Monday, September 25, 2023

Delray’s Water and Sewer Rate May Climb, New Bill to Watch & More

By 2026, the average water and sewer rate in Delray Beach could be nearly 40 percent higher. That’s the cost of building a new system.

The figure comes from the presentation for today’s city commission workshop meeting agenda. Commissioners will hear a presentation from the city’s utilities consultant. The Florida Department of Health just fined the city roughly $1 million for water quality problems that stretched out for more than a decade.

Aside from bad management, the main problem is that the water treatment plant is one of the oldest in Florida. Though the consultant estimated that a new plant could cost $125 million, City Manager Terrence Moore on Monday called that a “five years out” projection. Starting work sooner, he said, could lower the cost to $105 million.

Even if Moore is right, however, the city’s current rate structure doesn’t provide enough money for the plant and related expenses, such as new meters. Those rates have been in place for many years. A new system means that residents will pay more for water and sewer service.

According to the presentation, the average Delray Beach customer—based on 6,000 gallons of water used— pays $57.85 per month for water and sewer service. The consultant recommends an increase to $80.70 in four years. That would give Delray Beach one of the highest rate structures in Palm Beach County—much higher than in Boca Raton and Boynton Beach.

That difference could make it harder for Delray Beach to recruit businesses. Of course, the money also would give the city a new, reliable system. I would expect the commission to debate how high those rates should be.

To pay for the system, the city will issue a revenue bond, based on fees from customers. With interest rates expected to rise multiple times this year, Delray Beach will want to issue that bond as soon as possible. Moore hopes that can happen “in the next few months.” 

COVID testing                                   

Photo by Mufid Majnun on Unsplash

We saw more evidence this weekend in Boca Raton and Delray Beach of the demand for COVID-19 testing.

The county provided tests for distribution at several points. One was at Boca Raton’s North Congress Avenue complex near the Boca Raton Innovation Campus. Another was at Pompey Park in Delray Beach.

According to the cities’ respective spokeswomen, 6,500 tests went out in Boca Raton and another 2,500 in Delray Beach. Each location gave out all the tests that the county supplied. There is no indication when the county might send more. Lines remain long at public testing sites.

Tallahassee legislative session bears watching

Old and new capitol buildings in Tallahassee, Florida. (State Archives of Florida)

The Florida Legislature opens its session today, which means that cities and counties must beware.

In recent years, Tallahassee has repeatedly attacked the concept of home rule, which means that local governments can decide how to govern themselves. In some cases, the Legislature has overridden local votes. Example: Tallahassee retroactively pre-empted to the state rules about cruise ships. Voters in Key West had set regulations designed to protect the local environment. The legislation voided those votes.

Predictably, vacation rental companies are back, seeking to block cities and counties from imposing rules to protect single-family neighborhoods. This year, though, comes a new and particularly bad piece of legislation.

Senate Bill 620 would allow businesses to seek damages if a local regulation caused a drop of at least 15 percent in revenue. Supporters say the legislation aligns with the existing Bert Harris Act, which allows landowners to challenge regulations that they claim reduces the value of their property.

SB 620, however, presumes that regulations have no public value. Noise ordinances might limit a nightclub’s businesses, but they certainly benefit neighbors who don’t want to hear pulsating music at 1 a.m.

The bill does not specify how the business must calculate its alleged losses. It does not list any local regulations that may have gone too far. There is no apparent justification for SB 620 except that it is a priority of Senate President Wilton Simpson, who is running for agriculture commissioner.

If this bill becomes law, cities will be more reluctant to consider beneficial regulation because any affected businesses will demand upfront payment. The alternative will be endless lawsuits that delay the regulation.

This attack on home rule could be the most serious. With the Florida Legislature, that’s saying something. None of it good.

Traffic proposals around Boca’s Golf & Racquet Club

boca country club
Boca Golf & Racquet Club, photo courtesy of the City of Boca Raton

Before the city council at tonight’s meeting are proposals designed to ease traffic around the Boca Raton Golf & Racquet Club.

One would allocate $2,500 toward design of a permanent guardhouse at the north entrance. That entrance is for homeowners who live around the club and are not residents of the city. Homeowners worry about more traffic after The Boca Raton donated the club to the city. Golfers and others using the club use the main entrance across from the Costco store on Congress Avenue.

In addition, the city would spend $6,000 for a pedestrian gate at the north entrance and allow that location to be a permanent school bus stop. It will ensure student safety despite new traffic to and from the club.

Sherwood Golf Course plan update

country club

Before the Delray Beach City Commission today is final approval of a plan to convert the closed Sherwood Golf Course to housing.

The commission approved the proposal on first reading, but that vote came after only perfunctory debate. Like other developments in South Florida, Sherwood dates back more than half a century, to a time when the business model focuses on homeowners playing golf and paying club fees. New homeowners have been less golf-centric. The course closed four years ago.

Under the proposal, 79 homes would go on 37 acres near Military Trail and West Atlantic Avenue. Surrounding them would be other single-family neighborhoods. Though other homeowner associations have opposed the loss of such green space, the HOA in this case favors the plan. The developer would keep 21 percent of the community open. The rules require just 15 percent. City officials have stressed the need for more housing in Delray Beach.

Dan Alexander resignation

dan alexander
Former Police Chief Dan Alexander, courtesy City of Boca Raton

Former Boca Raton Police Chief Dan Alexander resigned last week as the Palm Beach County School District’s police chief. Alexander will take a public safety position in Virginia.

Alexander left the city in late 2019 to become the district’s deputy chief. He was promoted in April in hopes of stabilizing the force that became much larger after the post-Marjory Stoneman Douglas legislation that requires at least one officer in each school.

Alexander’s departure likely will bring more calls from the police union to have the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office take over the department. School Board Chairman Frank Barbieri, however, said Monday that he opposes a takeover.

“We need officers who are trained to deal with children,” Barbieri said. “They can be unruly, and the response can’t be to just arrest them.” Most of his board colleagues, Barbieri said, share that sentiment.

More spending on Wildflower park

wildflower park
Wildflower park rendering (Courtesy of City of Boca Raton)

Boca Raton’s spare-no-expense attitude toward Wildflower/Silver Palm Park continues.

On tonight’s city council agenda is approval of $130,000 for creation of two “artistic sculptures” and design of an “interactive play component” that can be “climbed on and climbed through.” The park is a combination of the existing public marina south of the Palmetto Park Road Bridge and the former home of the Wildflower nightclub on the north side.

The city bought the Wildflower property for $7.5 million, intending it for a revenue-producing venture. Opponents, however, blocked the proposal for a restaurant. The site is only about two acres, making it hard to create something that will draw people and even partially justify the cost of construction and acquisition.

Thus the sculptures. One wonders how much of an attraction they will be. As for the “interactive play area,” Boca Raton opened one of those almost two years ago. It’s the playground at Hillsboro/El Rio South Park. It’s very popular, and it happened without council micromanaging.

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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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