Monday, September 25, 2023

Boca-Delray Tax Rolls Swell and Mayor Singer Talks Gun Control

Number after number reflects the COVID-19 pandemic real estate boom in South Florida. The latest numbers come from the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser’s Office.

According to the June 1 preliminary estimates, property values in Boca Raton rose 12.7 percent last year. In Delray Beach, the increase was almost 13.5 percent.

To put that in perspective, the increase for 2020 in Boca Raton was 3.7 percent. In Delray Beach, it was 5.2 percent. For cities that large to roughly triple their values in one year is extraordinary. Recall that in April 2020, when the pandemic shut down so much of the economy, realtors were panicking because they feared that layoffs would devastate the market.

Instead, two things happened. The Federal Reserve kept interest rates near zero, and Congress passed three massive COVID-19 aid packages—two in 2020 and one last year.

Meanwhile, residents of the Northeast and Midwest came looking for suburbia and no state income tax. They created a bidding war that drove up home prices. Doom became boom.

Boca Raton comfortably retains its claim to the largest tax roll in Palm Beach County —$30.5 billion. Second place stays with Palm Beach, at $25.2 billion. Though Boca Raton contributes only 6.6 percent of the county’s population, the city contributes 17.4 percent to the county tax roll.

For homeowners, the numbers mean that they again will pay more in property taxes, no matter what rate Boca Raton and Delray Beach set. The cities could keep the rates steady and still bring in much more money. If you have a homestead, however, the Save Our Homes cap will limit the maximum increase in property value to three percent.

Though it’s a healthy economy for realtors and sellers, it’s becoming less and less healthy for those seeking to buy their first home. Higher mortgage rates might cool things, but cash buyers—who outbid locals—don’t worry about interest rates.

No one could have believed two years ago that this could happen. So no one knows where we’ll be a year from now.

St. Joseph’s School lawsuit update

st josephs school

There has been progress toward resolving the dispute between St. Joseph’s Episcopal Church in Boynton Beach and St. Joseph’s School.

In April, the church—which leases 10 adjoining acres to the school—said it would not extend the lease past November. The church now has agreed to delay any action on the lease until next June, so the 2022-23 school year can proceed.

Meanwhile, the school’s lawsuit against the church will continue. The school and its main patron, William Swaney, claim that Swaney conditioned a donation to the church on the church not evicting the school. The lawsuit alleges that the planned November eviction was retaliation for the school’s mask-optional policy this year—a policy the church opposed.

St. Joseph’s parent David Stenson said, “This comes as a great relief.” He noted that, despite the uncertainty, “We didn’t lose a single teacher. Parents can move their children, but teachers didn’t know if they would have a job. That shows you how much people believe in the school.”

The Rev. Martin Zlatic is St. Joseph’s rector. In a statement, he said, “Our goal and intent from the very first moment we gave notice of the Nov. 30, 2022 lease expiration date was to facilitate a smooth transition process. I know I speak for our Vestry and congregation when I say we are so grateful that this mutually agreed to arrangement has been reached to provide some relief for the school families and students.”

About half of St. Joseph’s 175 students come from Delray Beach and about half live in Boynton Beach. Steve Mackey is another school parent. Mackey told me Wednesday, “This gives everyone some breathing room. The school and the church now have time to work out their grievances.”

Mayor Singer speaks up on gun control

Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer spoke up quickly after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting four years ago. He did so again after the slaying of 19 students and two teachers at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Tex.

Boca Raton Mayor Scott Singer

Singer cited the Legislature’s 2011 law that not only prohibits local officials in Florida from enacting any firearm safety regulation but leaves them liable to fines and removal from office. Boca Raton is a plaintiff in the lawsuit challenging that law. The Florida Supreme Court hears arguments next week.

Unlike some Republicans who instinctively criticize any potential firearms regulation, Singer referenced “the problem of powerful guns in the wrong hands of very troubled individuals who display warning signs. Bipartisan measures are pending in Washington to enhance red-flag laws, close loopholes in background-check laws, and give law enforcement needed tools to confront these threats.”

Singer added, “Congress can’t seem to agree on much, but they need to start with finding common ground on common-sense solutions.”

Delray attorney on short list for circuit court

Lawonda Warren, who works in Delray Beach’s legal department and advises the police department, is one of the finalists for a circuit court judgeship.

Members of the county’s judicial nominating commission sent the list of finalists to Gov. DeSantis two weeks ago. He has 60 days after receiving the names to make his choice. Warren’s competitors include two county court judges. It is very rare for an assistant city attorney to make the short list. DeSantis’ choice will replace Janis Keyser, who is retiring.

Old School Square lawsuit will have a new judge

old school square
Cornell Art Museum in Old School Square; photo courtesy of the Delray Beach DDA

Speaking of judges, I wrote recently that Palm Beach County Circuit Court Judge John Kastrenakes had created a timeline for the lawsuit by Old School Square for the Arts against Delray Beach. That timeline called for a trial in February if the parties can’t settle.

I should have noted that, on such a schedule, Kastrenakes would not preside over the trial. He decided not to run for another term this year. If the dispute persists into 2023, another judge will have to take over. That could further delay any trial.

Boca Raton Bowl returns this December

This year’s Boca Raton Bowl will return to its usual date.

That would be Dec. 20, the Tuesday before Christmas. ESPN, which produces the game, had moved it to a Saturday last year and in 2019. This year’s will be the ninth edition.

Florida Atlantic University, which hosts the Boca Bowl, also has finalized its football schedule. FAU had to scramble after three teams left Conference USA a year early. FAU also will leave the conference, but not until next year. The Owls are moving to the higher-tier American Athletic Conference.

Donations continue to pour in for Boca Regional

Boca Raton Regional Hospital. Photo by Aaron Bristol.

Boca Raton Regional Hospital has received the 43rd seven-figure-and-up gift toward its capital campaign.

This $1 million donation comes from city residents Jonathan and Laura Bienner. Jonathan Bienner is a former head of fixed income at Goldman Sachs Asset Management. The Keeping the Promise Campaign has raised $230 million toward its goal of $250 million.

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Randy Schultz
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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