County Commission votes to penalize West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach over Inspector General Lawsuit

In a clever but unusual move, County Administrator Bob Weisman last night proposed $916K in additional spending over the July budget package that specifically excluded amounts requested for West Palm Beach and Riviera Beach by $70K and $50K respectively. This was a direct response to those city’s refusal to pay their share of the Inspector General budget. The proposal included additional spending of $916K – $400K for the YECs, $175K for the Pahokee Recreation center, and $341K for the Inspector General.

The additional $346K to cover the IG shortfall will come from the Solid Waste Authority ($100K), funds from the non-suing cities released by the Clerk ($262K), and $16K from other county departments.

Since the maximum millage was set in the July workshop to 4.7815 (unchanged from last year), the additional funding will come from reserves and tapping an additional $800K from the proceeds of the Mecca Farms sale to South Florida Water Management.

A motion by Commissioner Priscilla Taylor to restore the funds for the West Palm and Riviera YECs and provide an additional $40K for the Belle Glade YEC (requested by Commissioner Shelley Vana) was defeated 4-3 and the Weisman proposal was passed without change. Commissioners Valeche, Burdick, Santamaria and Berger rejected the change for a variety of reasons.

Hal Valeche said “The cities are taking us for a ride..”, and “By restoring this funding they are taking us for a further ride.” Commissioner Santamaria explained to the many children and instructors from the YEC who turned out to support their programs that “Unfortunately the YECs and the IG are connected”. He said that the cities could have opted to spend the IG money they are keeping on the YECs but declined to do so. Commissioner Vana, seeing her request for additional Belle Glade money “for the children” going down to defeat, said “It is disgraceful what we are doing here today”. “I am ashamed to be part of this board at this point.”

It should be noted that the 14 cities participating in the IG lawsuit owe $1.9M to the county – 90% of it from the 5 cities of West Palm Beach ($657K), Boca Raton ($406K), Delray Beach ($348K), Riviera Beach ($169K) and Jupiter ($142K). It is a positive step that the county should withhold grants and assistance to these cities while they are declining to pay for the IG services. The $120K at issue here is a drop in the bucket and it would be appropriate to raise the ante by challenging other grants to these five, in areas such as community development, environmental resource projects within their boundaries and social services. Money is fungible and amounts could be held in escrow while the litigation continues.

The final budget hearing will be held on September 23 at 6:00 PM.

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