Monday, October 25, 2021

Boca Resort Changes Name, Budget Shortfall in Delray & More

For its new name, the Boca Raton Resort & Club ditched part of its old name.

From here, with the centennial coming in five years, those 200 acres along Camino Real are simply The Boca Raton. A new website promises “A New Golden Era” under MSD Partners and Northview Hotel Group.

In a statement, President and CEO Daniel Hostettler said, “The Boca Raton has a remarkable history as an internationally recognized landmark and a private escape for in-the-know travelers.” Ownership’s goal, Hostettler said, is to create “innovative new amenities and experiences that will inspire both members and guests, and define The Boca Raton as one of the world’s most preeminent luxury resorts and private clubs.”

A $175 million makeover has begun, with a reopening scheduled to begin in time for high season and continue into 2022. Of that total, $45 million alone will go toward renovating the 27-story tower. The owners also are touting the four-acre “oasis” to be called the Harborside Pool Club.

Even people who aren’t members or don’t patronize the resort will want the resort to thrive. The Boca Raton pays more taxes than any other property in the city except for Town Center Mall.

Budget gap in Delray

During last Tuesday’s budget workshop meeting, Finance Director John Lege told the Delray Beach City Commission, “I don’t want to alarm anyone.”

Then he alarmed everyone.

The city, Lege said, faces a $6.9 million gap for the budget year that begins Oct. 1. The deficit is almost $11 million if the commission wants to increase the level of service, which would mean filling vacant positions. Those numbers come even as property values in Delray Beach increased by roughly five percent.

One reason, Lege said, is a bookkeeping problem that he said the city needs to correct. Under state law, cities must use money from building fees only to run the building department or to provide building-related services. Delray Beach has been using the department’s $2.8 million surplus to subsidize the general fund budget.

The city must use the surplus for its intended purpose, Legg said, “or return it” to those who paid the fees. Development Services Director Anthea Gianniotes said, “I’m super concerned.” When commissioners asked how such a thing could have happened, Gianniotes said administrators once had attempted to make the switch, but former City Manager Mark Lauzier “put it back in.”

Later that day, at its regular meeting, the commission had to set the preliminary property tax rate for next year. Commissioners can set the final rate lower after public hearings in September, but they cannot go higher.

The current rate is $6.66 for every $1,000 of assessed value. Mayor Shelly Petrolia and Commissioner Adam Frankel wanted to cut the rate to $6.56, returning to the annual reductions that stopped last year because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

If we “keep more money in the pockets of our residents,” Petrolia said, they will “spend more” on the local economy. Actually, the owner of a $400,000 home would pay about $40 less, which hardly seems enough for a serious economic stimulus. Frankel also said that the city is “almost out of COVID,” even as cases rise.

Commissioners Ryan Boylston, Julie Casale and Shirley Johnson outvoted Frankel and Petrolia to keep the preliminary rate the same. They want to hear what department heads would do with the $1.2 million more the current rate would raise. Either way, property owners will pay more than last year because of higher values.

What’s the answer to the shortage? Some commissioners seem ready to use all of the money from the American Rescue Plan from the Biden administration. The city will get about $5.5 million this year and next.

Lege reminded commissioners that it’s dangerous to use one-time money for recurring expenses. What happens when the federal money runs out? Also, that money comes with conditions, one of which is that state and local governments can’t use it to finance tax cuts.

Petrolia noted that the budget far outpaces population growth. Police and fire pension costs are one reason. The new firefighter contract raised expenses by $4 million and negotiations are underway with the police union.

New City Manager Terrence Moore starts on Aug. 2. He will want to determine quickly if there is reason to be alarmed about the budget.

Oxy settlement?

It appears more likely that a federal bankruptcy court judge will approve a settlement in the case against the makers of OxyContin. It also appears more likely that the settlement will be unfair to Delray Beach.

Last week, City Attorney Lynn Gelin updated commissioners on negotiations between state attorneys general and attorneys for Purdue Pharma. As things stand, the Sackler family would relinquish control of the company, which would reorganize out of bankruptcy and pay plaintiffs through company revenues.

This month, 15 states that had opposed an earlier deal supported the revised agreement, which would pay out $1.5 billion more than the previous deal. One of those states is Massachusetts, which filed the first lawsuit. Florida also favors the settlement.

Gelin wanted the commission to approve a resolution supporting a deal that she acknowledged is “disappointing.” The city’s outside counsel supports it. If enough plaintiffs agree, Gelin said, the case could be resolved by year’s end and not be “prolonged.”

To understand why Gelin’s assessment is correct, consider that Boca Raton would get more than Delray Beach, which became the epicenter of Florida’s sober house crisis. Even Boca Raton would get only between $50,000 and $95,000 a year for 18 years—an award that could be lower because of attorneys’ fees.

Gelin said, “I thought we would get back what the taxpayers spent” on overtime for paramedics, Narcan and all the other costs of dealing with the epidemic. That still could happen. The city also is a plaintiff in the lawsuit against companies that distributed the painkillers. A federal judge in Ohio has consolidated the roughly 2,000 cases.

Because of pandemic restrictions, overdose cases surged last year in Delray Beach, as they did nationwide. Cities still are dealing with the damage. Those who brought this scourge remain beyond the reach of true justice.

More on Boca shooting

I wrote recently about the July 8 officer-involved shooting at University Commons in Boca Raton, the first such shooting for the police department in seven years. After my request, the clerk’s office made the probable cause affidavit available. Here’s what it says:

Shortly after 9 p.m., Jordan Samuel Thompson, a 27-year-old man who lives in Coconut Creek, was in front of Barnes & Noble. According to a witness who spoke with the investigator, Thompson was holding a sheathed knife, which he began banging against his head.

The witness went to his car and called 911. Two officers responded and began talking with Thompson. The witness could not hear their conversations.

According to the affidavit, the investigator watched video that showed Thompson had unsheathed the knife after the officers had been talking to him. “(Thompson) refused to comply with their numerous verbal commands,” the investigator wrote.

After one officer fired a Taser, to no apparent effect, Thompson jumped onto a bench “and then turned back towards the officers, lunged off the bench through the air, directly towards the officers, while still armed with the knife in his right hand.” The witness also stated that Thomson “lunged through the air.”

The investigator said one of the officers fired “multiple times.” The witness recalled hearing “ at least three gun shots (sic).”

Thompson faces two charges of attempted second-degree murder on a law enforcement officer. Both officers invoked Marsy’s Law to keep their names private.

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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