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

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.

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.

Airplane Mosquito Spraying West of Military Trail

Palm Beach County will use an airplane to spray for mosquitoes this evening (Wednesday). Spraying will occur west of Military Trail, which means all of West Boca.
From Palm Beach County:
The Palm Beach County Division of Mosquito Control will be conducting aerial spraying over the western communities on Wednesday evening, December 16, targeting mosquitoes that have hatched as a result of recent heavy precipitation and unseasonably warm temperatures.
The coverage area of approximately 270,000 acres will target populated areas west of Military Trail, including the Glades communities. The aircraft used is a Cessna 337.
Should unstable weather conditions prevent spraying, it will take place on the next available night conditions allow.
To further help control mosquitoes, residents are asked to drain or minimize standing water on their properties.

If you are going to be outdoors after dark, be sure to use an insect repellent containing DEET and wear long pants and a long-sleeve shirt. The Aerial Spray Hotline is 561-642-8775.
Aerial spraying of pesticides has been criticized by some. As we understand it the county uses Naled.
For more about the criticism see articles in the Dallas Morning News and the Sun-Sentinel.
The county mosquito brochure is below:
[gview file=”http://westbocanews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/mosquitobrochure.pdf”]

Principal Stenner Returning to West Boca High?

Update: The proposed Stenner settlement agreement is at bottom.

Principal Mark Stenner of West Boca High
Principal Mark Stenner of West Boca High

The Palm Beach Post reports that West Boca High Principal Mark Stenner is expected to face a 10-day suspension as a result of the plagiarism in his graduation speeches.
It appears that Stenner will return to West Boca High. We’ve heard from many readers about the situation. Mostly they’re angry, they compare it to how the school treats students who commit plagiarism, and call for him to be fired. One parent of a current student wrote:

Mr. Stenner has shown no remorse for his plagiarism, and in fact, only contempt that he should be questioned. A principal should be held to the highest standard. Placing him back at the school is the worst possible decision. He has no moral authority left.

Another wrote this:

As a parent of a student at WBHS I am appalled at the slap on the wrist given this principal. If it were a student who was guilty of this, imagine the repercussions to the student. How can he have any credibility standing up in front of the student body after this? Every time he talks everyone will be Googling to find out who he copied this time.
If this were the only problem at WBHS it would be one thing. But the fact is WBHS is an underperforming school in a district and area that deserves better. Over my child’s time at WBHS I have observed first hand just how hollow the education received here is. While there are a few good teachers who stand out, by and large this administration has fostered a culture of mediocrity, tolerating indifferent and incompetent teachers. Many of the students who do well there do so because their parents pay for private tutors to do the job that the school is supposed to do.
Students succeed in spite of WBHS not because of it. Our kids deserve better than a principal who would plagiarize speeches and they deserve a school that prepares them for college and their life beyond.

Note that we’re not sure about calling West Boca High “underperforming.” The school has done well in state rankings.
We’ve also heard from school staff. Some would be happy to see him go and others love the guy and think he’s a great principal.
Stenner’s status is on the school board agenda for Wednesday:

Agenda Item Details
Meeting Jul 22, 2015
SPECIAL MEETING immediately following Workshop in the Board Room Category
Chairman Adds Items for Good Cause
Subject Item Added: LD1 Type Information, Procedural
Item Added:
LD1 Settlement Agreement and General Release with Mark Stenner
Good Cause Statement:
Good cause exists for the adding of this item as it is in the best interest of the School District and its students, and will allow Mr. Stenner to focus on his work as an employee of the School District.

Settlement agreement
[gview file=”http://westbocanews.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/LD1-Release-Stenner-072015.pdf”]

When Will the Lights Be Fixed? Roadwork Update

Image and map data by Google.
Image and map data by Google.

We’ve had a number of questions and complaints from readers about two particular intersections. On the left in the above image is the intersection of Glades Road and Diego, in the Mission Bay community. On the right is the intersection on US-441 (State Road 7) just south of Glades Road.
Glades and Diego before the repaving
Glades and Diego before the repaving; image by Google

At Diego the repaving turned off the light’s sensors causing it to revert to set timing. This has been a particular annoyance for through traffic on Glades Road. We spoke today with Dan Weisberg, director of the county traffic division. He did not have a particular date but said that such signals normally get fixed within about a month after the repaving is done. We did see some work going on at the intersection today but we think that was line painting rather than work on the signal.
441 south of Glades; image by Google.
441 south of Glades; image by Google.

Regarding the 441 traffic light, Weisberg said that is a project by the plaza on the southeast corner (Westwinds of Boca, the plaza with Home Depot and Publix). The county approved the plans and will inspect it before it is activated. The inspection has not taken place yet. Signs indicating the new traffic pattern should be put up a week before the lights go live.

Glades Road Night Paving Starts Tuesday

We previously reported that the Glades Road repaving project (Gladesmageddon as we called it) was to start last week. But the April 27 start date came and went. A couple days ago the electronic signs changes and now we have a new start date on Tuesday, May 5th, and a change to “night paving.”
We spoke to the county’s Adam Faustini, Assistant Director of “Road and Bridge.” He told us that the project was delayed by rain that slowed prior projects. The shift to night paving was a result of vehicle counts.
The night paving will start at roughly 8 pm most nights, though that may be just getting things in order and the real work may not get going until 9 pm. They expect to cut off work around 6 am most mornings.
Mr. Faustini did not expect any total road closures. There will be single lane closures which means both directions should generally remain open, with rare exceptions possible. The plan is to have a moving train of miller (ripping up the old pavement) and paver (laying new pavement), doing one lane at a time. Flag men will divert traffic as necessary.
We originally reported on the Glades and Cain repaving projects back in March.
Faustini mentioned another project on Camino Real but that appears to be east of Federal Highway.

Crime in Palm Beach County: By Zip Code

What parts of Palm Beach County have the most crime? What parts have the least? We’ve got answers by zip code.
Measured by arrest counts vs. population, West Delray Beach’s zip code 33446 has the lowest crime rate in Palm Beach County. With 22,571 people and only 24 counts, the rate of arrest counts per population was the lowest in the county at just over one in a thousand.
Riviera Beach’s zip code 33404 was the worst, with 1034 arrest counts booked in a population of 26,634. That crime rate is nearly 40 times as high as in West Delray, and roughly quadruple the county average of one count per hundred residents.
West Boca News readers will be pleased to hear that four of our five zip codes were in the top 10 for lowest crime out of 51 zip codes in the county. And the #1 West Delray is probably our sixth zip code since we often hear from readers in Saturnia Isles, The Bridges, and Mizner Country Club.
Here’s the Top 25 in lowest crime rates (West Boca zips are in blue):
PBC - Top 25 Lowest Crime
We’ve included zip code maps of the county at the bottom of the post.
Here’s the worst 26:
Bottom 26
We previously wrote about the crime rate in West Boca, and arrest rates in all nine Boca Raton zip codes.
A couple of notes about the data are in order. First, this is for only a three-month period – the first three months of 2014. We hope to do this again covering a longer period and think that will be more accurate overall.
Second, we don’t have perfect data and we didn’t go through it as thoroughly as we’d like to. Some of the counts are for things like “Booked – Recommit” or “Fail to Appear” which are not really crimes in and of themselves. The number of counts is also imperfect. When we went through Boca Raton in our earlier articles, the counts per arrest number ranged from 1.6 to 2.1. We’ve seen cases where one person is arrested and charged with over 30 counts. And our population numbers are for 2011, which makes them somewhat out of date. Overall we think these issues are minor but could be significant for some zip codes.
Third, some of the zip codes we included are small, making the data a bit less reliable. Canal Point’s zip code 33438 was second-worst, but the population is only 354 so the numbers are statistically dubious. Similarly, West Boynton’s 33473 (the GL Homes Canyon developments) ranked #2 in lowest arrest rate, but the population for that zip code is less than 4000. This should be less of a problem when we do this for a longer period of time.
Fourth, the zip codes are for the address of the person arrested, not necessarily for the place where the crime was committed.
Fifth, some of the arrests in the data had the wrong zip codes. For example, zip code 33425 is listed as having 24 arrest counts, 33422 had 12 and 33416 has 10. These three zip codes all have zero population. Over 500 of the nearly 15,000 or so arrests are attributed to zip code 00000, and another large chunk are from 4-digit or 6-digit zip codes. And there are big groups from other counties, especially Broward and Miami-Dade. We also left out the Tequesta zip code because most of it is in Martin County. We reduced the data to 13,093 arrest counts in a population of over 1.3 million people in the county.

Zip codes in northeast PBC
Zip codes in northeast PBC

Southeast county zips
Southeast county zips

West County zips
West County zips

How Bad is Crime in West Boca?

After hearing concerns that our arrest reports were making West Boca look bad, we decided to do some research. We have good news.
We’re doing a three-part series on crime statistics in West Boca, Boca Raton, and Palm Beach County. In this first part of the series, we compare West Boca to East Boca, and both to the county as a whole.

Update: In Part 2 we look at arrest rates by zip code in all of Boca Raton.

We requested data on every person booked by the Palm Beach County Sheriff in the first quarter of 2014. That data includes the zip code of the arrested person’s residence. Boca Raton has nine zip codes. There are various ways to break down east vs. west. For this exercise (and for other purposes) we define West Boca as being the following five zip codes: 33428, 33498, 33496, 33434 and 33433, with a total population of roughly 135,000 people.
west-boca-zipsEast Boca is then the remaining four zip codes, 33431, 33432, 33486 and 33487, with 75,000 people.
The breakdown isn’t perfect. The city’s own data shows the municipal population at 84,000.
Here’s what the city lines look like:
Boca Raton City Map
There is no perfect division of east and west, but the zip codes are very helpful here because each arrest has a zip code associated with it.
It’s also important to note here that the Sheriff’s data includes every count someone’s arrested for as a separate line. In other words, if someone is arrested for battery and for resisting, that’s two counts. In January a man in West Boca was arrested for 36 counts of sexual assault on a minor. That kind of data could really skew the numbers.
So does it make sense to compare crime by number of counts, or by number of arrests? Again there’s no perfect answer. However within Boca, both east and west were close to 1.8 counts per arrest so it shouldn’t matter within Boca. And for county-wide numbers, it would be a lot of work to reduce to just arrests so we’re just going with counts.
West Boca Has Low Crime
The two biggest results we have to report are first that West Boca has a lower crime rate than East Boca, and that Boca as a whole has a much lower crime rate than the county as a whole.
In West Boca there were 1.7 arrests and 2.9 counts per thousand people in the first quarter. East Boca had significantly higher numbers with 2.9 arrests and 5.4 counts per 1000 people. While this might make East Boca seem bad, their numbers are actually much better than the county as a whole.
Palm Beach County has a population of about 1.35 million, and there were almost 15,000 counts county-wide, which means the county crime rate of 11 counts per 1000 people. Taking Boca out of the data gets it to over 12 counts per 1000 people in the rest of the county (i.e. north of Boca). So crime rates in the rest of the county are twice as high as East Boca and almost four times as high as West Boca
We’re still working on the data. In the next part we will go through Boca Raton to see which zip codes have the most arrests and which have the least.

Please keep in mind that there are all kinds of potential problems with our analysis. We did not look at the type or severity of the crimes people were arrested for – at least not yet. Counts can be felonies, misdemeanors, non-criminal infractions, probation violations, recommits and others. We did not (and could not) look at crimes by where they happened, instead relying on the address of the person arrested. Of course, people are innocent until proven guilty and the numbers cannot account for guilt. And there are other problems we haven’t even thought of.