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Palm Beach County wants state help with homelessness, opioid epidemic

Santa Claus has come and gone, but Palm Beach County officials made a list, checked it twice and are hoping the state government will determine its priorities aren’t naughty but nice.

Certainly, those priorities and wish list items aren’t cheap: Commissioners and legislators from the county met at the Palm Beach County Convention Center Wednesday to go over the fine points of a $47 million wish list that includes money for beach restoration, Loxahatchee River preservation and a variety of smaller-scale projects.

In addition to requests for specific projects, commissioners and area legislators agreed on a series of policy areas where they want the state to take action.

That includes the exploding opioid epidemic and the proliferation of unregulated treatment facilities and sober homes. The Palm Beach Post has written extensively on both topics. Elected officials noted The Post’s coverage and called on the state to step in with help.

Homelessness in the county and the paucity of affordable housing were major areas of focus for commissioners and legislators Wednesday.

Commissioner Melissa McKinlay and other officials have been working to assist some 70 households in Belle Glade that were displaced last month when the buildings where they lived were condemned.

“I’m surprised anybody was living in them,” said McKinlay, whose district includes the Glades.

The county does not have a place to provide long-term housing for those displaced by condemnation and has long pushed for more beds for its homeless population.

“The county is experiencing a growing problem with homeless students, seniors and veterans,” according to a county report commissioners and legislators reviewed Wednesday. “For example, there are approximately 3,200 homeless students in PBC public schools, with 3,000 homeless Palm Beach State College students living in their cars.”

The county expects to get $810 million over the next decade through the penny-on-the-dollar increase in the sales tax that went into effect Sunday. Some $31 million of that money is slated for affordable housing and efforts to combat homelessness.

If the state passes legislation expanding gaming in Florida, the county wants some portion of that revenue set aside for homeless services.

The county also would back an expansion of taxing authority to allow local governments to seek voter approval for a sales tax increase that would be used to pay for homeless services.

County Administrator Verdenia Baker said the problem of homelessness “is one that is pressing, more than ever.”

“We don’t have the housing to cycle them through,” she said. “This is not just a government responsibility. It’s a community responsibility.”

Other issues included the following:

Clerk fees: With the Clerk and Comptroller’s Office of Palm Beach County under financial strain, the county wants to see the $65 mandatory fee applied to civil cases as they are in criminal cases.

Adults With Disabilities: The county wants the Legislature to restore statewide money for the Adults with Disabilities Program back to $10 million. It was cut to $750,000, and five area agencies — Palm Beach Habilitation Center, Boca Raton Habilitation Center, Seagull Services, ARC of Palm Beach County and Jeff Industries — lost a combined $709,481.

The loss of that money cost some staff members their jobs. Some disabled residents also lost jobs and training opportunities, according to information compiled by the county.

Uber, taxies: Legislators failed last year to come up with a uniform statewide policy regulating taxi companies and firms like Lyft and Uber, and county officials said they want the state to try again.

The 2017 legislative session convenes in Tallahassee on March 7, but drafts of general bills and joint resolutions must be submitted by 5 p.m. on Jan. 27.

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