Palm Beach County will be facing myriad issues over the next several years: a growing homeless population, an opioid epidemic and increasing development pressures, to name a few.
For the purposes of the November election, however, the deciding factor may be the proposed penny sales tax increase, which would raise the county’s 6 percent sales tax to 7 percent.
That’s why The Post endorses Tony Bennett for the County Commission District 1 seat, Dave Kerner for District 3 and Mary Lou Berger for District 5.
The county needs money for things like falling lights at parks, potholes in neighborhood roads and leaking roofs at government buildings. That’s as true today as it was three years ago when a waffling board of commissioners refused to go through with a half-penny increase in the sales tax to address the burgeoning infrastructure issues. The problems didn’t go away. They got only worse.
Bennett, a Jupiter attorney and political newcomer, told The Post Editorial Board that it’s “fiscally irresponsible” not to support the tax hike at this point. “The truth is that we have major infrastructure needs, and they have to be paid for,” he said, maintaining that a penny sales tax — though regressive — is better than the bond issue preferred by Republican incumbent Hal Valeche.
Valeche paints himself as a “thought leader” on issues such as ride-hailing services and the new spring training baseball complex, but dismissed concerns he is out of touch with residents in his district who say he supports developments that don’t have enough roads, utilities and schools to support them. “I’m not a rubber-stamp vote for development,” he insisted.
In District 5, Berger faces the same question regarding growth and development. As county mayor, she oversaw the commission’s vote to approve the controversial Minto West development — a vote that led to them being “snookered” by the developer’s decision to incorporate it as the town of Westlake.
Berger, a Democrat seeking a second term, admits that the commission “has approved a lot of development,” but attributes it to staff recommendations and the need to follow regulatory criteria. “It may be time to look at the criteria again,” she told the Editorial Board.
She supports the sales tax hike, and sees it as a way to help deal with what she calls the county’s “No. 1 priority”: homelessness. “Yes, we have a homeless shelter, but it’s not good enough,” she said. “We have homeless veterans coming up from Broward.”
Her Republican opponent, Taniel Shant, vehemently opposes the “17 percent increase” in the sales tax. And while he agrees with Valeche on the bond issue option, he adds that he would have first preferred a top-down audit to find any waste, fraud or abuse.
The Post stands by its Aug. 30 primary endorsement of Kerner to replace the retiring Shelley Vana in District 3. A lawyer, former police officer and an effective two-term member of the state Legislature, Kerner has proved to be a young leader with ideas, energy, an ability to get things done and a knack for appealing to a variety of constituencies.
His opponent, no-party candidate Sean Hogan, did not meet with The Post Editorial Board.