The county is experiencing a historic economic recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.  As of June 2021, the county’s unemployment rate was reported at 5.3 percent, below the national and state averages.  Nearly 90 percent of the county’s jobs lost due to COVID-19 have now been recovered.

The county played a significant role in the effort to mitigate the spread of the virus.  The federal CARES Act funds allowed the Board of County Commissioners (Board) to provide critical funding allocations to address immediate community needs such as food distribution, temporary housing, rental/utility assistance, and community testing and vaccination sites countywide.

We also initiated a grant program for small businesses hardest hit by the crisis distributing over $78 million to over 5,000 Palm Beach County businesses with $18 million of those funds granted to 400 businesses in South County.

While our main objective was to keep everyone safe and hospital beds available, it was also important to respond to residents seeking relief.  Consequently, as soon as it was possible, I pushed for the reopening of recreational venues such as golf courses and parks. I also supported the small businesses that were ready to reopen to help reboot our local economy.

The county was allocated over $290 million American Recovery Plan dollars from the federal government and the Board is working with the county administrator on allocations for impactful long-term projects such as job training, transportation, housing, infrastructure and more.

Signs of recovery are being experienced throughout the county.  Palm Beach International Airport reports capacity (#flights/seats) is at near normal levels for the summer and is recovering faster than the national average. Leisure travel is recovering faster than business travel, which has benefited both the county and the state.

The tourism industry in Palm Beach County is in full recovery. Hotel room occupancy has returned to the mid 70 percent ranges on average compared to April of 2020 when occupancy dropped to 20 percent.

In Palm Beach County, the pandemic has accelerated what was already an uptick of residents relocating to South Florida creating a surge in real estate sales, and increased residential and commercial development.  This has created significant premium on prices due to a diminished inventory.

As of January 1, 2021, the county’s Property Appraiser has reported the taxable value for residential properties has increased 6.13 percent and commercial taxable value increased 2.8 percent with demand for office space rebounding.  We continue to see increasing numbers in terms of the economic health of our county.

South County remains one of the county’s top growth areas.  The state and county in partnership with the Palm Beach County Business Development Board have continued to provide incentives for business expansions that will result in the creation of over 100 jobs with salaries ranging from $60,000 to $95,000.

These businesses include ESports Play LLC and MPLT Healthcare with a projected economic impact of $98 million.  Another new project of note is NewDay USA, one of the nation’s leading mortgage lenders, which will create 600 new jobs.

The pandemic didn’t interfere with the county’s Building Department which created an online system for permit submittals, significantly streamlining the process for the construction industry.  The Building Dept. successfully generated over $2.2 billion in property improvements and is projecting over $2.5 billion in improvements for 2021. On a daily basis, they average over 900 inspections and issue between 200-400 permits.

A one million square-foot distribution warehouse was recently opened in unincorporated Palm Beach County. It was completed in about a year. The county’s Planning, Zoning, and Building Department’s expedited permitting program played a critical role in making the project happen. It is a testament to our commitment to working with the business community to accelerate the approval process and get businesses open. The new distribution center will create over 200 jobs including human resources, management, and finance, with salaries starting at $40,000 annually. The facility will have an economic impact of hundreds of millions of dollars for the county.

Moving forward, I will continue to support tax incentives for new and expanding businesses and work closely with the Palm Beach County Business Development Board in attracting businesses.

Years 2017-2021 (past 5 years)

  • $3.2M in economic incentives from county
  • $5.3M in total economic incentives (state, county and municipalities)
  • Creating 687 new jobs
  • Retaining 369 jobs
  • $102M in capital investments
  • $1.1B economic impact

Research Park at Florida Atlantic University has partnered with the county and in 2020 and 2021, the Board approved additional funding to support the Research Park’s initiative to create, Global Ventures, the only international soft landings center in South Florida. Global Ventures facilitates the growth of international companies to become sustainable contributors to our economy, creating high paying jobs. In 2020, 140 new jobs were created and they are currently hosting companies from Brazil, Ecuador, Netherlands and Canada

With over 50 percent of the county’s $5.6 billion budget allocated to the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, we remain committed to public safety.

Some initiatives include:

  • Joint mission to secure local waters:  District 4 includes over 22 miles of the county’s southern coastline.  I was happy to support a grant agreement for Operation Stonegarden, a joint mission to secure the county’s international water borders. The waters off our shoreline are notorious for illegal activities and these patrols are effective and necessary. A Homeland Security Grant of $352,000 will be used to enhance the U.S. Border Patrol’s mission to secure the coastline.  The grant funds will pay for overtime to reinforce our presence within local communities along the coast, and implement through highway interdiction and crime suppression operations to intercept individuals who have illegally crossed our borders.
  • Park rangers: We supported an allocation of $251,000 to hire additional park rangers to monitor county parks for increased crime activities. This alleviated Sheriff deputies from this responsibility.
  • Public safety communications tower:  After years of negotiation with the City of Boca Raton, the Board approved the interlocal agreement for a public safety tower. Located on city-owned property, the county has agreed to fund, design, construct, manage and maintain the 400 ft. self-supported public safety radio tower while the city will maintain ownership.

The Board recently approved the $5.6 billion budget for the upcoming year.  This budget reflects the enormity of the county’s operations that include solid waste disposal, public transportation, three airports (including PBIA), water treatment plants, 3,500 miles of roads, 214 bridges, 8,000 acres of parks and much more.

For the 11th year in a row, the Board has voted to keep the tax (millage) rate level.  The proposed rate will generate over $1 billion in property taxes, $48.7 million (4.8 percent) over the current year.  Property taxes make up approximately 63 percent of total revenues within the General Fund.

The budget also reflects the county’s strategic priorities, which include economic development, housing/homelessness, environmental protection, infrastructure, public safety and substance use, and behavior disorders.

Adequate reserves are another very important aspect of the budget since they factor in the evaluation of the county’s financial strength and help us maintain our AAA bond rating. The General Fund reserves will increase to $194 million from last year’s $175.6 million.

My main objective during the budget process is to maintain the current tax rate (especially as our residents continue to grapple with the impact of the pandemic).

As a transportation advocate and vice chair of the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Authority (TPA), keeping our roads safe for all users is also a priority.  I am also vice chair of the Florida Metropolitan Planning Organization Advisory Council and serve as a member of the National Association of Counties Transportation Steering and Community and Urban Affairs Policy Committees.

Over the past few years, the county has unfortunately seen an uptick in pedestrian and bicyclist deaths on our roadways. Consequently, the TPA has adopted “Vision Zero” and is taking action on initiatives to achieve zero traffic related deaths. Just recently, new bike and vehicle safety laws were updated to reflect these initiatives.

Palm Tran has focused on making their bus routes more accessible with the installation of new audiovisual systems providing its riders with real-time visual and audio announcements.

Currently, Palm Tran is initiating a faster more efficient payment system allowing riders to pay with Palm Tran’s mobile app, contactless credit cards, smart watches, and more.

I have also pushed to have more electric vehicle chargers in more county facilities including governmental center, courthouses, and convention center.

I am looking toward the future and how to move people more efficiently and exploring the idea of constructing tunnels at conflict points at railroad tracks and roadways.

Other initiatives include:

  • Palm Tran and Lake Delray Apartment’s pilot shopper shuttle: Our office worked closely with Palm Tran to reinstate free bus shuttle service for Lake Delray Apartments, a senior community. The shuttle runs Monday through Friday from 10am to 2pm and takes riders to numerous locations such as Public, Walmart and Walgreens.
  • Palm Tran bus passes for students: The Board approved an agreement with the school district to provide a reduced-rate bus pass for middle and high school students.  The new agreement extends the use of the monthly and daily passes to include trips outside of school hours. During the previous three-year term, the school district purchased over 2,300 tickets.
  • Reduced bus fares for veterans: We have directed Palm Tran implement a reduced fare plan for veterans meeting predetermined income levels, similar to a program launched in Miami fifteen years ago.

Keeping our roads and bridges in good repair and filling potholes are very important to our residents.   Over the next few years, over $13 million has been allocated for major road projects in District 4 such as resurfacing, intersection and road safety improvements.

Expect to see road crews working on major projects throughout South County including Yamato Road, Federal Hwy, Camino Real, Linton Blvd, Woolbright Road and Military Trail.

Over $14 million will be spent on upgrades and restoration at a number of our South County parks including Ocean Inlet, Gulfstream, Lake Ida and Caloosa.

Recent projects include:

  • Palmetto Park Road Bridge: The Bridge is currently being restored with a $25 million allocation.
  • Camino Real Bridge: The Bridge was recently replaced and restored. Notwithstanding delays caused by the pandemic, the work was completed nearly on time and under budget, while preserving the bridge’s historic designation.  We also supported additional allocations for improvements to the surrounding road areas.
  • Traffic light: We installed a traffic light at Linton and Homewood Blvd. in Delray Beach. The project was funded by FDOT at no cost to the county. We also worked with the City of Boca Raton to install a signal at Woodfield Circle and Clint Moore Road to address safety concerns of area residents.
  • Anti-Semitism resolution: I was honored to initiate a resolution recognizing the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s Working Definition of Anti-Semitism. The resolution, originally requested by the American Jewish Committee Palm Beach leadership, provides a working definition that will be used as an educational tool to sensitize individuals, policymakers and institutions to various forms of anti-Semitism in our community. There is no place for any form of hatred in our public institutions. This resolution makes it clear that anti-Semitism within our community will not be tolerated.
  • Response to tragic car crash: Our office initiated a speed study following the tragic car crash on Camino Real Road in 2021.  We are working with the Sheriff’s office to address this tragic incident.
  • Dog dining:  The Board supported to amend the county’s code to allow dogs in restaurants in unincorporated Palm Beach County.
  • Robo and spoofing calls initiative: We initiated a resolution urging United States Congress to enact the Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act (TRACED) as a result of ongoing complaints from the public concerning illegal robocalls and spoofing.
  • ADL anti-hate resolution: We initiated a resolution with the BCC denouncing hate speech.  The county will continue its efforts to protect residents, targets and victims of hate crimes and encourage prosecution of hate crimes.
  • Waste collection: As Chairman of the Solid Waste Authority Board, I am pleased to report a new garbage and yard waste collection ordinance that provides for improved methods of collection, through automation, new larger garbage carts provided to the public, and limits the amount of time garbage and yard waste can remain at the collection point in public view.
  • Vaping ban in county park playgrounds: We approved a new ordinance prohibiting vaping in playground areas of all county parks.

Meeting the housing needs of our workforce is a top priority. In March 2021, the median sale price of a single-family home in the county was $440,000, increasing nearly 19 percent from the year before. This price is almost 5½ times the current median family income of $80,200. The median sales price of a townhouse or condominium was $245,000, up 23 percent from a year ago. These prices are putting home ownership out of reach for half of our population.

Renting is expensive as well.  The average monthly rent for a two-bedroom apartment in the county is $1,900.  An individual, working full-time, would need to earn over $75,000 a year to afford that level of rent.

The county’s workforce housing program requires builders of projects larger than 10 units reserve a percentage of units or pay into a fund.   Since its inception in 2006, hundreds of units have been built.  I am committed to continue to work with collaborating organizations and local leaders to increase workforce housing availability.

Workforce housing initiatives include:

  • 1,418 affordable units have been set aside in 61 residential projects (approximately 12 percent of the total number of 12,290 units approved).
  • Developers have paid $7.7 million, in lieu of required set-asides at 20 residential projects and a portion of these funds is used for down-payment assistance.
  • Nearly 78 percent of builders’ workforce housing obligations are met by providing rental units. To date, 915 rental units have been completed or are under construction and 185 have been approved.
  • About 13 percent of the obligation is met through for-sale units. There are 167 for-sale units completed or under-construction and 23 units are approved.

To date, 43 units have been sold with another 31 under contract.

Mental Health

  • Housing and outpatient services: We have supported the collaboration with Housing Partnership Inc. to provide supportive housing services to adults with severe mental health issues and community-based outpatient services to children and families with mental health issues.
  • Southeast Florida Behavioral Health: The Board voted to increase funding for the continuation of expanded treatment and respite capacity, recovery support and planning services and prevention programs to educate the community about the dangers of opioid use and programs to support families.

Substance Abuse

  • Opioid abuse site-based program: The Board supported the initiative to award $1.2 million in federal funding to combat opioid/substance abuse disorders by offering diversion programs from jail. The programs offer participants a swift return to community with access to treatment and support services.
  • Addiction stabilization unit: The Board supports the joint effort between the county, Health Care District and JFK Hospital to produce a one-of-a-kind addiction stabilization unit within JFK Medical Center on 45th Street in West Palm Beach.  The 10-bed unit serves as the county’s centralized emergency room for all overdose calls.  Patients can stay up to 36 hours with ER trained staff dealing with addiction and will have access to long-term treatment options.  The county has pledged $1 million to help pay for health care costs.
  • Needle exchange program: We approved an ordinance establishing the Infectious Disease Elimination Program as authorized by the Florida Legislature. Implementation includes a sterile needle and syringe exchange program with the goal of eliminating infectious diseases such as HIV and Hepatitis C.

Protecting our natural resources are critical to the future of Palm Beach County. I continue to support the county’s Environmental Resource Department, which oversees programs that protects preserves and enhances the county’s natural resources on land, in, and under water.

Other initiatives include:

  • Shark fishing & chumming banned at county beaches: We initiated a ban on shark fishing and chumming at county beach parks that are designated guarded swimming areas was initiated in cooperation with Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission.
  • Lake O management: The Board co-signed a letter with Martin, Hendry, Glades and Okeechobee counties after historic meeting in Okeechobee.  All stakeholders in the management of the lake agreed upon fundamental principles for future management strategies with Army Corp of Engineers and SFWMD.
  • Beach renourishment: In 2020, beach sand placement in District 4 totaled 1.4M cubic yards and 1.35M cubic yards in 2021.  Keeping our world-renowned beaches pristine for residents and tourists to enjoy plays an integral role in what makes our piece of paradise the place we are proud to call home.
  • Solid Waste Authority: Staff was directed to explore installing specially designed disposal bins for rechargeable batteries, which cannot be combined with recyclables or regular garbage due to a fire hazard.