"Penny" Sales Tax Increase Will Cost You $12,000

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The average West Boca family of four will pay an additional $12,000 over ten years if the proposed sales tax increase is approved. These estimates follow from the numbers stated by speakers at Tuesday’s West Boca Community Council meeting.
Four speakers addressed the audience (note we covered a similar event in February: Avossa and Berger Speak). First up was County Administrator Verdenia Baker. Substantial details of the plan are available on the One County One Penny website.
Like the three speakers after her, Baker was tone deaf to West Boca residents. In her talk she described how the money that would come to “your area” but a closer look showed she was including all of Boca, Delray and Boynton Beach in that area. She also referred to money going to the City of Boca Raton as in “our area” even though most of West Boca is west of the city lines.
Baker indicated that the total amount of revenue they expect to raise from this tax increase is $2.7 billion. In our analysis, with 1.3 million county residents that works out to over $2000 per resident. For a family of four it’s $8000. With average incomes in West Boca higher than for the county, it translates to roughly $12,000 over the ten years. A typical West Boca family of four will spend an extra $1000 on sales tax in the first year, with the number rising to $1500 or more in later years.
Fifty percent of the money from the tax will go to the school district, thirty percent to the county and twenty percent to the cities.
She described a lengthy list of projects that the money is supposed to go to. We have seen this list before and over half the money goes to projects in West Palm Beach. A very small share will benefit West Boca.
Baker briefly answered questions from us toward the end of the event:

The next speaker was Mike Burke, CFO for the school district. He also described various “needs” in the district. To his credit he started off with a funny joke about the jail and he spoke well. But as with the other speakers he was somewhat tone deaf, focusing on projects far from West Boca and apparently not recognizing the difference between the city and the rest of us.
Our post-event conversation with him is below. It became a little uncomfortable in certain moments but we give him credit for his demeanor and his answers.

As a follow up to this conversation we found the report he mentioned. Contrary to what he said the document does not say that projects will be prioritized by need. That may be the intent but it’s not in there.
[gview file=”http://westbocanews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Facility_Condition_Assessment_Report_June_1_2016.pdf”]
Also the report’s descriptions do not match the apocalyptic tone set by Superintendent Avossa, Burke and others.

Finding #3: Of the 196 District schools and facilities assessed, the elementary schools are generally in fair condition (average FCI=15.2%), the middle schools are generally in good condition (average FCI = 13.1%), the high schools are generally in good condition (average FCI = 14.9%), and the ancillary facilities are generally in fair condition (average FCI = 23.1%). The overall District FCI average is 15.0%, which is in the “good” range, but borders on the “fair” range, which begins at 15.1%.

Finally with regard to the schools it should be noted that none of this money will go to hiring teachers or paying them more. It’s only for capital projects.
Next up was Sid Dinerstein, a long-time county Republican leader. After the two previous speakers took a full hour or more, Dinerstein was told he would only have 10 minutes. Dinerstein was also ignored when the event host announced various attendees and left him out.
Dinerstein was by far the most animated and interesting speaker of the four. We caught a brief clip of his speech but he had already left when we looked for him to answer questions at the end.

Dinerstein pointed out that the so-called “penny tax” is a 17 percent increase – from 6 percent to 7 percent. He dismissed the claimed needs asserted by the previous speakers and said the school district is “grossly overfunded”.
He suggested that the main needs of the county are really closer to $400 million rather than the $2.7 billion they are hoping to get from the sales tax increase. Dinerstein argued that it would make more sense to do a $400M bond issue with today’s low interest rates.
Dinerstein demonstrated the same disregard for the West Boca audience. Standing within arm’s reach of Ellen Winikoff he advocated for an extension of the Sawgrass Expressway from Broward into Palm Beach County, an idea that is widely hated here in West Boca. In describing the projects he viewed as necessary they all seemed to be in West Palm Beach, so his approach would do even less for West Boca residents.
The last speaker was Dave Kerner, a state representative who is now running for a county commission seat. He claimed (as did Baker) that 25% of the sales tax would be paid by tourists. If true that only adds to the burden imposed by the recently increased hotel tax to pay for a stadium in – where else – West Palm Beach. They seem unconcerned about or unaware of the risk of killing the goose that lays our golden eggs. If you raise taxes on tourism, tourists might come less often. He also repeated Mary Lou Berger’s February threat to raise property taxes if the sales tax increase is not passed.
Some other interesting details from the evening were:

  • The Lamborghini exemption – Baker said that the sales tax is capped at purchases under $5000, so if you buy a Lamborghini you won’t pay extra sales tax on most of that purchase.
  • Kerner and Baker both denied that sales tax is regressive. This is contrary to well established economic studies showing that sales taxes place a higher burden on the poor.
  • Taniel Shant, who is running against Mary Lou Berger, was in the audience. Shant opposes the sales tax increase.
  • In other news there has been some talk about developers buying the Boca Municipal Golf Course (north side of Glades west of the Turnpike) and building homes. Nothing has happened yet.
  • The proposal to build on the farm behind Home Depot is apparently making progress and may possibly resemble Delray Marketplace.
  • A new park or children’s playground has been built in Watergate Estates (aka West Sandalfoot) and will have a grand opening soon.
  • There has been an ongoing problem with trucks parking on swales on 66th Street (SW 66th we think) and PBSO is working to stop that.

Endorsement: Lisa Grossman for Judge

Before this election we had no opinion on Judge Marni Bryson. We do now.

Marni Bryson
Marni Bryson

Today in the mail we received a highly offensive mailer attacking Lisa Grossman, who is running against Bryson. The mailer identifies itself as being sent by “Keeping Citizens First, Inc.”, which is run by campaign consultant Rick Asnani. Asnani appears to be working for Bryson along with other judicial candidates.
The mailer and similar slurs on the internet and social media misuse personal photos from Grossman’s Facebook account and refer to personal matters that apparently took place thirty years ago. The mailer misleads readers by indicating that Grossman was “found guilty” of what are at worst minor campaign errors, and falsely suggests she has been convicted of crimes. It’s classic libel.
Judge Bryon’s decision to hire a dirty political consultant and participate in such nasty, below-the-belt campaign tactics renders her unqualified to sit as a judge.
As a result, we are endorsing Lisa Grossman for Judge.
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Grossman has broad experience in health care and education. As an attorney she served as an assistant public defender, which is one of the hardest jobs in the law.

Car Burglar Arrested – Olympic Heights Alum Caught on Video

Hunter Brett (19). Mugshot from PBSO.
Hunter Brett (19). Mugshot from PBSO.

The Palm Beach Sheriff’s Office arrested Hunter Brett (19) on two counts of car burglary. The arrest happened on Tuesday the 23rd. Brett is a former student of Olympic Heights High School.
On August 15th a reader forwarded us this video showing the car burglaries as they happened:

We posted the video on our Facebook page and commenters helped identify Brett as the likely burglar.
We reached out to the victim in this incident, who said the following:

We are grateful to the West Boca News and its readers for their help in catching this criminal. Let this be a lesson to other criminals that this is a tight knit community and we look out for each other.

Mr. Brett has developed a substantial court history in his short time as an adult. We don’t know what charges he may have faced as a juvenile. What we can see started in December of 2015 with two felony burglary counts and two misdemeanor counts. He was released on $6000 bond (usually meaning someone pays $600 to a bondsman).
While that was pending he was arrested in February in Broward facing five different counts including a first degree felony aggravated battery on a police officer, a felony resisting with violence and two drug felonies. He was released on $11,000 bond ($1100 to a bondsman).
For some reason we cannot explain, the pending burglary felonies in Palm Beach County were then resolved with “pre-trial diversion” which is usually a favorable result for a defendant – no jail time and a relatively clean record.
In June he was arrested again on drug charges, at least one of which was a felony. He was released on $5000 bond ($500 to a bondsman).
Now he’s been arrested for a fourth time. It’s not completely clear from the court records but we think bond was set at $23,000 this afternoon.
The last address we have for Mr. Brett is in the Lakes at Boca Raton (north of Yamato near Cain). He is being represented by public defenders on all the cases mentioned. For the first burglary case it appears he was rejected from the diversion program in August and the case has been reopened.
At this writing he remains in custody. Perhaps he will get out and resume visiting area cars again soon. Of course he is innocent until proven guilty. But since it seems likely that he will be doing significant state prison time, some might wonder why they keep letting him out. This soft approach to bail is commonplace in South Florida but unusual in other parts of the state.

Taniel Shant Takes On Mary Lou Berger

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Yesterday I met with Taniel Shant, a candidate for the County Commission seat representing West Boca. He’s as local as you can get. As a child he attended Whispering Pines Elementary, Omni Middle, and Olympic Heights High School. He graduated from FAU in 2005 and now lives in Boca Isles.
The seat he’s running for is currently occupied by Mary Lou Berger. The biggest issue in the race according to Shant is her support for increasing the sales tax. Berger told us in February that if the sales tax increase fails she will push to raise property taxes. Shant opposes any tax increases.
As for other issues he thinks his being a true West Boca resident will matter to voters. He said that Berger doesn’t really live in her district at all (District 5 includes parts of West Delray and West Boynton) and is really a creature of Palm Beach. Property records and my own experience with her suggest he might be right about that, though I’m not sure voters care.
I found his third criticism of Berger amusing – that she’s arrogant. I can’t say that’s wrong but Shant himself did not come off as humble in our meeting.

Shant (left) with Paul Tocker (a friend of West Boca News) and others in Kings Point
Shant (left) with Paul Tocker (a friend of West Boca News) and others in Kings Point

Between college and now Shant spent most of the past 10 years working in Washington DC with a non-profit called Armenian Assembly of America. Most recently he worked to get the Obama administration to recognize genocides against Christians in Syria and Iraq.
It’s early in this campaign. Shant appears to be raising enough money to present a credible challenge against Berger. It is an uphill battle running as a Republican challenger against a Democrat incumbent in a Democrat-leaning district in a presidential election year. Shant believes he can win over the independents as well as some Democrats, especially on the tax issue.
Shant’s website is http://www.tanielshant.com/.

Trump's Butler Speaks at City Fish Market

All photos copyright Warren Redlich 2016; anyone can use if you credit @WestBocaNews
Anthony Senecal, Donald Trump’s former butler.

Donald Trump’s longtime butler, Anthony Senecal, spoke Wednesday at City Fish Market (Glades near the Turnpike). West Boca based Gold Coast Tiger Bay Club hosted the event which was the biggest we’ve seen. There were roughly 80 guests plus 20 media in attendance.
Senecal has caught a bit of media attention recently, in part for his suggestion that President Obama should be hanged, and before that for his insights into Trump’s lifestyle.
Peter Ticktin (left) and Anthony Senecal (right)
Peter Ticktin (left) and Anthony Senecal (right)

Senecal was introduced by attorney Peter Ticktin, who graduated from New York Military Academy with Trump and was close to him at the time. Ticktin spoke highly of Trump as an honorable man, and included an amusing tidbit about how the school taught both of them how to tie a tie (Double Windsor).
Senecal is a great storyteller. He started by describing the history of Mar-a-Lago and his first boss there, Marjorie Post. Most of his stories were entertaining but did not show much substance.
In Senecal’s telling everyone he worked with at Mar-a-Lago, including Post, Trump, and everyone in Trump’s family, were smart, extremely smart, brilliant, incredible to work for, generous, funny, etc. Everything was positive.
Responding to questions from the audience, Senecal admitted the Donald Trump he worked with spoke very differently from the soundbites of his campaign – more intelligently of course. He also admitted that he only remembers the good moments and for the most part has blotted out the bad ones.
It was an entertaining lunch, but not all that illuminating.

West Boca Trump Rally: Observations & Photos

This article was written by Michelle Cirino Yarris, a friend of West Boca News who volunteered to go the rally for us since we could not attend. This was at the Sunset Cove Amphitheater in South County Regional Park.
I went to a Donald Trump Rally. This shocked a lot of people. I have been pretty vocal about the fact I am not a Trump supporter. However, the event was a 15-minute bike ride from our house at the local county park. I probably would have gone to see most any candidate at that point.
The real reason I went is due to all comments I have seen on social media on the Trump supporters. The racist, hateful, uneducated Trump supporter. What I found was a very diverse crowd of people. First time 18-year-old voters to 80-year-old people with walkers and everything in between. I saw people I knew who were businessmen, a doctor, a teacher. Educated people. I saw people of every color. Not just a handful either. There were many legal immigrants. One young man had a sign that he made that said “Immigrants for Trump”, another had one that said “Hispanics love Trump.”
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Talking to a group of young men (barely at 18), I asked why they supported Trump. Their responses were two fold. First, one told me that they are tired of all the handouts to every group. Nothing is free. Someone has to pay for it. I kid you not – an 18-year-old boy said this to me. His friends all agreed. The second most concerning issue to this group was ISIS. They are concerned for the future of our country, our world. They don’t understand why we have such an open border policy in a time when we know people are streaming in with the intent to harm our country.
The conversation that shocked me and surprised me the most was from a young man from Virginia, who knew all about the voting patterns in his state. He was 18. I would guess most adults have no idea about voting patterns and counties.
All in all, I was very surprised at the crowd. Maybe it is Boca, or maybe we are only seeing a small piece of what really is going on.
This isn’t an endorsement of Trump in any way, but a closer look at his supporters. There is a very large silent group who is afraid to come out and vocally support their candidate for fear of repercussions. Which is not the American way. Those we do hear from, who are very loud, are not representative of what I saw at the Trump rally.
Whatever your view, whoever your candidate, let your voice be heard and vote!
Voting in Palm Beach County is on Tuesday March 15, 2016 in Florida from 7am to 7pm.
Local photographer Johnnie Butters also volunteered to take photos for us. He had a media pass which may have helped him get in early but severely constrained his movement and ability to get photos. Here are some of our favorite photos from his collection.

An early shot showing off the Sunset Cove amphitheater with the crowd just starting to grow
An early shot showing off the Sunset Cove amphitheater with the crowd just starting to grow

Photo showing off a Trump supporter but mainly we like this one because of the "bokeh" (a photographer thing) and the background hinting at the gorgeous view westbound from Sunset Cove.
Photo showing off a Trump supporter but mainly we like this one because of the “bokeh” (a photographer thing) and the background hinting at the gorgeous view westbound from Sunset Cove.

We just like this one.
We just like this one.

You can see all of the photos he shared with us on his Facebook post to our page or on his website.
Also we saw this photo from a regular reader known as “Boca Rat” in our comments and he said we could use it in this article. We love both how it captures the size of the crowd and also that view to the west.
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Trump Ruins Black Man's Sunset in West Boca

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Michael Rance loves living in West Boca and is an avid reader of West Boca News – and commenter. We learned from Mr. Rance that the upcoming Donald Trump event in South County Regional Park has a darker side. It’s ruining the sunset.
Rance takes photographs of the gorgeous sunsets in the park as part of his regular routine.
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And now his daily sunset ritual is being disrupted by thousands of Trump supporters filling the park in and around Sunset Cove Amphitheater, obviously named for its great views. Rance is concerned not only with the supporters, but with Trump’s “hate and bigotry.”

I watch sunset at sunset cove almost every day now my Sunday is f##### up because of this piece of trash

Rance really does take a lot of photos and he shares them on his BlackXeres Instagram account. He has over 1000 followers and a typical sunset photo will get dozens of likes from them, often over 100. Here’s an example:
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And this is what Rance’s sunset will look like this evening:
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On the bright side, Mr. Rance’s routine should return to normal on Monday.
This message was not paid for by Marco Rubio nor any PACs affiliated with any candidates or party officials. If you’re angry at this article you are in serious need of a sense of humor. Thanks to Mr. Rance for playing along.

Loggers' Run Student Reports from Clinton Campaign Event

Loggers’ Run Middle School student (and celebrity reporter) Benjamin Schiller tells us exclusively about his experience covering Secretary Hillary Clinton’s Super Tuesday event in Miami.
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Last Tuesday, March 1, 2016, as a kid reporter for the Scholastic News Press Corps, I covered Secretary Hillary Clinton’s Super Tuesday’s campaign event at the Ice Palace Studios in Miami, Florida. It was an interesting day as I found out the afternoon before I would be covering this exciting rally.
I arrived an hour before the doors opened at 6:30p.m, to be guaranteed a good spot near where Secretary Clinton’s podium to speak was set up. At that time, there were several hundred supporters standing line before me. Moments after the doors opened, the line was as long as three blocks!
Many of the supporters came from all over Florida. They traveled from Naples, Coral Gables, Boca Raton, and even a few blocks away. Some came to the event for the experience of witnessing a major political event. However, most of the people that came were her supporters of all races, gender and religions.
As the doors opened for the event, everyone had to go through intense security measures. Secret Service agents checked every bag and everyone went through a metal detector for precautionary reasons. After I passed through security, I rushed in to get as close as possible to the stage. It was standing room only. I was asked to stand on the stage where she was going to speak. Due to my role as reporter and part of the press, I must stay unbiased and had to decline.
That evening, Secretary Clinton won most of the delegates. The former U.S Secretary won the majority of most states and received delegates from Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Tennessee, Texas, and Virginia. Although the Democratic Presidential Candidate had lost some states, she earned a significant sum of the delegates from Colorado, Minnesota, and Oklahoma.
Every once in a while, there were several chants of “USA” to “Hillary.” I waited in the crowd almost three hours for her to appear. Once the Democratic Presidential Candidate came on stage, she told the huge crowd of supporters, “We’ve got work to do” and also stated, “Instead of building walls, were going to break down barriers.” She spoke for almost twenty minutes. She then left the stage where she took a few selfies with a few supporters next to her. Unfortunately, I was not able to get into that area.
After all, I enjoyed covering this event for Scholastic’s News Kids Press Corps. I sure can’t wait for my next experience!
If you would like to check out my article, here it is!
http://kpcnotebook.scholastic.com/post/hillary-clinton-greets-supporters

Escape from Palm Beach County?

Del Boca County?

Palm Beach County, with greater Delray and Boca boxed in red; image and map data by Google with our annotations.
Palm Beach County, with greater Delray and Boca boxed in red; image and map data by Google with our annotations.

Residents of West Boca often feel left out of the county. Our tax dollars flow up to West Palm Beach and we don’t get much back. Most of the good jobs politicians brag about creating are created 45 minutes away from us. Large chunks of the proposed sales tax increase would go to buildings for the Sheriff, the courts, and the school district, all up there. In 2015 the county voted to waste $150 million of our money on a baseball stadium in, of course, West Palm Beach. And it’s only for spring training.
Meanwhile we hear a lot of complaints from residents about the county failing to take care of things here. Dangerous intersections do not get improved. Panhandlers continue to annoy locals. Repeat violent offenders menace the community unafraid of the Palm Beach prosecutor.
Similar problems plague our schools. The school bus system has been a disaster. Olympic Heights has had persistent trouble with its air conditioning for years with no relief.
Few residents west of the Turnpike have been to a county meeting, nor can they name their representative to the county commission (hint – Burt Aaronson hit his term limit in 2012 so it’s not him) or the school board.
Maybe it’s time for a radical solution. Palm Beach County is the largest county in the state. It’s too big. Those of us in the southern part of the county are just too far from our government. What if we formed a new county?
County and school district meetings would be 10 minutes from home instead of 45. The Del Boca school district would be able to focus on our local concerns rather than being distracted by problems all over such a large county.
We have discussed this with friends and there are some common questions.

  1. Why not just incorporate West Boca?
    This would just create another layer of government and would do nothing to get us away from the county taking our money up to West Palm Beach.
  2. Where would we draw the lines?
    That’s wide open. One simple way is to use the Delray-Boynton line. It’s also possible that the cities of Boca Raton and Delray Beach would rather stay in the county, so another option is to stay west of the Turnpike and include up to the Canyon development in West Boynton (which sends its kids to Olympic Heights). And it’s possible Parkland would want to join the new county to get out of Broward.
  3. Can this even be done?
    Yes. Article VIII, Section 1 of the state constitution gives this power to the state legislature: “Counties may be created, abolished or changed by law, with provision for payment or apportionment of the public debt.”
  4. Is it politically possible?
    It should be. One would expect that county insiders would oppose any such change. But the county is run by Democrats and the legislature is run by Republicans. If we want to go there, we would need help from the GOP. They might even enjoy the opportunity to stick it to the Democrats. Also, for our state representatives in the Florida House and Senate, they might be persuaded if their voters are motivated.

What do readers think of the idea? Please let us know in the comments here or on our Facebook post.

Another possible way to draw Del Boca County, west of the Turnpike and adding in Parkland (in black). Image and map data by Google, with our modifications.
Another possible way to draw Del Boca County, west of the Turnpike and adding in Parkland (in black). Image and map data by Google, with our modifications.

Weinroth Opposes Sales Tax Increase

When we published our story about the proposed sales tax increase, we asked several elected officials and others for comment. So far this is the only response, from Deputy Mayor Robert Weinroth of the City of Boca Raton.

Deputy Mayor Robert Weinroth
Deputy Mayor Robert Weinroth

There’s a move afoot to address the need for additional cash by tweaking the sales tax. For reasons I will discuss, below, I cannot support the proposals, as they are being negotiated between various entities.
While truth be told, there are many ways the new money could be spent that is the crux of my concern about creating this new revenue stream. No matter how many times we are told the money will be spent in a well thought out fashion, my mind harkens back to the same arguments made when the Florida Lottery was first proposed.
The Lottery was “sold” to the voters as a way to ensure the education of our children. Who could possibly argue against enough funding for our children to receive the best education possible? Unfortunately, the new funds arrived, as promised, but the funds originally earmarked for education were quietly redistributed to other budget priorities.
Thus, education and the institutions built for its delivery have not seen the benefits of all this new Lottery money. Nobody bothered to ensure the prior levels of funding were maintained or, for that matter, increased, as would have been the case absent the Lottery funding. So now we’re coming back to the voters with another opportunity to ensure enough funds to educate our children.
So excuse me if I do not believe a similar redistribution of funds will not occur when the $2.7 billion (touted as the projected windfall from a one-cent increase in our sales tax) is embraced by the electorate.
I am also not at all confident we wouldn’t create a disincentive to people making their purchases within Palm Beach County. Why pay the extra levy when a short drive south (for south county residents) or north (for north county residents) will allow them to save the sales tax differential.
OK, maybe the trips to Publix, Walgreens and CVS will be unaffected, but big-ticket items (jewelry, art and automobiles being the biggest ticket items to immediately come to mind) would be impacted.
The same would hold true for rent paid on apartments and business space. All of these things add up and if small businesses and people begin to scoot across the border to Broward or St Lucie, the projected influx of revenue is going to be illusory.
I am also not at all comfortable with the idea of increasing what is already a regressive tax. The less one makes the higher the percentage of the sales tax bite in relation to earnings. The less you save, the more you spend and the more you spend, the more sales tax you pay.
Finally, even if the municipalities were really going to see 40% of the new money (again, as the proposal is being refined I see the municipality’s cut getting smaller and smaller) other sources of funding are likely to be reduced. There are already examples of this offsetting being discussed which, in the end, reduces what new money the municipalities would actually see.
The real answer is to stop ignoring the county spending needs and pass a realistic budget, which may necessitate an increase in the millage rate and be spread more equitably to the residents of our county.
Robert S. Weinroth | Deputy Mayor
City of Boca Raton