenue supplement from the burgeoning reserve accounts and, perhaps, finding a few more dollars on the revenue side would accomplish rollback millage without causing any financial problems to City’s fiscal health. According to the information in the budget, various reserve funds total $ 39,720,548. That’s a lot of reserve. Just in the Unspecified Balance Reserve Fund, alone, there is $ 23,470,597 which is 32% of operating expenses. This is nearly double the required minimum reserve balance of 17% established by policy.

Mayor Premuroso exhibited his concern for the residents and his leadership by offering to move toward the rollback millage rate at the September 3rd meeting. But with possible exception of Councilwoman Tinsley, Vice-Mayor Jablin and Council members Levy and Russo were less than enthusiastic to take up the taxpayers cause and embrace the Mayor’s suggestion. I would encourage anyone reading this memorandum to email and/or contact the City Council members (info here) and persuade them to, at the minimum, support Mayor Premuroso’s position to move the millage rate closer to rollback rate of 5.4082 mills.

September Council: Budget, FEMA Maps, City Manager Contract

The first of two City Council meetings was held on Tuesday, September 2nd – primarily due to the required two 2014-2015 budget hearings.  However many other topics were on the agenda for this long meeting.

September 3, 2014


City Engineer Todd Engle presented details on the proposed new FEMA Flood Maps. The maps have not yet been finalized and there will be several public open houses  next week in various sections of the county. Due to negotiations taken by the City and the County, over 1200 residential property owners in Palm Beach Gardens will benefit from being removed from a flood zone and will see substantial savings on their insurance. Only two residential units still fall within a flood area as do some commercial properties. Congratulations to the staff for negotiating this significant change.

FISCAL YEAR 2014/2015 Budget Presentation and Hearing 

City Finance Administrator Allen Owens, (along with all of the department heads who were there to answer questions), presented details of the budget.  With a hefty 7.9% valuation increase in the city,  the third yearly increase in a row, you would think that the pressure is off both the city and the taxpayer.  Keeping with their multi-year plan for flat millage though, the city plans to spend all of the $3M, 6.6% increase in property taxes.   This windfall revenue will be put to use on personnel costs (raises and benefits), and infrastructure (a police trainng facility, Johnson Dairy Road improvements, FEC crossing upgrades at Burns Road).

Dr. Mark Marciano, head of the Budget Oversight Committee, made a brief presentation with the committee approving the actions and apportionment of funds in the budget. Council’s discussion, public comment and then the vote took place a little while later during Ordinance 15, 2014.

Iris Scheibl expressed concern over the 6+% increase in spending without regard to returning some of the revenue windfall from increased property valuations to the taxpayer. Former Mayor Mike Martino requested the Council to make cuts to the proposed budget to get to roll-back (spending the same as in the 2013-2014 budget cycle). Joan Elias on the other hand, was in full support of the budget and suggested that those who think otherwise should just forego a cheap dinner out during the year to make up for the increase in taxes.

Discussion by the Council was enthusiastically in support of the presented budget and the excellent work done by staff. Only Mayor Premuroso suggested that perhaps $500K from the Budget Stabilization Fund be used to allow a slight millage decrease, the rest were happy to have the new money to spend.  While others on the Council were not supportive, they asked Mr. Ferris to go back with calculations and this will be discussed at the 2nd Hearing to be held on Thursday, September 18 at 7pm. The vote was unanimous 5:0 to continue to the 2nd hearing.


(This item was a continuation of a discussion proposed by Councilman Jablin at the end of the July meeting. His issue was that term limits, if passed, would decimate the council and if the City was not assured of the continuation of the guiding hand of City Manager Ferris, that all organizational knowledge would be lost. He proposed a two-year extension to June 2018.) Councilman Russo started the discussion by saying that he was in full support of Mr. Ferris and after discussion with the City Manager,  would like to propose that the contract extension discussion and transition plans for a new City Manager after Mr. Ferris retirement, be postponed to April 2015 – after the referendum questions have been decided in November. There continues to be significant angst on the Council about the Term Limits questions, especially Q2, and what it will do to the makup of the Council. During the discussion, they did figure out that in June, 2016, when Mr. Ferris’ contract is up, the council would still have at least 3 if not 4 of the same members.  During comment, Iris Scheibl reiterated this point, and suggested that since there is excellent staff, the departure of the City Manager, if it occurred, would not destroy the City. The vote was unanimous 5:0 to delay.


This item was postponed from the August agenda in order to have a full panel to vote. City Attorney Lohman recently left the law firm for which he worked and opened his own. The Council was unanimous in hiring Mr. Lohman to represent the City.


City Manager Ferris requested a meeting between the Council and the Planning and Zoning department to discuss the many upcoming projects and to get guidance so that a policy and approach can be developed to discuss density, traffic concurrency and other issues. This was prompted after his observation that many of the projects now coming to them are different than the past – higher density and a different use mix.  Councilman Russo made it clear that this workshop would be only between P&Z and the Council and that no Public Comment should permitted. Ferris replied that yes, that is the way it is traditionally done. Public comment could happen at another time/meeting but not here. (Editorial comment: Perhaps that is true/not true – but we strongly encourage attendance and that you make the Council aware, via email, phone, public comment at future council meetings, etc. of your feedback after the workshop)


  • Team Golf participants were champions and many youth were recognized and photographed with the Council.
  • Fire Station 2 (on the corner of RCA/Monet and Gardens East) will be replaced by the end of 2015 with a new station on the property adjoining it, and the current property will be razed and converted. This is the City’s oldest station and in need of modernization.
  • The Tennis Center will also have major improvements over the next few years and Mr. Engle went over these as well.


All but one resolution including approvals for South Gardens Apartments, signage improvements for Gardens Town Square, expansion of the Day Care Center at Palm Beach Community Church (Borland Center), and updated schedule of fees and charges, passed 5:0. Resolution 58, 2014, which was a petition to extend the terms of an existing temporary modular structure on PGA National Resort’s Core Golf Course was postponed until the 10/2 council meeting as Planning and Zoning had not had a chance to review some of the presented material and plans for the property.

The next City Council Meeting/ 2nd Public Hearing of the 2014/2015 Budget will be on Thursday, September 18 at 7pm.


First 2014-2015 Budget Hearing (and City Council Mtg) on Wed. 9/3!

The next City Council Meeting will be this Wednesday, September 3rd at 7pm at City Hall.  There’s a lot on the agenda.  Note that this meeting falls on Wednesday so as to not conflict with required Budget hearings from other governmental entities.  Note also that this is the first of two required 2014-2015 Budget hearings for the City.  The second meeting will fall on Thursday, September 18th at 7pm.

Please at a minimum, review the Budget overview letter . If you are a property owner, you should have already received your TRIM notice.  Note that our Council will be telling us that they are responsibly holding Operating Millage (tax rate) flat at 5.7404 mills. Due to the increase in property valuations, however – this means that with a flat tax rate the City would be increasing property tax revenues by 6.14%.  Most of the other governmental entities in your trim notice also propose similar actions taking advantage of the property evaluation ‘windfall’.  This is a return to attitudes and approaches taken during the boom.  It is up to you as active residents to evaluate whether some or all of that ‘windfall’ should be returned to you, the taxpayer, or is properly being used for infrastructure repairs, improvements,  and salary increases.

The Budget will presented early in the meeting under Presentations and will be the first item that is part of the Public Hearings as Ordinance 15, 2014 at which time public comment will be allowed.

The City Manager Report, also early in the Agenda includes 3 items of particular interest:

  • Update on FEMA Maps.  The new maps impact property/flood insurance rates and there will be a series of public hearings prior to adoption.  This link shows the dates and times for the Open Houses throughout the County in early September.
  • Contract Extension for City Manager through June 2018 (currently ending in 2016) – you might recall that in July, Council Member Jablin “proposed an extension of the City Manager’s Contract for an additional 2 years to June,  2018 – primarily because if term limits are imposed, “the council will be wiped out“.  (It’s important for you to watch the discussion here! )  The motion was withdrawn until the contract could be reviewed, and placed on the agenda for transparency and public vote.  Retirement intentions and a succession plan need to be discussed as well.  It will be on the agenda in the first budget meeting in September.”  It’s up to you as active residents to also determine whether this is a valid action or not.
  • Also postponed from the August meeting is City Attorney Retention: Max Lohman has left the employ of Corbett, White and Davis and has formed Lohman Law Group.  The City Manager proposes that Mr. Lohman be retained rather than taking the services of another attorney from his former employer.

Public Hearings include several Resolutions, among them:

  • Other resolutions affecting signage in Gardens Towne Square, a time extension for a modular temporary building at PGA National Core Golf Course, and a request by Cotleur and Hearing, Inc., on behalf of Palm Beach Community Church, to approve an expansion of an existing Major Conditional Use for Discoveryland Preschool, a day care within Midtown Planned Unit Development (PUD). The site is located on the north side of PGA Boulevard, approximately 0.25 miles west of North Military Trail. The 2,600-square-foot expansion, located within the existing building, will provide a total area of 6,157 -square-feet of day care use. The Applicant is also seeking to increase the maximum number of students permitted from 85 to 152.
  • Updated schedules and fees for fiscal year 2014/2015 is the final item on the Agenda.

The complete Agenda can be viewed here.  The proposed 2014-2015 Budget can be viewed here.

We get the government we deserve – and it’s up to us to watch what they do. Hope you can make it.  If you can’t make the meeting try and watch live-streaming or on-demand.