Official: Tax Mar-a-Lago owner to help pay for cost of Trump visits


President Donald Trump has taken to calling his Mar-a-Lago spread on Palm Beach the “winter White House.”

Palm Beach County Commissioner Dave Kerner wonders if it should have another name: “municipal service benefit unit.”

Kerner’s name is far less catchy than Trump’s, but it could give the county a way to impose a special tax on Trump to reimburse the county for the millions it has shelled out for roadway management and security assistance during the president’s frequent trips here.

The tax would not be a property tax, Kerner said. Instead, it would be a tax pegged to the value of any “special benefit” the county has provided to Mar-a-Lago’s owner — Trump.

» RELATED: Trump returning this weekend for fifth stay since inauguration

At Kerner’s request, County Attorney Denise Nieman is researching the idea of the municipal service benefit unit, which Kerner said has not yet been used in the way he envisions.

The commissioner and other county officials are increasingly frustrated with federal inaction on their requests for reimbursement.

In mid-February, Sheriff Ric Bradshaw estimated that the cost of providing help during Trump visits had reached about $1.4 million.

An analysis provided by PBSO on Tuesday, which included non-overtime costs for Trump’s three trips in February and the one earlier this month, included about $570,000 in costs.

County Commissioner Mary Lou Berger said she, Bradshaw and Assistant County Administrator Todd Bonlarron recently held a conference call with officials from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Secret Service, the Congressional Budget Office and the Federal Emergency Management Agency to make the case for reimbursement.

“I was very firm and to the point that we expected this money to be reimbursed, that it shouldn’t be this difficult for them to figure out,” Bradshaw said in describing the call.

Berger said she was discouraged.

“They were polite, but that’s where they stopped,” Berger said. “I did not get a lot of encouragement.”

Bradshaw said federal officials initially seemed uncertain about how to go about reimbursing the county.

“Homeland Security, they don’t have a line item in the budget that represents reimbursement to local governments,” Bradshaw said.

Unlike other county officials, Bradshaw said he is confident the federal government will reimburse the county.

“My sense is it’ll happen at some point,” the sheriff said. “This is a typical Washington, bureaucratic ‘we get to it when we get to it.’ At some point, it’ll work out.”

For many years, communities across the country have been happy to have the president visit. It’s usually a special occasion. Bunting is unfurled and marching bands play.

But Trump’s trips to Palm Beach County have long since eclipsed occasional.

“We’re getting to the point where he’s governing from here,” Kerner said.

The county is conducting a study to determine the costs and benefits of Trump’s frequent visits.

Meanwhile, PBSO will continue to provide roadway management and security assistance.

Bradshaw said he can’t simply refuse to provide that assistance as a way of forcing the feds to pay up. PBSO isn’t just working for Trump during his trips here, Bradshaw explained.

“I cannot just tell the Secret Service or someone else that’s coming who could be in danger that I’m not going to provide the protection,” he said. “It’s a danger to the public. I can’t allow the roadways to become clogged and dysfunctional. I have a responsibility to you, the public, to make sure this thing is handled correctly.”

Separately from the quest for reimbursement, the county has been working to help Lantana’s airport, which has been effectively shut down during Trump’s trips by federally mandated temporary flight restrictions.

Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association President Mark Baker has estimated that the airport and its 250 employees account for $27 million in local economic impact.

Kerner said he had a conference call with the Secret Service to explore ways to modify the flight restrictions.

The commissioner said it wasn’t exactly a two-way exchange.

“They said, ‘This isn’t a negotiation. Let me tell you why it’s going to be this way.’” Kerner said.

Kerner said he no longer has any hope that the temporary flight restrictions will be altered in a way that helps Lantana’s airport.

“The Lantana airport will be shut down any time the president is in town,” Kerner said. “We’ve bent over backwards. I get it. The president’s safety is paramount.”

But ensuring that safety will come at a high cost for the airport and its employees.

“It has been devastating,” Kerner said. “It is going to be devastating.”



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