With President Donald Trump likely to return to Mar-a-Lago on Friday for a third consecutive weekend, Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw estimates his deputies have already racked up about $1.5 million in overtime costs for Trump’s other visits since the Nov. 8 election.
Bradshaw said he’s confident the money will be reimbursed by the federal government.
“I do hope he is correct,” said Palm Beach County Administrator Verdenia Baker.
The county sent letters to federal officials in December seeking reimbursement for security costs from a five-day Trump visit in November as president-elect. Those costs were initially estimated at $250,000, but Bradshaw said in a Monday interview with The Palm Beach Post that the November figure is “going to be closer to $300,000.”
The White House has not announced Trump’s plans for the coming President’s Day weekend. But the Federal Aviation Administration on Monday issued flight restrictions for the Palm Beach area from Friday night through Monday night. And Palm Beach County Airports Director Bruce Pelly told local elected officials and business representatives earlier in the day that he has heard Trump is returning this weekend.
Pelly was speaking at a meeting organized by U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel, D-West Palm Beach, to talk to anxious businesses at the county’s Lantana airport, which is about 6½miles south of Mar-a-Lago and was effectively shut down by the Secret Service during Trump’s last two visits.
The Lantana airport businesses say Trump’s past two weekend stays have cost them tens of thousands of dollars, and their customers, worried about continued visits, already have fled to other airports. One business, the maintenance firm Palm Beach Aircraft Services, says it could lose at least $2 million a year in gross revenue.
Bradshaw said his agency’s costs have been fairly consistent since Trump’s November visit. Based on his revised $300,000 estimate for that five-day stay, Bradshaw said it’s reasonable to figure deputies receive about $60,000 a day in overtime to assist the U.S. Secret Service during Trump’s visits.
The sheriff’s presidential details are paid with overtime so routine law enforcement isn’t compromised, Bradshaw said.
“We don’t take anybody off the road that handles normal calls for service,” Bradshaw said.
Aside from the five-day November visit, Trump stayed at Mar-a-Lago for nearly 16 days, from Dec. 16-Jan. 1, as president-elect. He returned for another 2½days as president Feb. 3-6, then arrived last Friday afternoon with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe before departing Sunday afternoon.
Those visits total about 25½ days — or about $1.53 million in overtime, based on Bradshaw’s $60,000-a-day estimate.
“I’m very confident that we’re going to get reimbursed,” Bradshaw said. “There’ll be a point in time where I’ll have a conversation, I hope, with the president personally or with someone high up in the administration.”
Bradshaw, elected sheriff in 2004, said he has met Trump several times since Bradshaw was chief of police in West Palm Beach in the 1990s.
“The sheriff works very closely with the Secret Service…He is probably closer aligned with the entities and has a better feel that we would be reimbursed. I have not received that type of information from anyone in writing,” said Baker, the county administrator.
Presidential visits to Palm Beach County are not unusual, with former Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama all making multiple visits for fundraisers, golf outings and campaign appearances. But those visits did not involve extended stays, as is the case with Trump.
“Obviously we take it very seriously and we’re fortunate we have the experience and the manpower to be able to handle it. We work seamlessly with the Secret Service because we’ve done it so much,” Bradshaw said.
In addition to the sheriff’s cost, West Palm Beach Chief Financial Officer Mark Parks estimated the city police and fire-rescue personnel have incurred about $26,000 in costs for Trump’s February visits. The town of Palm Beach did not have an estimate for its costs.
Aside from the issue of taxpayer costs, business operators at the Lantana airport told Frankel their livelihoods are in danger unless the Secret Service modifies the current flight restrictions.
“What are we going to do here when he’s here for two weeks? Thanksgiving? Christmas and New Year’s?” private plane owner Kelly Gottlieb told Monday’s meeting . “If he’s here for a long period of time, I think this airport is in dire straits.”
The businesses told Frankel that they understand the need to protect the president while he’s here, but hope the Secret Service can at least listen to tweaks and the FAA have suggested.
Frankel said now that the Secret Service has two visits under its collective belts, “Hopefully we can make a better case.”
One option proposed by businesses would allow planes to come and go to the west and southwest, a plan they believe would not threaten the president’s security.
“This is an absolute easy fix,” private plane owner Phil Valente told Frankel. “All they (the Secret Service) have to do is approve it.”
Pelly said the FAA and the Transportation Security Administration “have stepped to the plate” and offered to provide staff for Lantana, and have said the tower at Palm Beach International Airport also could track planes coming in and out of Lantana, listed as the 10th busiest “general aviation” air facility in the nation.
“We have offered everything you can possibly think of to make this a safe operation,” Pelly told the gathering. “”These people (pilots) have offered to be fingerprinted, for crying out loud.”
Frankel asked the businesses, as well as Pelly and Palm Beach County Commissioner Dave Kerner — a Democrat whose district includes the airport — to assemble a package she could take to the Secret Service. She said she’ll also reach out to the White House to ask that it lobby the Secret Service to make accommodations.
And state Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lake Worth, whose legislative district includes the airport, said she’ll craft a letter to Gov. Rick Scott asking if he also can call on Trump, a longtime friend, to talk to the Secret Service. The Palm Beach Post posed that question to Scott’s office last week and again Monday but he did not answer it.
“At the end of the day,” Pelly said, “this airport can be operated without being a threat to the president. There’s no question about that.”