The Truth About Boca Raton Taxes

Any Boca Raton politician or elected official who says he or she won’t raise your taxes isn’t telling the truth. Honesty is my policy.

At the February 8, 2024 Candidates Forum, I pointed out to my neighbors that they should check out the truth in the City of Boca Raton’s budget at www.myboca.us. But let me direct you to https://city-boca-raton-fl-budget-book.cleargov.com/14047/long-range-financial-plan/general-fund — the Long Range Financial Plan. Here are some key statements in the LRFP:

“The LRFP utilizes a “baseline” projection model. Under that model, future revenues and expenditures are estimated based on the City’s current sources of revenue and level of service. This financial forecast shows that despite the reductions made to the City’s General Fund expenses and the slight upward trend of the City’s General Fund revenues, the current revenue base will not support the future expenditure growth of the City’s existing municipal services. That is, the financial forecast shows that without action to reduce expenses or increase revenues, the General Fund expenses will grow more rapidly than the General Fund revenues, creating a “financial gap” that will increase each year throughout the forecast period. This increasing gap would require the use of the City’s reserves to balance the annual budget, leading to the depletion of the reserves in a short‐term framework.” (emphasis added)

“In order to have long‐term financial sustainability, a focus on controlling costs and increasing revenues is imperative.”

 

“There are numerous external factors outside of the control of the City Council, which may significantly affect the City’s ability, even with a prudent and extremely conservative financial forecast, to provide the highest quality of service within the available resources.(emphasis added)

“The City will evaluate existing revenue sources for potential growth. The future projection shows that the City will need to manage priorities and provide additional resources to remain fiscally sound and financially sustainable.(emphasis added)

 

The City’s Long Range Financial Plan is replete with warning bells. While making government more efficient might result in some savings, cuts in necessary and beloved City services will hurt. The answer, therefore, is to increase revenue. “Revenue” comes from taxes. Euphemisms for taxes include the words “fee,” “permit fee,” “license fee,” “fine,” and many more.

What’s one reason Boca Raton might have to raise taxes? It’s a long story, but for the sake of brevity consider that many commercial property owners in Boca Raton (and in the rest of the USA) borrowed money 10 years ago at extremely low interest rates. In the next few years, these owners will be faced with refinancing these loans. Low inflation through most of the last 10 years has kept rents relatively flat. Higher interest rates are now the norm as are lower occupancy and higher operating costs (including real estate taxes and insurance). If owners and lenders can’t come to agreement on refinancing, all these factors are likely to lead to foreclosure. Foreclosure will result in properties trading at values below what they have been over the last decade-plus. Lower values will be reflected at the Property Appraiser’s office. Lower values with no change in the ad valorem tax rates will result in lower City revenues. Lower revenues will mean the City cannot afford to pay for all of the services it promises its citizens. To continue to provide these services the City – with the City Council’s approval – will have to raise TAXES in order to increase REVENUES.

I don’t want to raise taxes. I don’t know many people who want to raise taxes. To continue having the City of Boca Raton provide outstanding service to its taxpayers, though, the City government – with the approval of the City Council – will probably need to raise taxes in the relatively near future.

That’s the truth.

Early Voting for the 2024 Municipal Election

Can’t make it to the polls on March 19th? Vote by Mail or vote early.

Early voting takes place Saturday, March 9, 2024 through Sunday, March 17, 2024, 7 am to 7 pm daily. Boca Raton locations include:

– Boca Raton Downtown Library (400 NW 2nd Ave)

– Spanish River Library (1501 Spanish River Blvd)

– Sugar Sand Park Community Center (300 S Military Trail)

During the early voting period you can vote at any Palm Beach County early voting location.

 

Live in Boca Square South of Camino? Your Polling Place Has Changed

For Boca Raton Voters living in Boca Square south of Camino Real, the polling place is now the Sugar Sand Park Community Center — 300 S. Military Trail.

ALF and the Asterisks – Attention to Details Matters

Two asterisks cost City of Boca Raton taxpayers nearly $200,000 in legal fees and costs.

Boca Raton residents can learn important lessons from the Assisted Living Facility (ALF) debacle that resulted in a lawsuit and City actions to “fix” what may have otherwise appeared to be a minor revision in the City’s Comprehensive Plan. That revision, however, almost reshaped the City by opening the door to multi-family residential development in traditional single-family neighborhoods.

Every Florida city’s Comprehensive Plan is “king.” It is required by Florida law and is under state scrutiny. Cities must actively manage their plans and review them on a regular basis. City staff members carefully create and manage the Comp Plan to ensure consistent and fair development of our city. Developers rely on the plan to know how they can develop property in the City. The Comp Plan is so important, in fact, that there once was a development in a Florida city that did not comply with the applicable Comp Plan and the state forced the owner to tear down the non-compliant structure.

Planners in the City of Boca Raton Development Services Department are charged with making sure the City maintains and complies with its Comp Plan. They weigh proposed developments against the Comp Plan to make sure the developments comply.

The periodic Comp Plan amendments are put up for a vote by the City Council. The latest round of major amendments received a final vote in 2020.

A unanimous City Council (Scott Singer, Monica Mayotte, Andrea O’Rourke and Andy Thomson; Jeremy Rodgers was absent) voted on July 28, 2020 to approve Ordinance 5490, which adopted amendments to the plan. After almost no discussion of the Comp Plan amendments, Thomson made a motion to approve the Ordinance. Mayotte seconded Thomson’s motion. [citation below] To give an idea of how things like this can move slowly, the Planning and Zoning Board received a presentation of the Comp Plan Amendment from Development Services Department staff on April 8, 2019, during which there was no mention of ALFs.

Included in the Comp Plan amendments was something new in Policy LU.1.1.6 (Page 36 of the linked Ordinance 5490). Two asterisks (“**”) next to several of the designated land uses lead readers to this sentence at the top of Page 38: “**75 beds per acre for convalescent homes, nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, and similar uses where these uses are permitted pursuant to the applicable land use designation and zoning.” [citation below]

It is not mysterious that the “**” language found its way into the City code. Mayotte introduced Ordinance 5487, which contained the “75 beds per acre” language at the May 14, 2019 regular City Council meeting. The Ordinance had a first public hearing at the May 29, 2019 regular City Council meeting and then a final hearing at the June 11, 2019 meeting. All five Council Members, including Mayotte and Thomson, voted to approve the Ordinance. [citations below]

The new language had the City of Boca Raton saying a property owner in a single-family zoned neighborhood could obtain city approval to build a 75-bed facility on an acre of land.
An owner who owns three acres, therefore, could potentially build an Assisted Living Facility with 225 beds. The approval process is not straightforward, but a local developer saw a path to approval.

A property that could’ve potentially benefited from the Comp Plan change approved on July 28, 2020 for Policy LU.1.1.6 is land with a church at 2 SW 12th Avenue. The church was built in the early 1960s on the northern edge of Boca Raton Square. The city approved the church to be built in the single-family neighborhood as a conditional use. Other conditional uses include parks, schools and daycare centers.

Several months after the March, 2021 re-election to City Council Seat D, Monica Mayotte emailed City Manager Leif Ahnell with the message that she was sponsoring a language amendment in the City code that would add assisted living facilities to the list of conditional uses allowable in single family neighborhoods. It appears the public was not aware prior to the March 2021 election whether Mayotte intended on advancing this idea. Had I known about it, I would have highlighted it as part of my campaign for Seat D in that election.

With that Council Member sponsorship and knowledge about the “**” reference in the Comp Plan, the Assisted Living Facility developer proceeded with the difficult and expensive work of designing the project, committing funds to it, obtaining City planner feedback, meeting City requirements and committing to various engineering studies. The amendment in the Comp Plan helped increase the chances of approving the ALF. All of this is a normal part of real estate development.

Between the 2020 Council-approved Comp Plan amendment and Mayotte’s post-re-election 2021 sponsorship, it probably appeared to all involved that the development was progressing.  Indeed, the conditional use language change only needed three votes from City Council to proceed. The other option would have been to rezone the property, which would have required four City Council votes, a more difficult and potentially volatile fight once neighbors figure out what is happening in their neighborhood.

But then a neighbor near 2 SW 12th Avenue asked what some guys collecting soil samples were doing. They answered that it had to do with a planned Assisted Living Facility replacing the church. The neighbor immediately worked with other neighbors to learn more about the proposed development, to circulate petitions, to speak about the ALF at public meetings and to post yard signs.

The project came before City staff in a public Planning Advisory Review (PAR) meeting that included notes about the significant public opposition to the hoped-for conditional use language change.

Ultimately, the City declared the developer’s application null and void and amended the Comp Plan to remove the “**” reference. The developer sued the City in April 2022 and voluntarily dismissed the case in August 2023. [reference below]

The City of Boca Raton spent taxpayer funds on legal fees and expenses of $191,335.35 to defend itself in the Religious Science Unlimited Inc. lawsuit. It is likely that the developer, who hired several attorneys to pursue the case, spent significant resources out of his own pocket.

Details matter. Missing them costs taxpayers and property owners money. In this case, the problematic “**” detail didn’t get a mention in the Development Services Department petition for the April 18, 2019 Planning and Zoning Board regular meeting, during which no P & Z board member asked about it. A year later nobody on the City Council asked questions about the change. City Council members and board volunteers carry a heavy burden. It is important that they ask questions and look for pitfalls in the policies that come before them for approval.

 

 

 

Minutes of July 28, 2020 City Council Meeting:

https://docs.google.com/gview?url=https%3A%2F%2Fbocaraton.granicus.com%2FDocumentViewer.php%3Ffile%3Dbocaraton_2121bda80e96d875e50d40a89019e98f.pdf%26view%3D1&embedded=true

Video of July 28, 2020 City Council Discussion of Ordinance 5490:

https://bocaraton.granicus.com/player/clip/1854?meta_id=139857

Minutes of May 14, 2019 City Council Meeting:

https://docs.google.com/gview?url=https%3A%2F%2Fbocaraton.granicus.com%2FDocumentViewer.php%3Ffile%3Dbocaraton_0fa20a8a472c72e22e9d892f953bc1ab.pdf%26view%3D1&embedded=true

Minutes of May 29, 2019 City Council Meeting:

https://docs.google.com/gview?url=https%3A%2F%2Fbocaraton.granicus.com%2FDocumentViewer.php%3Ffile%3Dbocaraton_2e225e9def5f084893f54cae9bddd6d0.pdf%26view%3D1&embedded=true

Minutes of June 11, 2019 City Council Meeting:

https://docs.google.com/gview?url=https%3A%2F%2Fbocaraton.granicus.com%2FDocumentViewer.php%3Ffile%3Dbocaraton_1c5e6d2cbb8b4f910c94d7336fabf3e9.pdf%26view%3D1&embedded=true

 

Note [1] I was a candidate for Boca Raton City Council, Seat D in the March, 2021 Municipal Election. Monica Mayotte was the incumbent.

Reference to Lawsuit:

Palm Beach County Case Number: 50-2022-CA-003848-XXXX-MB
Case Style: RELIGIOUS SCIENCE UNLIMITED INC V CITY OF BOCA RATON

Nextdoor

Nextdoor can be a useful tool for neighbors to discuss important community issues.

If you’re interested in checking out things I have posted there, just search for my name on the app. You may recognize that my general goal on Nextdoor is to encourage participation in civic life. I think that was the original intent of Nextdoor. Many posts and threads look like we’re on the crazy train, so I try to keep messages sane and informative.

Request a Vote By Mail Ballot Today

Click Here to Request Your Ballot!

The 2024 Municipal Election on March 19th takes place during Spring Break. Voting by mail is a simple way of making sure you cast your ballot.

Vote By Mail Ballots…

  • Might be necessary if you’re traveling with your family: Election Day March 19, 2024 is during Spring Break for Palm Beach County Schools.
  • Save time.
  • Can be tracked online.
  • Include pre-paid return postage.
  • Help prevent Election Day surprises.

Here’s what I have to say about Vote By Mail.

“Report A Concern” Is A Great Way To Help Boca Raton Be Its Best

Everybody hates potholes, graffiti, missing street signs and litter. What can you do about it?

Turns out there’s a lot you can do.

The City of Boca Raton has an online tool on its website and in a smartphone app called My Boca. The tool, called “Report A Concern” (and sometimes called “See-Click-Fix”) enables residents to report a variety of issues.

I have made dozens of reports and the City has responded to most of them.

Think about it. Boca Raton has nearly 100,000 residents. That’s almost 200,000 eyeballs that can spot problems and nearly 100,000 thumbs (or about a million fingers, if we’re all typing on keyboards) tapping on smartphone screens to report the problems we see.

While the City has a few hundred employees, they can’t be in all places at all times. Our 200,000 eyeballs can help out with that situation.

Don’t Fall For “FREE”

I cringe when government advertises something as “FREE”. Nothing is free. A City of Boca Raton resident pays tax at every level: real estate, sales, water, sewer, trash, electricity, phone, dog park, beach, boat ramp, street parking, building permit and so on. Anything government refers to as “FREE” is being paid for by you and me.

Even if you rent your home, you still pay real estate taxes that go to the city. Your landlord builds them into your rent.

If you rent commercial space you are paying real estate taxes, either as part of your gross rent or in your common area maintenance (CAM). Commercial tenants pay sales tax on rent. Essentially, these tenants pay tax on a tax! Ultimately, the tax commercial tenants pay shows up as a hidden tax in what they charge their clients and customers.

I could drone on about taxes, but I’ll cut to the chase: We all pay a wide variety of local taxes and we all have a stake in how those taxes are spent. You may not know where to start in sorting out who in government spends our money. Make a point of attending government meetings – boards, councils, commissions and committees. That’s where elected and appointed officials decide where to spend our money.

Don’t fall for “FREE”. It simply is not so.

The Quarter-Million Dollar Question of 2023

During a sparsely attended Boca Raton City Council meeting on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving 2022, the introduction of Ordinance 5637 set the stage for a costly win for voters in the March 2023 Municipal Election.

The Ordinance, if passed during an expected sleepy election, added a year to the terms of Mayor Scott Singer, Council Members Monica Mayotte and Yvette Drucker, Council Member-elect Fran Nachlas and future Council Member Marc Wigder. Council Member Andrea O’Rourke was not eligible for the extra year. She was term-limited and her service would end in March 2023. City Council Members are elected to a three-year term. They are eligible to serve a second three-year term if re-elected. All voters who live in the City may vote for City Council candidates.

City Council voted two weeks later to approve Ordinance 5637. Singer, Mayotte and Drucker voted yes. O’Rourke and newly-appointed Council Member Nachlas voted no. Candidate Marc Wigder advertised that he opposed adding a year onto Council Members’ terms. Wigder’s opponent, Christen Ritchey, expressed the same sentiment as Wigder. Ritchey dropped out of the race before Christmas. This left the Charter amendment as the only thing on the ballot.

Mayotte asked whether the March 2023 election was in the budget. It was, at $255,000.

Mayor Singer cited a laundry list of reasons to support the effort. Some of the reasons were similar to those cited in 2006 when the voters changed the terms from three two-year stints on the dais.

City Council blew the chance on January 10th to call off the election and save taxpayers the cost to open dozens of polling places and mail thousands of ballots.

I led the effort with a small group of Boca Raton volunteers to convince 59.25% of the voters to say NO. The election wasted taxpayer money and brought no benefit to our City. A single NO vote by one of the Council members in December or in January would have averted this disaster.

That’s how important YOUR vote is when you pick local elected officials.

Request A Vote-by-Mail Ballot Today

Using a Vote-by-Mail ballot in Palm Beach County is a good idea. Making sure you’re signed up to get your ballot is important since Vote-by-Mail ballot requests now have an expiration date.

Find information and order one from the Supervisor of Elections office.

Boca Raton’s Municipal Election is on March 19, 2024. That’s the same day as the Presidential Preference Primary in which Democrats and Republicans vote on their party’s candidate for President of the United States.
Even if you aren’t registered as a D or an R, it is still important to vote in local elections. Local elected officials such as those serving on City Council, the School Board, the County Commission, as Sheriff, Tax Collector, Judges and Property Appraiser have a direct and lasting impact on your daily life. You owe it to yourself, your family and your community to vote on the best people for those jobs.