Club Hears County Government Update from Commissioner Hal Valeche

At its first meeting of 2015, Commissioner Hal Valeche swore in this year’s officers and gave us an update on some topics of interest at the county level.

Elected to the commission in 2012, a Republican success in an otherwise dismal election cycle, Hal has enjoyed his time on the commission, the “best job” he’s had short of his days as a fighter pilot. Representing north county district one as one of only 2 Republicans on the seven member commission (Steve Abrams of district 4 in south county is the other), Hal does not always prevail. He was the only commissioner to oppose the 1 cent hike in the bed tax for example, which recently passed.

Addressing the county budget, he acknowledged that the half a billion Sheriff’s portion is not totally under the control of the commission, and is crowding out other necessary spending such as on roads and bridges. The Sheriff is an elected constitutional officer, and although the overall spending level must be set by the commission, they have no purvey over the line item detail, and the Sheriff’s popularity in his service area limits the commission’s ability to challenge him. (Only Commissioner Paulette Burdick challenged the Sheriff’s budget in the last cycle).

An upcoming duty that Hal is not looking forward to is the selection of the next County Administrator. With high praise for the current administrator Bob Weisman, who he said can never be ‘replaced’, he discussed the search committee that has been formed to choose among a couple of in-house choices and others drawn from nation-wide recruiting, and how difficult it will be to decide on the candidates in full public view. (Sunshine laws prohibit private interviews or non-public discussion).

Touching briefly on the upcoming decision concerning development in the Agricultural Reserve (West of the turnpike from Lantana south to Clint Moore), he explained the tradeoff between the rules established when the reserve was formed with a taxpayer approved bond issue and the wants and needs of current property owners who would like to sell their farms to developers. Another tough decision for the commissioners.

And finally he touched on the baseball stadium, which he has been involved with since it was first proposed in Palm Beach Gardens. The county has approved $135M from bed tax revenue to pay for the construction and maintenance of a facility – currently proposed within West Palm Beach south of 45th street. A current sticky point has been that the county must acquire the land from the city of West Palm Beach, which takes it out of the city’s taxing jurisdiction. The city proposes a land swap for a small county parcel downtown, near the TriRail station. Although this swap has been opposed by county staff, Hal indicated that it is very close to a resolution.

Taking a few questions from the audience, Hal explained further the relationship between the commission and the Sheriff (it’s complicated), the county’s role in the All Aboard Florida project (very little), and how and why the original $90M baseball proposal grew to $135M.

Following Hal’s remarks, he swore in the new officers (shown below). They are Ron Nelson, Jane Pike, Linda Stoch and President Marilyn Parmet.

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