Valeche: What if the county didn’t provide security on Trump trips?

Palm Beach County taxpayers have paid millions to provide additional security and roadway management during President Trump’s many visits to his Mar-a-Lago estate.

The county provides the costly assistance under the assumption that it will be reimbursed. Getting its money back from the federal government, however, has proven to be laborious and time-consuming, prompting a blunt question from an unlikely source.

“What if we just say no?” Commissioner Hal Valeche asked Tuesday during a County Commission meeting.

Valeche’s question is noteworthy in that it comes from a fellow member of the president’s Republican Party. But during his time on the commission, Valeche — a former U.S. Navy fighter pilot who has a degree in finance from the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School — has frequently been its most dogged fiscal hawk, urging colleagues to think about areas of the budget that can be cut and asking detailed, technical questions about financial transactions.

Valeche did not say he wants the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office to withhold assistance during Trump’s trips. The commissioner did express annoyance, however, with the process the county has to undertake to get its money back.

The county, like municipalities in New York and New Jersey where the president has residences, must formally request reimbursement and hope its money is included in federal legislation or in a department’s budget.

In December, the Federal Emergency Management Agency approved a $3.4 million reimbursement to the county and to Palm Beach. That money only covered Trump’s first seven visits. He is expected to return this weekend for what would be his 14th visit to Palm Beach since becoming president.

The county will have to go through the same process it went through last year to get reimbursed. And it’ll have to do that again and again as the presidential trips mount with each passing year.

Valeche wondered aloud why there isn’t a standardized process to have the county get reimbursed for assistance the federal government knows it is likely to need.

“It’s a unique problem,” Valeche said. “It seems like it’s a lot more work than it should be to get reimbursed for something.”

Sheriff Ric Bradshaw determines how to deploy those under his command, but, with the exception of federal grants for specific programs, PBSO gets its money from local taxpayers.

That means the county could, as a means of encouraging Bradshaw to withhold assistance, reduce PBSO’s budget by an amount equal to what it spent helping out on Trump trips.

County Administrator Verdenia Baker said she, too, has asked about simply not providing extra security and roadway management assistance.

Ultimately, however, Baker said she came to the conclusion that the assistance isn’t simply to help the president. The extra roadway management and manpower deployed during Trump’s visits would serve as protection for county residents in case something happens.

“It’s still our responsibility to make sure our residents are safe,” she said.

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