Is special event staff in West Palm overpaid?

Business owners and residents were saved Monday, when the West Palm Beach City Commission meeting netted mainly pro-business votes that would also benefit taxpayers.

Florida Power & Light’s renegotiated agreement – up for a public hearing on second reading – touched a nerve with many residents in attendance, some of whom demanded to know why the city was rushing into a new contract. West Palm’s 30-year agreement isn’t set to expire until 2014, but FPL approached the city in 2008 to negotiate new terms. A closer look at those new terms show a favorable fiscal picture for the city.

The renegotiated terms allow for a 6 percent franchise fee, which could net as much as $1.4 million in additional revenue for West Palm Beach. City officials concede the biggest downside to the new agreement for the city is that it gives up its right to purchase the electrical system if it ever decides that would be a beneficial move. However as commissioner Bill Moss, pointed out, Lake Worth owns its own power utility, a situation that has turned into a fiscal and functional nightmare for that city.
FPL also can no longer deduct its property tax from the franchise fee under the new terms, but the company will now pay their franchise fee rate based on the utility fees ratepayers pay, rather than on how much they are billed.

The new agreement passed unanimously, which is a win-win for everyone since the city stands to gain a significant revenue increase, and FPL has new contract with terms that satisfy their business needs.

Public Utilities Director David Hanks updated commissioners on the city’s ongoing water crisis, saying that while two inches of recent rain helped, the better news was that consumption was down considerably. The city’s biggest problem in obtaining water from other sources, he said, involves pipes that run in varying sizes throughout West Palm Beach, creating difficulties with flow. The city’s five- to eight-year water plan, complete with cost estimates, should be ready within eight months, providing residents with a long-range picture of what will need to be done to ensure safe and plentiful water in the future.

In other good news for working people, the commission voted unanimously to start future meetings  at 5 p.m. instead of 4 p.m. And Northwood business owners gained some flexibility in code requirements, as requested by the city Community Redevelopment Agency.

In the public comments portion of the meeting, city staff revealed that the special events department has a budget of more than $400,000, and that a number of upper-level city staffers are making salaries of $100,000 plus benefits, while a few others are making salaries topping $200,000. Moss suggested that the city solicit a salary study to see where it stands as compared to other similar-sized cities. A similar study commissioned several years ago found the city had lower staff salaries than comparable municipalities, suggesting the picture has improved in the years since – perhaps too much.

While the actions of West Palm Beach don’t directly affect everyone in Palm Beach County, the city is home to our county seat and many key businesses. BizPac Review will continue to provide updates from time to time to let West Palm Beach officials know we are all keeping an eye on them.

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