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Palm Beach County today: Big money in play

Tri-Rail runs on the westernmost CSX tracks but track connections would allow it to go up the coastal Florida East Coast Railway.
Joel Engelhardt
Stet Palm Beach
Tri-Rail runs on the westernmost CSX tracks but track connections would allow it to go up the coastal Florida East Coast Railway.

An extension of the 1-cent sales tax to pay to move Tri-Rail to the coast is one of several big-dollar discussions on the agenda today for the Palm Beach County Commission.

Commissioners will meet with the League of Cities at 2 pm to discuss asking voters to extend a countywide sales tax hike that raises $400 million a year. It would allow the county to continue to collect an extra penny on every $1 spent on taxable sales in the county.

The Palm Beach County School District already has decided to ask voters in November to add an extra half-cent to the sales tax strictly for schools, enough to raise $200 million a year.

Schools Superintendent Mike Burke said in a Feb. 21 letter to County Administrator Verdenia Baker that time had run out on options to work together on a single tax hike.

“While you have recently expressed interest in partnering with the League of Cities and School District … the county has not shared any details including a proposed spending plan, the number of years needed for the tax, any anticipated level of support or what resources would be utilized to educate voters,” Burke wrote.

A little background: An existing penny sales tax approved by voters in 2016 is expected to expire at the end of 2025 having brought in $2.7 billion over 10 years. Half the money went to schools, the other half to the county and cities to finance a spate of new government buildings as well as road, bridge and park improvements.

What’s next? State law allows the county to add a penny to the sales tax for up to 30 years to pay for bus or train systems or roads. The sales tax boost has been mentioned in the past as a way to pay for moving Tri-Rail to the Florida East Coast Railway tracks that run through coastal downtowns.

That would put Tri-Rail on the same tracks as Brightline.

Stay downtown or go?

At a 9:30 am workshop, county commissioners will consider moving the Governmental Center out of downtown West Palm Beach.

It would cost $160 million to renovate and expand the 40-year-old 12-story building to have 340,000 square feet of office space, a staff report says.

It would cost $261 million to build a new 340,000-square-foot building, not counting land costs, if the commission wishes to pursue Commissioner Mack Bernard’s suggestion of moving county headquarters to the Westgate community west of Interstate 95 and north of the airport.

Next on the morning’s agenda: Whether to continue to move forward with a $48 million renovation of the Animal Care & Control facilities at 7100 Belvedere Road.

To go: The morning workshop is in the commission’s sixth floor chambers and the meeting with the League of Cities is in the 12th floor conference room, both at the Governmental Center, 301 N. Olive Ave., West Palm Beach. Watch on Channel 20 or on the county’s YouTube channel.

This story was originally published by Stet Palm Beach, a WLRN News partner.

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