An Open Letter to Commissioners on $10 Million for A New Pool


Background: On Monday, August 19th, 2019, the City of Lake Worth Beach Commissioners and staff held a public workshop for a discussion on penny sales tax (PST), and a presentation by CPZ architects to review designs for a new pool at the Beach Complex.

Everyone was provided with a basic set of facts to start with:

  • The City expects about $22M in PST funding over 20 years. We’ve spent about $6M, leaving $16M uncommitted
  • We have has serious deficiencies throughout the city that need to be addressed, including one that has been long ignored: our main public works building on 6th Ave South and A Street that is unsafe, unsanitary, and is just one storm away from toppling over
  • We have unresolved issues at the 12-acre beach complex, including 5,000 sq. ft. of oceanfront ballroom space that is unfinished and currently used to house transient staff and storage, insufficient parking, and a layout that doesn’t make sense, which requires visitors to walk by dumpsters in order to get to the restaurants at the top of the berm

Needless to say, what followed was immensely disappointing.

By my estimation, those four hours were spent in order:

  • 0.5 hour discussion on infrastructure needs across the city and which should take priority for PST investment
  • 2.5 hours of discussions about whether to spend $8 million or $10 million on a new pool
  • 1 hour of arguing over how to proceed

Since my position on the pool is well known, I used my public comment time during the workshop, which ostensibly, I assumed, was expected to be about PST, to talk about PST in a way I hadn’t yet heard it discussed, ever, which is to research and present what our neighboring Palm Beach County cities are doing with their PST.

I wrote a nice summary and provided backup, and presented that to our Commissioners. I’ll post that in another blog post and link to it here.

The PST discussion was completely railroaded by the 40 pro-pool activists in the crowd, and two Commissioners who don’t give a damn about your wants for the City, but rather, will do whatever it takes to spend your tax dollars on rebuilding a pool at the beach for at least $10 million.

I was so frustrated that I penned a letter to our Commissioners, executive staff, and key residents. That letter follows, below. I hope by publishing this that you will continue to be inspired to make your voice heard. If we don’t fight back, this Commission is going to spend $10 million or more of our $16 million on a new pool at the beach.

-Tom


Tuesday, August 20th, 2019
Good morning,
Last night, I watched as for four hours a workshop that was ostensibly designed as a penny sales tax discussion was once again hijacked by what I can only describe as “pool mania”. Now, that’s actually OK – I understand that the pool is important to at least two Commissioners, and the forty or so pro-pool activist that show up any time the discussion is on an agenda.
What is a problem for me is the disturbing pattern of groupthink that is emerging.
Before I go any further, I ask that you please just read this email. Whether you like me or not, I do have a good grasp on the pulse of our city, its budget, its needs, and its people. I represent the next generation of taxpayers who love our town and want to see it thrive. And I’m writing to you in the expectation and hope that you take this letter seriously and lend it the consideration it deserves.
Let’s start by establishing a baseline of facts that are universally accepted:
  1. We have $16 million in uncommitted penny sales tax funds. These funds are earmarked for infrastructure investment.
  2. We have infrastructure needs, and in fact, you have identified them as priorities. These include roads, neighborhood improvements, downtown improvements including expanded parking, parks and recreation, and improvements at the casino complex. A decade ago, a needs assessment was produced to determine how much money it would cost to bring the city up to speed in its infrastructure. That figure: an astounding $200 million.
  3. We also discovered that we have immediate needs in our public works building, and an idea with great potential to consolidate resources and staff to boost cost savings and inter-departmental synergies, while enticing new private development near the Park of Commerce. We have a cost estimate for that immediate need at $4 million.
  4. All of the Commissioners recognize and agree that there are far more needs than there are resources to address them.
  5. A new pool will cost at minimum $10 million, and that will only include a new pool, lifeguard staff quarters, a small 1,000 sq. ft tiki bar, and a kitchen.
  6. No one can answer where the funds to maintain and operate this enterprise will come from, or how much it will cost, other than “we’ll just bring in a business to run it” and “sell concessions”.

Now, if any taxpaying resident, Commissioner, staff member, or an outsider were to read these five bullet points with no further context, what would they think?

The reality that you are ignoring is this: We have infrastructure need across the city. We have needs at the Casino complex (it sure would be nice to not have to walk by a dumpster on the way to our restaurants), we have needs for parking at the beach, and we have needs for storage and staff quarters. We have needs in our parks, including the golf course, we have needs in our neighborhoods (some of which haven’t seen a dollar of public investment in twenty-five years), we have needs throughout our downtown (as small as lighting and street cleaning, and as big as parking), we have needs on our thoroughfares, and we have needs in our public works infrastructure.

And maybe you’ll notice I haven’t even mentioned roads yet. We could spend $14 million of our remaining PST on roads, and commit the remainder to maintenance, and that alone would be the right use of PST. That benefits all citizens, taxpayers, and stakeholders. There’s a simple, workable plan I and my neighbors could get behind.

Here’s another one that stretches our dollar out across many identified priorities:

  • We could stand by our workers and put them and their safety at top priority by committing to the new $4 million public works facility right now.
  • We can commit $4 million to fixing all of the issues at the beach complex.
  • We can commit $4 million to downtown infrastructure projects, including parking, which the majority of people agree is a good investment.
  • We can give $500k to parks and recreation facilities upgrades, as well as a parks & rec study
  • Another $500k and to a city-wide neighborhood beautification project that engages neighborhood associations.
  • Put the remaining $3m in our roads program, or reserve it for future road maintenance or to address emergency infrastructure needs in the future.

Remember, this money will be coming in for twenty years! Now, there’s a plan that any good steward of the city and taxpayer dollars would get behind.

But, you can’t do any of these very worthy projects if you spend $10 million on a new pool at the beach complex. I almost feel like this doesn’t need to be said because it’s so obvious, but I don’t want to take that for granted, so here it is: There is no world in which you can have it all. You can’t have a $10 million pool, and also solve our city’s most pressing needs at the beach complex, let alone across the city.

Thank you, Commissioner Maxwell, for not capitulating in the face of pro-pool folks. They really aren’t that intimidating, they just show up and talk in emotion and sprit instead of facts, knowledge, and understanding. I echo Scott’s sentiment. Those pool designs are  beautiful. Really impressive. But in the words of Mayor Pam, we have a champagne taste with a Budweiser budget.

If we seriously begin this pool project, it will run over $10 million, it will not generate new tourism (who the hell starts their vacation planning by Googling “great municipal pools to visit”), and it will become a problem that my generation and coming generations of this city’s residents, taxpayers, and leadership will have to struggle with in the future.

Lastly, please do read the material I provided during my public comment last night. You’ll see that I took a look at five surrounding cities, and pulled their publicly-available PST project lists. I put some time into compiling this, so please read it. The things you’ll find in common across all our neighboring cities:

  1. They’ve identified their public infrastructure needs, and they committed their PST funding on a project-by-project basis
  2. Much of the money (25% for West Palm Beach) for each city is committed refurbishing, retrofitting, rebuilding, or planning expansions to public spaces, parks, and recreation centers
  3. None of them are building a municipal pool

Sincerely, if you’ve read this whole letter – thank you. -T

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