Wednesday, July 6, 2022

Weinroth Wants Background Checks, and More on Boca National

Palm Beach County Commissioner Robert Weinroth, whose district includes Boca Raton and Delray Beach, wants the county to require background checks for anyone who makes in-home deliveries or service calls.

Weinroth raised the issue with his colleagues last month, after the Aug. 19 killing of Evelyn Udell in Boca Raton by a 21-year-old man making a delivery for Best Buy. Jorge Dupre Lachazo didn’t work for Best Buy. He worked for XM Delivery—the subcontractor of a much larger delivery subcontractor—J.B. Hunt.

On Aug. 31, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office announced the arrest of a Miramar man on a charge of sexual battery. Richard Omar Fisher allegedly attacked a Greenacres woman while making a delivery for City Furniture. Unlike Lachazo, Fisher worked for the retailer. He was released on $20,000 bond after pleading not guilty. A hearing is set for Oct. 24.

Weinroth wants Level 2 background checks for anyone who answers appointed calls for deliveries or service and enters a home. Such a requirement would include technicians for air-conditioning and security companies and possibly contractors.

During discussion on the dais, Weinroth said, Commissioner Melissa McKinlay asked if he wanted to include people who deliver food and packages, as well as U.S. Postal Service employees. Weinroth said no.

“There’s no need to invite those people into your home,” Weinroth told me. “That’s the distinction.”

Background checks arose when the county set rules for Uber, Lyft and other car-hailing services. Weinroth said there are “some parallels” with this issue. When you call for a car, however, “You’re out in the world.” If a problem arises, he said, people have options that they usually don’t in the home.

This area is home to many gated communities. “If you live in one,” Weinroth said, “you still can’t leave your door open. After what happened, we can’t trust that a company has vetted an employee.”

Weinroth has heard resistance from business groups. Background checks cost about $100. Last week, however, Evelyn Udell’s family filed a lawsuit against every entity from Best Buy on down. The attorneys also called for better checks of employees.

“Look at the heartbreak and the bad press,” Weinroth said of the Udell tragedy and the alleged attack in Greenacres. “Look at the legal fees and lost sales.” When he owned a medical supply company, Weinroth said, he conducted Level 2 checks on employees.

One question will be what would disqualify an employee under the background checks. Lachazo reportedly had only a cell phone theft on his record. Weinroth expects a follow-up discussion at next Tuesday’s commission meeting.

Tonight: Beach & Park vs. City

Tonight’s Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District meeting will determine not just where things go on the proposed Boca National golf course but also where things go on all issues between the district and the city.

If commissioners raise the district’s tax rate at all, the city won’t like it much. If commissioners raise the tax rate by about 15 percent, the city will be very unhappy.

So in terms of politics, the best decision would be to leave the rate unchanged. That could be hard after city council members urged residents to pack the district meeting last week and protest the planned increase. Commissioners then delayed a vote.

Yet the increase doesn’t seem essential. Avoiding it also could lead to more productive discussions between the district and city. The board recently made Briann Harms the district’s permanent executive director. She doesn’t come with the baggage of Art Koski, her predecessor.

As the district’s attorney—he held both jobs for years —Koski negotiated the $24 million price for the Boca National land that the city believes was too high. The district is paying for the land through a bond issue that the city is underwriting.

District board member Steve Engel said, “The city is applying maximum pressure to prevent a millage increase. Speaking for myself, I would vote for an increase only with great reluctance, but it depends on what the city is willing to take off our plate.” District and city staffers met Monday and will meet Tuesday “to see what can be worked out.”

Board member Craig Ehrnst said he wouldn’t vote to raise the tax rate. In an email, he said, “Let’s see what the city design and interlocal agreement (on Boca National) have to offer. Worth the wait at this point.”

And about that tax…

Here’s one other point about the beach and park district’s tax rate.

It’s true, as some have suggested, that the overall increase for homeowners would be small. If the rate went up 15 percent, the owner of a $400,000 homestead with a $50,000 exemption would pay about $50 more.

But as one speaker said at last week’s meeting, the increase would be much higher for Boca Raton’s large commercial landowners, of which there are many. Since Boca Raton touts the city as a place to start businesses, the city or the district would have to sell any tax increase as credible. I don’t think the district is at that point.

Property values up

As I remind readers every year at about this time, you likely will pay more taxes even if the rate stays the same.

That’s because property values went up this year, as they have since the Great Recession ended. Citywide, the increase in Boca Raton was about 5 percent. In Delray Beach, it was 6.6 percent. Individual increases may be higher or lower.

Last week, Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer—who’s on the ballot in March—emailed residents to boast that there will be “NO increase in the property tax rate.” But there WILL be an increase in the taxes Boca residents pay.

Sachs announces run

Former State Sen. Maria Sachs has filed paperwork to run for the county commission representing District 5.

The district includes all areas west of Boca Raton, Delray Beach and Boynton Beach. School board member Karen Brill previously filed for the seat. Both are running in the Democratic primary to succeed Mary Lou Berger. Since the district is heavily Democratic, the winner of the primary almost certainly will win the general election.

District 5 includes the Agricultural Reserve Area, the site of constant development battles. I will report on the latest in my Thursday post.

Randy Schultz
Randy Schultz, a native of Hartford, Connecticut, has been a South Florida journalist since 1974. He worked for The Miami Herald until 1976 and for The Palm Beach Post from 1976 until 2014, where he served as managing editor and editorial page editor. Since 2014, he has written a politics blog, commentaries and other articles for Boca magazine. His writing has earned first-place awards from the Florida Magazine Association and the Florida Society of Newspaper Editors. Randy has lived in Boca Raton with his wife, Shelley Huff-Schultz, since 1985. His son, daughter-in-law and their three children also live in Boca Raton.

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