It may be a new year – with two new county commissioners on the dais – but some things haven’t changed. Personality clashes and rants against developers continue to consume board politics.
That was the case Tuesday, when the commission postponed a vote on raising impact fees after some heated words from Commissioner Jess Santamaria.
Using a study prepared by county staff as back-up, the Impact Fee Review Committee presented three options for raising the fees for the first time since 2006.
The first option would increase fees by the maximum amount allowable according to the study. The second option, supported by county staff, would phase in the maximum increase with a 60 percent jump this year, followed by a 40 percent hike in 2014. The third option, recommended by the committee, would raise fees by 20 percent on roads, public buildings and libraries only, implemented in two phases — half this year and half in 2014.
Scott Worley, president of the Florida Atlantic Builders Association, asked the commission to put off a vote for 30 days so builders could provide more information on how fee increases would affect nonresidential structures.
Palm Beach County League of Cities Executive Director Richard Radcliffe said his board unanimously agreed that any fee increase is a bad idea because of the fragile economy.
The objections prompted a passionate rebuke from Santamaria.
“I have built several thousand homes and commercial buildings and always paid impact fees,” he said. “Realtors, builders and developers constantly have their hands out — ‘help us, help us.’ What did they do during the good times, when they were making zillions of dollars of profits? Putting it in their pockets, spending on yachts, mansions and trips…It’s not fair.” In the end, the commission voted to postpone a vote for 30 days
In other business, commissioners voted for a proposal initiated by Commissioner Steven Abrams to change the name of the commission’s chairman to “county mayor” and its vice chairman to “county vice mayor.” The change, which would mirror the names used by the Miami-Dade and Broward County commissions but would not add extra duties or power to the positions, was designed to afford the commission’s leadership more clout in Tallahassee and Washington.
But it was another proposal, this one by Commissioner Priscilla Taylor, that sparked the most heated discussion of the day. Taylor suggested the board require former commissioners to wait two years after leaving the commission before serving on policy-making or advisory boards, as they do before being able to lobby the commission.
Though Taylor said she was not targeting anyone in particular with her proposal, Commissioner Paulette Burdick disagreed, suggesting the move was aimed at former Commissioner Karen Marcus, who reportedly wants to be appointed to the Zoning Commission. Burdick said Marcus is willing to use her years of knowledge and expertise as a volunteer and should be exempt from a waiting period since she is not being paid, as lobbyists are.
Taylor said serving on such boards amounts to peddling influence, whether compensated or not. She then proposed limiting those serving on volunteer boards to two four-year terms, the same term limits imposed on the County Commission.
Both issues will be presented for a vote at a later date.