Delray waits on Tallahassee for pension board changes & other items of note

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Pension board changes waiting on Tallahassee

The state is making Delray Beach wait on a major issue, but the city commission can’t wait past tonight.

That issue is the change to the police and fire pension board that Delray Beach negotiated with the unions. Rather than have a nine-member, union-dominated board control the combined pension fund, five-member boards would oversee the police and fire pension funds. Those boards would have to use the same investment advisers, actuaries and lawyers as the general employees fund, which is much more financially sound.

Combined with reductions in future pension benefits, the overall benefit to the city would be “incredible,” said Chief Financial Officer Jeff Snyder. Also, the city would be able to keep collecting money for the pension funds from a state program of assessments on insurance policies.

Accepting that money, however, means agreeing to state rules about the program. So on Aug. 1, attorney James Linn of Lewis Longman Walker wrote to Florida Division of Retirement Director Elizabeth Stevens. Linn laid out the proposed changes, noted that the unions had agreed, and asked if the department disagreed that the changes were proper. Linn made clear that the city needed an answer in time for approval before the budget year starts Oct. 1.

As of Monday, the city did not have a response. On tonight’s commission meeting agenda is final approval of the pension changes. Mayor Cary Glickstein told me that he has been “communicating directly” with Gov. Rick Scott’s office, seeking help. The retirement division is part of the Department of Management Services, one of the state’s executive agencies.

What happens if there’s no word from the state by meeting time? Glickstein said he would ask for commission approval, which makes sense. Jack Warner, who preceded Snyder as CFO, told the commission two weeks ago that the changes were the culmination of “three years of work.”

The legal point for the state is the new composition of the police and fire pension boards. The city believes that state law allows the shift because each new board would cover just one fund, not both. Linn’s letter makes a persuasive case.

Yet when the commission discussed the change two weeks ago, a woman who identified herself as a lawyer for the pension board spoke during public comment to urge caution about the change. She was evasive, however, about who had asked her to speak.

The commission may hear similar thoughts tonight. Though Delray Beach and its residents would benefit greatly—and their interests matter most—the change would mean less money for lawyers and others who benefit from the current system. To use one example, the city would take some of the legal work in-house.

Since that meeting, Glickstein confirmed Monday, the firefighters union has sent its own letter to the state in support of the changes. The police union has not. The Police Benevolent Association has much influence in Tallahassee. Republicans may dislike public employee unions that represent teachers, but they make an exception for those that represent cops and firefighters.

The negotiations that produced the new pension system also produced raises for firefighters and police officers. It’s the most creative fire and police pension reform I’ve seen any city craft. Commissioners should be suspicious of any 11th-hour attempt to block it.

Lawsuits “shade” meeting

Before tonight’s regular meeting, the Delray Beach City Commission will hold a “shade” meeting—no members of the public or reporters—to discuss the Atlantic Crossing and Match Point lawsuits.

A federal judge dismissed Atlantic Crossing’s attempt to recover damages from what the developer claimed was an unconstitutional delay in granting permits. Atlantic Crossing then said it would appeal the ruling. There could be talk of a settlement, but it would be surprising.

The Match Point case is the city’s attempt to get out of the contract with the promoter of the annual pro events at the tennis center. That suit was filed last March, and there has been no update.

Mizner 200 on tap for Boca P&Z

According to a city spokeswoman, Boca Raton has advertised the Mizner 200 project for the Oct. 6 meeting of the Planning and Zoning Board. The luxury condo would replace Mizner on the Green and stretch nearly 900 feet along Mizner Boulevard across from Royal Palm Place.

A formal recommendation hearing before the Community Appearance Board has not been set. The staff report on the project also is not complete. Mizner 200 will generate opposition from residents of Townsend Place, which would border the project on the south, and Investments Limited, which earlier proposed a residential project for the west side of Mizner Boulevard. The project got city approval, but was not built.

Delray-esque or election preview?

Was an exchange at last week’s Boca Raton City Council meeting a preview of the 2019 mayoral election?

The agenda item was a request for changes to a Planned Mobility Development (PMD) in the Broken Sound area. The PMD concept depends on encouraging other means of transportation than cars with one driver.

Councilman Robert Weinroth stated his opposition. Councilman Scott Singer, who sits just to Weinroth’s left, responded by questioning Weinroth’s question. Which led to some un-Boca-like sniping. “I found it very Delray-esque,” Weinroth said.

The issues were minor. The back story isn’t.

With Singer having declined to challenge Mayor Susan Haynie in March, Singer and Weinroth both could be on the council in November 2018 when Haynie might leave a second term early to run for the county commission. In that scenario, the city might hold a special mayoral election in early 2019.

We can’t predict for sure that such a race would match Singer and Weinroth. For those few minutes last week, however, both seemed to be thinking that way.

Beach & Park district campaign issue

During the primary for two seats on the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District, a campaign issue for challengers Craig Ehrnst and Erin Wright was contributions from the firefighters union and individual firefighters. Why would they care who sits on the district board?

The incumbents suggested that the money might be tied to what then was an attempt by the city to annex several neighborhoods on Boca Raton’s northwestern border. More residents could mean more firefighters. Wright is married to a firefighter, which might explain her support, but not the support for Ehrnst.

Matt Welhaf, president of Local 1560 of the International Association of Firefighters, told me last week that neither theory is correct. Though he acknowledged that some firefighters might want to help Wright because they know her husband, Welhaf said the union was responding to what he called “loose talk” by incumbents Dennis Frisch and Earl Starkoff about privatizing some work.

Firefighter/paramedics don’t hold the jobs at risk in such a scenario, Welhaf said, but the union wanted to show solidarity with other unionized employees. Welhaf said he met with Frisch and Starkoff about their comments. “I like them,” he said, but the union “will continue to support” Ehrnst and Wright in the Nov. 8 runoff.

Sales tax increase

Councilman Weinroth has been skeptical of the county’s one-cent sales tax increase, which would last for 10 years and provide an estimated $2.7 billion to the school district, county government and the cities. Weinroth believes that the school district should have proposed its own half-cent plan with the county financing its infrastructure needs through a property tax increase.

Recently, however, Weinroth attended School Superintendent Robert Avossa’s presentation on the plan before the Federation of Boca Raton Homeowners. Weinroth called Avossa’s argument “very compelling.” If the plan passes, nine schools in Boca Raton would receive roughly $100 million worth of infrastructure and technology upgrades. The largest shares would go to Addison Mizner Elementary ($21 million) and Verde Elementary ($24 million.)

For a list of all projects that the plan would finance, visit onecountyonepenny.org. You can find a list of projects for Delray Beach but not for Boca Raton. The city has no infrastructure backlog, and thus the city council has not agreed on how the city would spend the money.

Lowe’s Lite

We’ve seen big-box retailer Wal-Mart introduce smaller, urban stores in South Florida. One is at the south end of Boynton Beach. Neighborhood opposition blocked a similar store on South Federal Highway in Delray Beach.

Now big-boxer Lowe’s is trying the same concept, with Orchard Supply Hardware, which Lowe’s bought out of bankruptcy in 2013. The company’s first Florida store is under construction on Federal Highway in Deerfield Beach, just south of Hillsboro Boulevard. It will be the company’s only store outside of California and Oregon. Orchard plans other stores in Fort Lauderdale and Coral Springs.

 

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