Monday, September 25, 2023

Delray Addresses Police Union Contracts and Atlantic Ave. Noise

Delray Beach and the police union aren’t at impasse over contract negotiations. Yet.

The previous agreement between the city and the Police Benevolent Association expired last Sept. 30. So the two sides are more than halfway through what should be the first year of a new three-year contract. Officers are working under the old deal. Terms of the new contract will be retroactive to Oct. 1, 2021.

According to a city spokeswoman, Delray Beach and the PBA have made “significant strides.” The city’s latest proposal “addresses all the concerns raised during negotiations.” Several of those 12 issues “have a substantial financial impact on the city’s budget. While we deeply value our sworn personnel, we also have a responsibility to all our employees as well as the taxpayers to be fiscally responsible.” Any agreement must be “in keeping with the guidance provided by the city’s advisors and sustainable in the long term.”

Under the city’s latest offer, the spokeswoman said, the police department would be among the three best-paying in Palm Beach County. The starting salary for officers would be $58,212, an increase of 10 percent. For sergeants, it would be $97,661, also a 10 percent rise.

Lieutenants would start at $129,628, an increase of 15 percent. Maximum salaries for the three positions would be $111,484, $127,430 and $146,932, respectively.

The annual multiplier for pensions would be three percent. Most private pensions have no such multiplier, which greatly increases pension costs over time. Other parts of the proposal concern vacation and sick leave accruals, which officers could collect if not used. Officers would get annual “step” raises on the date of their hiring. Any raises missed because of the prolonged negotiations also would be retroactive.

I have not heard any talk of the city declaring an impasse. If that happened, the city and the union would have to choose a special magistrate to hear the case. Boca Raton went to impasse with the police and firefighter unions in 2014 when the city was trying to enact pension reform. Declaring an impasse gives a city leverage because it can reject a magistrate’s recommendation and set the terms on its own.

“We are confident,” the spokeswoman said, “that we have negotiated in good faith, and in the spirit of fairness and fiscal accountability.” I’ll have more as the talks progress, or don’t.

Turning down the volume on Atlantic Ave.

atlantic avenue
Atlantic Avenue in Delray Beach

If noise complaints reflect a vibrant downtown, Delray Beach is very vibrant.

Excessive noise has been an issue for many years. In 2007, the city considered banning motorcyles on East Atlantic Avenue during certain hours. Bikers jammed the city commission chambers, and the idea died.

The complaints, however, have not. Though most concern centers on loud noise on Friday and Saturday nights, Commissioner Ryan Boylston said residents also make complaints other nights and during the day. “We hear about noise from bars,” he said, “and we hear about noise from cars.”

The city has hired a consultant, Bennett Brooks. His company, Brooks Acoustics Corp. of Pompano Beach, specializes in noise control. Brooks will make a presentation at today’s commission workshop meeting.

This year, Studio 404 on West Atlantic Avenue closed after the city received many noise complaints. The club was outside the East Atlantic entertainment district that allows later hours. Though the club got public money in hopes of reviving West Atlantic, neighbors saw it as a nuisance. The owner complained about “old-school rules.”

Boylston hopes that today’s presentation will allow Delray Beach to create a system to “measure and manage noise.” I’ll have more after the meeting.

Boca building plans approved despite opposition

Even the winning side in a development decision wasn’t happy last week with Boca Raton.

The issue before the city council was a relatively minor set of amendments to plans for a 277-unit residential project on Congress Avenue at Northwest 65th Avenue in the Park at Broken Sound. Staff had recommended approval. The only opposition came from the adjoining property owner, who disagreed with the staff assessment and claimed that the project would make traffic worse for his office tenants.

During debate, Mayor Scott Singer allowed the opponent and his attorney much more than the normal time to ask questions and make comments. At one point, a clearly impatient and annoyed Development Services Director Brandon Schaad said city planners acknowledged that the project will mean more traffic but added, “That’s life.”

Though the council approved the amendments quickly and unanimously, the applicant’s attorney complained that the process had taken far too long. It had started before the COVID-19 pandemic, “If anyone still can remember life before the pandemic.”

Boca Raton has talked for several years about streamlining the approval process by letting the staff approve such minor changes without needing to involve the council. Singer sounded ready to get more serious about making that change.

Blue Lake boundaries approved

blue lake elementary
Blue Lake Elementary courtesy of the School District of Palm Beach County

Last week, the Palm Beach County School Board gave final approval to boundaries for Blue Lake Elementary School, which opens in August near Lynn University.

That approval will affect boundaries at other schools in Boca Raton, notably Calusa Elementary. The main goal of Blue Lake, the county’s first new elementary school in more than a decade is to relieve crowding at Calusa. Other changes will happen at J.C. Mitchell Elementary and Addison Mizner and Verde schools, both of which are K-8.

The only speakers to oppose the boundary plan were residents of Santa Barbara, a community north of Glades Road between St. Andrews Boulevard and Jog Road. They wanted their children to stay at Calusa. That portion of the city generated the most controversy during meetings of the school district’s advisory boundary committee.

District planners made several changes to minimize the upheaval for families. Fourth-grade students can remain at their schools for another year. Siblings of those students can stay at the same elementary school through fifth grade. Kindergarten students this fall whose siblings are in the fourth grade also can stay at that school through fifth grade.

Boca ranks 45th for starting new businesses

boca raton

Given the city’s push to recruit jobs, Boca Raton likely will tout the report from financial website WalletHub that ranked it 45th nationwide among the best small cities to start a business.

WalletHub surveyed 1,300 municipalities based on 18 metrics, such as financing availability and business environment. Boca Raton ranked 10th in startups per capita, which reflects the number of entrepreneurs who already are here. Not surprisingly, Boca Raton ranked only in the middle when it came to operating costs for businesses. Housing costs also are becoming a problem.

The top ranking went to Washington, Utah, in the southwest part of the state near the Arizona border. Sixteen Florida cities ranked ahead of Boca Raton in the top 45. The highest-ranked state city was Fort Myers, which was fifth.

Controversial Boca Bash returns this Sunday

Boca Raton officials are preparing for the annual round of complaints about an event the city doesn’t control.

Boca Bash, which draws hordes of boaters to Lake Boca near The Boca Raton, is scheduled for Sunday. Organizers promise a big turnout.

Complaints increased four years ago after a woman died at the event. Boats crowd together and anchor in the lake. There’s lots of alcohol.

Though the city lies on both sides of the Intracoastal Waterway, the lake is not under the city’s jurisdiction. As always, city police will help state law enforcement officials monitor the event—and pray for rain. The current forecast calls for a 40 percent chance of showers.

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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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