Palm Beach County Commission votes to fund inspector general’s budget shortfall

Facing an angry electorate packing its chambers, the Palm Beach County Commission voted on Tuesday to fund the inspector general’s budget shortfall of $400,000. Commissioner Karen Marcus opposed the funding due to pending litigation.

According to the charter, the inspector general must oversee all municipalities within the county. Fifteen cities have filed a lawsuit and are refusing to pay the costs required, tying up funding for the office. Inspector General Sheryl Steckler has requested the funding to hire more staff for increased workloads created by overseeing the cities. County Clerk & Comptroller Sharon Bock has placed a hold on all funds paid until the lawsuit is resolved, creating the shortfall.

In asking the commission to cover the funding gap, many residents who spoke during public comments said the county should not ignore the 72 percent of voters who granted the inspector general broader jurisdiction over the cities in November 2010.

“The IG cannot do the job mandated by the charter without adequate funding,” said David Baker, speaking on behalf of a community and business coalition called the Palm Beach County Ethics Initiative.

“We’re not culprits in the lawsuit,” Commissioner Burt Aaronson responded, adding that the commission always has been supportive of creating the inspector general position.

Commissioner Steven Abrams suggested that the cities that have agreed to fund their share and are not part of the lawsuit should be allowed to contract directly with the Inspector General’s Office.

“The municipalities suing are reckless for ignoring the voters,” Commissioner Paulette Burdick said, recommending that any settlement language include repayment to the county for covering the municipalities’ shortfall.

An overflow crowd remained for a second controversial issue, a commission vote for the short-term fix of restoring the dunes on a portion of Singer Island’s beachfront. The item passed on a 4-3 vote, with Commissioners Marcus, Abrams and Priscilla Taylor opposed.

At issue was whether to approve building perpendicular structures, known as groins, to control erosion or to continue to fund the restoration of dunes, which have to be replaced every three to four years.

In supporting the dune restoration option, Aaronson said the one-mile stretch of beach in question was “not totally a public beach,” and that the groins would require a commitment to cover costs for 50 years when the county doesn’t even know if they would work.

Commissioner Shelley Vana said the commission should not fund “experimental projects” that may not be cost-effective in the long run. She recommended waiting until the groin projects have been better tested and are proven to be effective.

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