Much has been made of the escalating costs of providing additional security during President Donald Trump’s trips to Mar-a-Lago, which he has dubbed the “winter White House.”
But having the president in your midst brings benefits, too.
Trump has been to his Mar-a-Lago mansion on Palm Beach five times since being elected, pleasing supporters but producing a giant financial headache for others. The president is expected to return to the county March 3-5 for a fundraiser.
During presidential stays, television reporters air stories on the president, often with an image of sunny and warm Palm Beach County in the background.
Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker explained that such mentions are called “home impressions,” and they could make, well, an impression.
“People could look at that and say, ‘Palm Beach County, it’s pretty there,’” she said. “‘We should visit there.’”
The hope is that would lead to more tourism, more hotel stays, more rental car fill ups, more restaurant stops. And, of course, that would mean more hotel bed tax revenue, more sales tax revenue and more gas tax revenue.
Baker said the financial impacts of Trump’s visits won’t be known for several months.
“It’s going to take us a minute to figure out if he’s going to be coming every week, once a month,” she said, adding that an assessment completed now — as opposed to six months from now — could under- or over-estimate how frequently the president will come to the county.
Tourism officials reported that hotel occupancy in central Palm Beach County was up 2 percent during a Trump visit to Mar-a-Lago earlier this month.
Glenn Jergensen, executive director of the county’s Tourist Development Council, said Trump’s stay likely accounted for a few hundred nightly hotel room bookings. Those guests were members of the media and other officials who travel with the president, and not necessarily tourists, Jergensen said.
Each time Trump comes, security personnel, federal staff members and reporters who cover the administration follow suit, staying in hotels and eating in restaurants. When Trump brought the Japanese prime minister to his golf courses in Jupiter and West Palm Beach, Japanese journalists came to chronicle the visit.
County commissioners agreed that conducting an assessment of Trump’s impact on the local economy is a good idea.
“I think it’s important at some point to try to quantify it, whatever the benefit is,” Commissioner Steven Abrams said.
Baker said the financial impact of Trump’s visits is “the elephant in the room” as the county crafts its 2017-2018 budget.
The county is in the early stages of crafting what will be a $4 billion-plus budget. Commissioners, who got a financial overview from staff members Tuesday, are expected to set property tax rates in early July.
Even then, it’s not clear that the county will have a firm handle on the benefits and costs of Trump’s trips to the county.
While the benefits aren’t easy to quantify, that’s not the case with the costs.
Businesses at Palm Beach International Airport and the general aviation airports that the county operates in Pahokee and west of Lantana and Palm Beach Gardens have reported hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost income since Trump was elected because of temporary flight restrictions imposed during presidential visits. That in turn affects Palm Beach County’s income because the county gets a portion of the gas sales and rent income collected by the fixed base operators.
The general aviation airport in Boca Raton, which is not operated by the county, also has reported lost business during Trump’s visits.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has racked up $1.5 million and counting in overtime as deputies assist with security and traffic management when Trump comes to town. Sheriff Ric Bradshaw estimates the presidents’ visits cost $60,000 a day in deputy overtime.
The county has written members of its congressional delegation seeking help as it tries to get reimbursed for Trump-related expenses.
That could be a tall order.
Congress has set aside $7 million to reimburse local governments for Trump-related expenses. New York City, where the president also has a residence, has already made its pitch to be reimbursed for Trump costs to the tune of $35 million.
History isn’t all on the side of the county or of New York.
A Honolulu Police Department estimate for what it shelled providing security during Barack Obama’s trips there as president stands at $2.25 million.
The police department has not been reimbursed for those costs.
But Bradshaw has said he feels confident his department will be reimbursed for much of its expenses, and he has even had a chance to lobby the president, having met with him Monday at Mar-a-Lago during Trump’s last visit here.
Staff writers Eliot Kleinberg and Jennifer Sorentrue contributed to this story.