Monday, September 25, 2023

A Delray Bond Program, Boca Races to Zero & a Comeback for Puppy Mills?

Delray Beach city commissioners hold their annual goal-setting meeting at 8 a.m. Friday. One big topic could be a property tax referendum for everything from a new City Hall to an upgraded parks system.

Ryan Boylston has been the biggest supporter of such a bond program. He correctly notes that Delray Beach also needs a new police station. Another problem is that the city has no emergency operations center equipped with updated technology to ensure that key departments remain linked and can withstand Category 5 winds.

Such a proposal could go on the ballot next March, when the city next holds elections. Though that’s nearly a year away, Boylston told me Tuesday that bond programs can take eight months to formulate. By that schedule, the commission would have to agree by July or August.

There’s no disputing the need. And Delray Beach isn’t relying on property taxes for every project.

Commissioners met this week with the consultant who hopes to market part of the municipal golf course to a developer who would finance a makeover of the layout. The bond for a new water plant will use money from customers’ bills.

Boylston believes that the timing is right. In February, Delray Beach’s existing general obligation bond program will expire. Cities can levy up to $2 per $1,000 of assessed property value for debt financing.

Mayor Shelly Petrolia previously expressed support for a bond program. “That’s one of the few areas where she and I have been aligned,” Boylston said. Adam Frankel recalled that the subject came up at the last pre-pandemic goal-setting meeting. “I think the discussion is needed,” Frankel said. “We have a real problem with aging buildings.”

Commissioner Juli Casale is up for re-election next year. She will draw a strong challenger, largely because of her vote to terminate the lease for Old School Square. Shirley Johnson’s seat is also on the ballot. Johnson can’t run again because of term limits.

Casale might have to calculate how a bond proposal would affect turnout and her chances of a second term. She might conclude that asking residents for money— when inflation still might be high—could hurt her candidacy. Casale is Petrolia’s main commission ally, so that might factor into whether the mayor supports a referendum.

Delray Beach holds another election in 2024. Petrolia is term-limited, and Boylston could be running to succeed her, since he also will be term-limited. Frankel’s seat will be on the ballot along with Boylston’s.

Commissioners have set aside 90 minutes to discuss capital projects. I’ll have more after Friday’s meeting.

Boca takes pledge to reduce greenhouse gases

greenhouse gas
Photo via Adobe Stock

Boca Raton has taken the Cities Race to Zero Pledge.

The campaign is part of the United Nations effort to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming and rising sea levels, which is an especially important issue for Florida.

According to a news release, Boca Raton is the 13th city in Florida to take the pledge. Others include Boynton Beach, Miami and Miami Beach. Two actions the city will examine are increasing its electric vehicle fleet and generating more electricity from renewable sources. 

Councilwoman Monica Mayotte, who has made sustainability her top priority, acknowledged that the pledge for net zero emissions by 2020 is “aspirational.” But, she adds, “We have to start somewhere.”

Boca adds new emergency manager position

One effect of global warming is more intense storms, especially with more rainfall. Two years ago came a health emergency—the COVID-19 pandemic. Four years ago came the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting.

Given this new reality, Boca Raton has added the position of emergency manager. The first hire is Christine Mucci, who previously held the same job in Coral Springs.

Assistant City Manager Chrissy Gibson said Mucci will act as a coordinator among departments that respond to emergencies. Unlike Delray Beach, Boca Raton has a hurricane-hardened emergency operations center in the city complex at 6500 North Congress Ave. Gibson said Mucci also will seek to obtain state and federal sustainability grants.

Delray to reconsider development proposal

delray central
Delray Central architectural plans courtesy of Delray Beach Planning and Zoning Board

On Monday, the Delray Beach Planning and Zoning Board will consider a revised proposal for Delray Central, a 271-unit residential complex on South Congress Avenue.

The project would be slightly north and across Congress from the Parks at Delray project on the former Office Depot headquarters site. Delray Central came to the board last month. By a vote of 5-1, the board asked the developer to modify the plan to make it more compatible. The housing would be between two existing office buildings—one two stories, the other four stories—and link all three structures. Twenty percent of the units would be workforce housing.

According to the staff memo, the developer’s changes have reduced the number of waivers requested for the project. Buffers on the north and south sides are now compliant.

This proposal comes as home prices and rents are rising rapidly because housing inventory is low and demand is high. The developer and/or the city commission can appeal whatever action the planning and zoning board takes.

Puppy mills seek protection under controversial bill

Photo via Adobe Stock

Puppies have become part of the debate surrounding a controversial bill from the Legislature.

I have written about Senate Bill 620. It would allow businesses to sue cities and counties if a local regulation caused at least a 15 percent reduction in profits. Only companies that had been operating for at least three years would be eligible.

The bill is a priority for Senate President Wilton Simpson, R-Trilby, who is running for agriculture commissioner. Now Jason Garcia, a former Orlando Sentinel reporter who runs the Seeking Rents website, has disclosed that puppy mills are hoping that SB 620 would protect them.

Most large pet retailers no longer sell puppies. An exception is Petland, which is based in Chillicothe, Ohio. It has no stores in southern Palm Beach County.

Petland, Garcia reported, donated $125,000 to Simpson. He refused a request from Gov. DeSantis to amend the bill and make pet retailers ineligible for the cause of action that SB 620 would provide.

Boca Raton regulates puppy mills under the county ordinance that bans them. Delray Beach approved its own ban in 2016. A year later, the city closed a loophole that had allowed dealers to sell through non-profits.

Though the legislative session ended almost two months ago, SB 620 still has not gone to DeSantis. When it does, the governor will have 15 days to sign it, veto it or allow the bill to become law without his signature.

Delray seeks ordinance for building inspections

The Delray Beach City Commission has asked Terrence Moore to begin work on an ordinance that would require safety inspections of older, tall buildings.

Terrence Moore, photo courtesy of the City of Delray Beach

After the Champlain Towers South collapse nearly a year ago, commissioners chose to wait for the Palm Beach County Commission to act. Unlike Broward and Miami-Dade, Palm Beach has no reinspection program. County officials hoped to craft an ordinance that all cities could use.

Boca Raton acted on its own. Meanwhile, county commissioners waited to see whether the Legislature this year would preempt condo reinspections to the state. But Tallahassee did not pass any legislation.

As Petrolia said at one point, Delray Beach has far fewer buildings that would qualify than Boca Raton. But actuaries are saying that, without current inspections, some condos could lose their insurance coverage. I’ll have more when the draft ordinance comes to the commission.

Inspector general to review Boca and Delray tech

Photo via Adobe Stock

Like all cities in Palm Beach County, Boca Raton and Delray Beach don’t contribute to the budget of the inspector general even though voters placed the cities under the inspector general’s purview.

Though the office does take complaints against cities and elected officials, Inspector General John Carey often points out that the office also provides services to the cities, and thus to the residents. One of them is upcoming.

According to a news release, the office will check each city’s technology to see if it is vulnerable to a ransomware attack. Last year, local governments, health care providers and school districts experienced nearly 3,000 such attacks, in which hackers disable systems and demand money to restore service.

“The objective of these reviews,” the office said, “will be to determine if entities have processes in place to: (a) prevent network security intrusions; (b) monitor and detect network security threats, breaches, and intrusions; and, (c) respond to and eliminate network security threats, breaches, and intrusions.”

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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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