Util­i­ties project nice but not nec­es­sary

Palm Beach Daily News - - OPINION - By EILEEN C. CURRAN

This is in ref­er­ence to the great let­ter, “How did Palm Beach let pen­sion short­fall hap­pen?” by C. Ed­ward Carter (Oct. 22, 2017 Palm Beach Daily News).

I very much ap­pre­ci­ated your piece, but no­ticed a glar­ing omis­sion: The mas­sive, “qual­ity of life,” nonessen­tial, town­wide util­i­ties un­der­ground­ing project — cost­ing well in excess of $90 mil­lion — is miss­ing from your list of the Town Coun­cil’s “life­style” projects.

In the Fe­bru­ary 2016 Cit­i­zens’ As­so­ci­a­tion news­let­ter, the thenTown Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Michael Pu­cillo stated just how un­nec­es­sary this project is: “Per­haps the most sig­nif­i­cant is­sue is the fund­ing of this project. Specif­i­cally, why are we not us­ing the ad val­orem method to pay for it, and how does the as­sess­ment method work? We use ad val­orem tax­a­tion to fund the things that the lo­cal govern­ment must do to pro­tect the safety and public health of our res­i­dents. These are things my col­league Bob Wildrick refers to as the ‘nec­es­sary’ things, as op­posed to things that are sim­ply ‘nice’ if we could do them. We all know the nec­es­sary func­tions of govern­ment: pro­vid­ing safe drink­ing wa­ter, pick­ing up garbage, dis­pos­ing of sewage, and pro­vid­ing po­lice and fire pro­tec­tion.

“These es­sen­tial ser­vices are prop­erly paid for based on the value of one’s prop­erty. While the un­der­ground­ing of all our util­i­ties will im­prove our qual­ity of life, it does not fall into the ‘nec­es­sary’ col­umn.” Clearly it is a ‘nice’ thing to do if we can. The Un­der­ground­ing Task Force and the Town Coun­cil de­ter­mined that pay­ment for this ‘nice’ im­prove­ment to our town should be paid for in a man­ner that re­flects the costs of the un­der­ground­ing and the ben­e­fit de­rived from it, rather than the value of one’s prop­erty.”

On Oct. 14, 2014, this project was ap­proved unan­i­mously (5-0) by the then-Town Coun­cil with­out any in­put by Palm Beach res­i­dents.

The project costs (not in­clud­ing any fi­nanc­ing costs) came in well in excess of the $90 mil­lion fi­nanc­ing amount nar­rowly ap­proved (by 62 votes out of a to­tal of 4,286 votes) in the March 15, 2016 ref­er­en­dum. This was not a ref­er­en­dum to ap­prove the project; only to ap­prove the $90 mil­lion fi­nanc­ing. It was lim­ited to reg­is­tered vot­ers only. All res­i­dents were not able to vote.

In or­der to keep the project costs at $90 mil­lion (again not in­clud­ing any fi­nanc­ing costs), the town trans­ferred mil­lions of dol­lars of project costs back to the town.

Fur­ther­more, due to the out­stand­ing class-ac­tion law­suit and other law­suits filed against this project, the town has not been able to spend any of the spe­cial as­sess­ment rev­enues col­lected thus far for the project, which are be­ing held in an es­crow ac­count.

In­stead, the town is spend­ing its emergency re­serve fund monies to pay for project costs.

Also, the town is spend­ing other (bud­get) monies to pay for salaries, pen­sions and ben­e­fits for town staff and new hires, le­gal fees, etc. for this “life­style,” “qual­ity of life,” “nice but not nec­es­sary” project.

Meghan McCarthy / Daily News file photo

From left, Town Coun­cil Mem­ber Bob­bie Lind­say, Un­der­ground Util­i­ties Task Force mem­ber

Tony Dow­ell, coun­cil mem­bers Richard Kleid and Julie Araskog and Town Man­ager Tom Bradford par­tic­i­pate in the ground­break­ing cer­e­mony for the util­i­ties un­der­ground­ing project at Phipps Ocean Park on Aug. 4.

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