Sunday, April 14, 2024

City Council pay raises, a beach variance and other hot items

Pay raises for the council      

The Boca Raton City Council nearly tied itself in knots Tuesday night discussing salaries for the mayor and council.

       Though Boca has about 90,000 residents, the mayor makes just $9,000. Council members make $7,200. Those are among the lowest salaries for city officials in Palm Beach County.

       Councilman Mike Mullaugh had proposed an ordinance that would tie the mayor’s salary to that of the Florida Senate president—about $41,000—and the council members’ pay to that for other state legislators—about $30,000. Those also are officially part-time jobs that can demand 40 hours and more a week. The issue would go to voters in November 2016. Straightforward.

       Other council members, however, differed on the date. What about next March, when the city holds an election but no council members will be on the ballot? Florida holds its presidential primary on that date. What about next August, the statewide primary? What about March 2017?

       Then there was that link to the Legislature. Would that make sense to Boca residents? Maybe the comparison should be to the county commission, closer to home.

       Let’s be clear about a couple of things.

       First, elected officials understandably are wary when discussing a raise for themselves. In the last decade or so, two referendums to raise salaries failed. But salaries in Boca are ridiculously low. They were set in 1966. Adjusted for inflation, the mayor’s salary would be about $66,000 and council members should make about $53,000. Both numbers are well above the levels in Mullaugh’s proposal.

       Second, this is not about getting better candidates. Jeremy Rodgers noted that he had loaned himself money for his campaign this year, and based on his salary still had not repaid himself. The raise, he said, might draw more self-funded candidates who didn’t have to seek campaign contributions from developers.

       I remember when salaries for county commissioners went up, and they were declared full-time employees. One argument was that more money would attract better candidates. In fact, the quality hasn’t changed much in either direction.

       Most people don’t run for local office to make money. At least the good ones don’t. The city council in Riviera Beach just avoided a public vote and engineered a big raise by adding another meeting on what normally is perfunctory business. It was outrageous, but Riviera Beach is to good government what norovirus is to a cruise ship.

       The council postponed a decision on the salary proposal until January. The consensus seems to be for an August vote. The biggest turnout—and thus the best consensus—would be in November, even if the proposal comes at the end of the ballot. 

Also, using county commission salaries as a standard could be problematic. Under state law, those salariescurrently about $96,000—are tied to a county’s population. The larger, the higher. What if the countywide increase differs from the increase in Boca?

       Mullaugh offered a simple proposal that would not affect him. He didn’t want the raises to start until he had been term-limited. His approach may not survive the council’s discussion in January, but it’s still the best.

Variance approval at beach

 “Grudgingly” as Scott Singer described it, but also correctly, the Boca Raton City Council on Tuesday approved a variance that would allow the building of a single-family home on the beach.

       The vote was 4-1, with Jeremy Rodgers dissenting. None of the others, though, was happy about reversing the Zoning Board of Adjustment. As the staff made clear, however, rejecting the variance would have led to a lawsuit, and the city’s position would have been weak.

       Residents of condos across A1A from the property at 2500 North Ocean Boulevard (above) opposed the variance. One argued that approval would open a “Pandora’s box” that could allow those residents to build on the ocean. Deputy City Manager George Brown rebutted that argument, noting that any such development would require density changes that the council could, and certainly would, deny. The standard for granting a variance is different.

       As to concerns about the effects of the four-story home on sea turtle nests, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection would have to review the application and would attach conditions to make sure that lighting didn’t confuse the turtles. I know of a four-story condo on the ocean in Delray Beach, and that stretch of beachfront has been home to dozens of nests.

       For Susan Haynie, Robert Weinroth, Mike Mullaugh and Singer, the vote was unpleasant. Responsible votes often are.

Mega project tax revenues

On Tuesday, I reported that Phases 2 and 3 of the Via Mizner project could generate $1.7 million annually in property tax revenue for Boca Raton. The city council approved the project on Monday.

       University Village, which the city council approved two weeks ago, would generate an estimated $1.1 million at buildout. That could take seven to 10 years.

       Obviously, cities should not approve development just for the sake of tax revenue. But Boca Raton residents, whether they like development or not, appreciate good services and low taxes. A city can’t keep offering both without new money. That’s why the potential $3 million a year from Via Mizner and University Village matters.

Federal Highway makeover

       Last month, Delray Beach celebrated completion of the Federal Highway makeover. The work took years, cost $14 million and comes with many hopes.

       The first is that the stretch in question—from George Bush Boulevard to Southeast 10th Street, where the road splits to become one-way in both directions—will be safer and friendlier. U.S. 1 once was the main north-south route through Southeast Florida. Then it became Interstate 95, but drivers still treated Federal Highway as a way to get through Delray Beach quickly, not to look and linger.

       Just as West Palm Beach did two decades ago, Delray Beach decided to turn a main road into a scenic road to help its downtown. Three lanes in each direction became two. The city installed new light poles and widened sidewalks along the two blocks north and south of Atlantic Avenue. The road now has bicycle lanes.

       The project made sense. Still, the results are uncertain. So I asked Delray’s elected officials what they hope to see from the makeover.

       Mayor Cary Glickstein: “Prior to the lane reductions, this section of U.S. 1 exceeded the statewide average crash rate by over 70 percent. Since the lane reductions, we have reduced vehicular and pedestrian crashes by nearly 80 percent, reduced the average speeds from 41 mph to the posted 35 mph, so folks are no longer speeding through our downtown—with an increase of only 6 percent in traffic, as measured by cycle times at different signals.

       “On a less scientific bases, there are new development signs in what were blighted areas. The wider sidewalks, bike lanes and better lighting should add more pedestrians, bicyclists, stores and offices to what was an unsafe, high-speed sea of asphalt, and it provides a real sense of place as you arrive in the city. That, and people love it.

       Commissioner Jordana Jarjura: “We turned a six-lane, divided highway into a more attractive, safe and pedestrian-focused street. Of course, a project of this magnitude was disruptive during the construction, and it was not without mistakes. I am pushing for a uniform infrastructure plan so we can save money on design, consolidated signage and crease a sense of place with our streetscape.

       “What resulted is a more walkable downtown that reflects the character of our community. I hope the private development that comes forward continues the streetscape improvements beyond what was done.”

       Commissioner Mitch Katz: “I believe that the beautification project’s result will be what was the originally intended results of expanding the downtown north and south for Atlantic Avenue across that corridor. We are already seeing a tremendous amount of development south of Atlantic that seems to be a result of this project. I travel U.S. 1 often, and while there is traffic, it is not as bad as many had envisioned.

       “With all that being said, we could have done a little better job in planning. Rather than palms lining the streets, shade trees would have made much more sense, as we are trying to create a pedestrian street. In addition, more detail should have been paid to the particulars, like tree, bench and utilities placement to ensure maximum benefits to the sidewalks and to ensure walkability and disability access.”

       Commissioner Shelly Petrolia: “The beautification, increased pedestrian safety and controlled traffic speeds have all been achieved. But the true success of this project will be its ability to shuttle all forms of transportation through our city efficiently, so as not to cause commuters to seek alternative routes on roads less able to handle redirected traffic.

       “From my observation, a lot of traffic has shifted to auxiliary roads unequipped to handle all the cars looking for a quicker way to move north to south, tying up single-lane roads for blocks. It now takes two to three light changes to make it through the Lake Ida/Swinton intersection heading south. At peak times, the traffic can back up to George Bush Boulevard.

       “The jury is still out on claiming the narrowing of ‘the Federals’ as a full success. We hit it out of the park with beautification, safety and traffic calming, but let’s see what happens with the influx of seasonal residents and all the traffic from new construction. It still may require some tweaking with additional turn lanes and such to have it operating efficiently.”

Boca Raton Bowl                               

       The second Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 22 will match the University of Toledo and Temple University. At least one college football analyst believes that the Rockets and Owls will play an entertaining game.

       In his ranking this week of the 40 bowl games, Mark Schlabach of ESPN ranked what is now the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl 20th—not bad, when you consider that the top two spots go to the College Football Playoff semifinal games, which this year go are the Cotton Bowl in Dallas and the Orange Bowl in Miami. Boca folks will be happy to see that Schlabach ranked the game two places higher than the Miami Beach Bowl, which will take place a day earlier at Marlins Park—in Miami, not Miami Beach.

       ESPN runs the Boca Raton Bowl, so one might accuse Schlabach of touting his company’s productions. But he ranked other ESPN-run bowls lower.

       Apparently, very few Temple fans traveled to Texas for the Owls’ conference-championship game loss to Houston. Boca Raton officials no doubt are hoping that Schlabach is right when he speculates that those Temple fans “were saving their money to purchase bowl tickets.”





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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