Martino: Transparency Missing in $30 Million Surtax Windfall Spending Spree

January 10, 2017

It did not take long for the City Council of Palm Beach Gardens to spend their share of the Sales Tax Revenue windfall from the successful November 2016 Sales Tax Referendum which they opposed. In fact they would spend all of the $30 million expected over the next 10 years, tomorrow, if they could, even though the first dollar has not yet arrived. Am I exaggerating, well maybe a little, but not much?

On the January 3rd agenda for approval was Resolution 12, 2017, which is a request to adopt a formal policy and plan for the expenditure of the one-cent infrastructure sales surtax. The policy and plan as I understand them to be is as follows…

* $11.2 million for acquiring Palm Beach County land at the proposed County District Park off Central Boulevard (think baseball stadium fiasco location) and building a soccer complex

* $2.5 million to expand the baseball complex at Burns Road after demolishing the existing soccer complex at this same site

* $ 6.7 million for a new operations center for the public works (an infrastructure improvement???)

* $ 7 million to renovate and expand City Hall (an infrastructure improvement???)

* $ 2 million to renovate police department (an infrastructure improvement???)

* $ 100,000 to renovate the burns Road fire station (an infrastructure improvement???)

* To front load above projects a $30 million bond issue will be secured using the sales tax surtax revenue to pay down bond

At first blush the above policy and plan sounds reasonable and doable. However, one must stretch the definition of infrastructure to accommodate some of the proposed projects. There certainly is a recreational need for more team sport fields of all stripes or so it would seem. Then again there has been and is great reluctance on the part of Palm Beach County to sell all or even a portion of the Central Boulevard land to the City for any use. Other North County municipalities have expressed interest in the County’s District Park plans and are reluctant to support Palm Beach Gardens’ efforts. Perhaps then, this proposed policy and plan has obstacles that may be insurmountable.

Be that as it may, has this spending spree been given enough thought and consideration? In my opinion it has not. Transparency is missing. It came out of left field. There was no workshop, no prior Council discussion or presentation, and no Public participation. Was this plan presented to the Recreation Board, or the Budget Review Board, or the Palm Beach Gardens Youth Athletic Association for their information and comment? This again appears to be a Staff driven policy and plan. If the City Council members were involved in crafting this policy and plan, when and where did they meet, and with whom? Who authorized the consultants’ study of the City Hall and Police Department renovation and expansion needs, and was the City Council involved?

From my perspective a more comprehensive planning effort needs to be undertaken concerning team sport fields’ requirements, as well as, other very pressing recreational facility and program needs for the City’s future. Public Works, a long overlooked department that contributes mightily to the success of Palm Beach Gardens, certainly has facility needs and deserves them. Work space requirements, if needed, should be accommodated. But what is needed most is transparency by the City Council in making their case for the above policy and plan to the Public.