Two groups in Palm Beach County, South Florida 912 and the newly formed Palm Beach County Tea Party, are kicking off a public education campaign this week to rally constituents in County Commissioner Shelly Vana’s District 3. The new project will be implemented with the hope of persuading Vana not to vote for a tax increase in September.
When organizations or special interests want more county taxpayer money, they know exactly what to do. In many cases, they just ask the County Commission, and the funds are awarded generously. If that doesn’t work, they show up at commission meetings in droves, wearing t-shirts, buttons or other means of group identification and plead their case to the seven-member board that doles out county taxpayer money.
This tactic has worked like a charm for cultural groups and Palm Tran riders, among dozens of other special interests. United they stand, and they get the requested funds. This is seen in particularly high drama when it is time to make the annual decision about cutting the budget vs. raising the tax rate. If there is one thing we can glean from the familiar scenario, it is that some commissioners do heed the pleas of their constituents. What happens, then, when a group of constituents asks the board not to spend their money? Two coalition partners of the local taxpayer advocacy group, TAB, or Taxpayer Action Board, have decided to put this question to the test in a creative way.
Volunteers will use a phone bank, similar to those set up during election time, to dial up District 3 residents, educate them on the budget and Vana’s “swing vote” status, and ask for their involvement. The message: “Tell Shelly Vana not to raise your taxes.”
Her July vote to raise the tax rate was the catalyst for the new campaign. While Commissioners Burt Aaronson, Priscilla Taylor and Jess Santamaria defended their votes to raise the millage, fellow Commissioners Steven Abrams, Paulette Burdick and Karen Marcus seemed firmly planted on the side of not raising taxes. Vana, however, came across as almost undecided, and she has been inconsistent in her past votes, prompting TAB to write the following letter:
“We were somewhat surprised at the contrast between your sentiment and your vote on the millage increase. While you continue to talk about efficiencies and metrics and finding another path than raising tax rates or cutting programs, you did not hesitate to vote the higher number.
It is not sufficient to say that it is a “starting point.” I’ve been watching this process for enough years to know how September will go. If you really think that another $12M (the difference between 2011 adopted tax and 2012 rollback) could be extracted from a $4B budget, and you intended to pursue it, then you would have voted for 4.75 to force the issue. For $12M you have poked a stick in the eye of the taxpayer. Actions speak louder than words.
If we are misreading your intentions, we would be glad to meet with you and correct our analysis.”
In response to the letter, Vana promised to be open-minded and listen to what her district residents have to say. She pledged to try to find ways to cut the $12 million needed to avoid the county’s third consecutive tax hike, and even said she could be the fourth vote to keep the millage flat when the hearing comes up in September.
Sherry Lee, a former County Commission candidate and a TAB member, applauded the new project. “Taxpayers are becoming increasingly desperate and creative to have tax relief in this county,” she said. “Governments are always a day late and a dollar short getting to where the people are.” But Lee said she is hopeful about the outcome.