- Kevin D. Thompson Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Lake Worth, still a city inching forward, is creating policies, laws and ordinances to bring it to the current century.
It’s a city whose roads are finally being repaired, at a cost of $40 million. It’s a city which last year raised the curtain on a 14-acre solar energy field officials say can generate enough clean energy to power more than 250 homes.
But it’s also a city with several issues: crime, lack of economic investment and code enforcement problems, to name a few.
There are four candidates running for office in the March 13 election — two for mayor and two for the District I seat.
The mayor’s race
Incumbent Mayor Pam Triolo, 50, who runs her own advertising, marking and public relations firm, said she’s running again to finish the work the commission started. “We were behind 15 or 20 years when I was first elected in 2011,” she said. “Then we started some meaningful projects. I want to oversee the road bond project … and I want to make sure all the work gets done the next few years.”
She said taxable evaluation of all Lake Worth properties in 2012 was $990 million. That number was $1.6 billion in 2017 — a 60 percent increase. “We’ve done what we said, but we want to make sure we’re protecting our small town charm as we grow,” Triolo said. “We don’t want to be Delray or West Palm, but we want to be the very best version of ourselves that we can.”
Her biggest accomplishment in office, Triolo said, was when Lake Worth’s Electric Utility finally achieved bill parity with Florida Power & Light Co. “We are 18 cents cheaper than FPL now,” Triolo said.
Her opponent is Drew Martin, an environmental advocate. The 63-year-old Martin ran for the central Palm Beach County Commission District 3 seat in 2016, losing to Dave Kerner. He called Lake Worth’s rate parity “election-stunt timing.”
“Why are they announcing it a month and half before the election?” he asked.
Triolo called Martin’s comments “ridiculous.”
Martin said Triolo’s three terms have been enough. “It’s time for a change,” he said. “We need fresh ideas and a new person. She takes credit for anything that goes well, but she’s unwilling to take any responsibility for something that doesn’t go well.”
Some of Martin’s ideas include using solar energy on government buildings, moving the Lake Worth Community Redevelopment Agency out of downtown because it takes up too much tax revenue and taking a hard look at the city’s operating budget.
“It’s building up much too quickly,” he said.
Martin said he would like to see more bilingual Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office deputies and additional community policing so residents won’t be afraid of deputies.
As for the $65 million Gulfstream Hotel project, which is on hold and snarled in partner lawsuits, Martin said Hudson Holdings should be held responsible by the city. “Once a company has left a property vacant for two or three years, it’s time for the city to come up with some kind of penalty,” Martin said.
The District 1 race
In the District 1 race, Councilman Scott Maxwell, 59, has been in the seat since 2009. He was originally elected in 2001, served two years, left, then won again in 2009. He said there are a number of positive things going on in Lake Worth, including the road program and reinvestment, that he wants to see through. “We continue to reach out to make sure we are user-friendly with the business community and available for when they want to come,” he said.
He said the program to harness the Gulfstream current is really starting to attract a lot of interest. “I see a lot of potential for businesses from around the world coming to Lake Worth,” Maxwell said.
He said Lake Worth has set the table for Hudson Holdings to move ahead on the Gulfstream Hotel project. “They have all the things they need to redo the building and add a structure next to it,” he said. “The issue now is can the current parties get together to resolve their issues. I don’t believe it’s going to court because there’s too much money and time involved.”
Maxwell said he wished things worked quicker in Lake Worth. “That’s just a function of how government works.” he said. “Unfortunately, I fall into the same trap everybody else does when they’re newly elected.”
His opponent is political rookie Sarah Malega. The 42-year-old personal auto shopper and gym owner said she’s running because she said not enough has been done in her Royal Poinciana neighborhood. “I was asked to run two years ago, but said ‘no,’” she said. “I promised our community if we didn’t see any changes, I’d run.”
She said the city’s code enforcement software is archaic and needs to be replaced. “It takes three to five minutes to upload one picture,” she said. “So if you have 10 pictures for one complaint, you could be sitting in your car for 30 minutes to an hour waiting for those pictures.”
Malega also wants to hire four part-time officers to handle visually unappealing cases like a mattress on a porch or a car parked on a lawn. “That way you’ll allow the full-time officers to spend more time on complaints and they can do more occupancy inspections,” she said.
She wants the city to reopen the pool and to bring in more small businesses. “We’re not trying to attract enough, small, diverse businesses that will create the jobs we need in Lake Worth,” she said.