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Public golf course buyer sets 30 percent higher proposed tax rate

“I never thought in my life I’d say ‘raise my taxes.’ ”

Tony Daddino was among residents who supported setting a tentative higher millage rate. Even if it meant more taxes for nearly 98,000 people who live in the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District.

The district set a proposed 1.1956 rate Thursday. That’s 30.71 percent higher to generate another $9 million a year in property taxes.

One mil equals $1 for every $1,000 of taxable property value. District revenue comes primarily from property taxes based on the millage rate.

District residents will have a say at a public hearing 6 p.m. Wednesday Sept. 11 in the Swim & Racquet Center building. The law allows the district to lower the proposed rate, but not increase it.   

The district and city council are at odds over the Price Fazio design and $28 million estimate to build Boca National Golf Club in Boca Teeca. So far, council hasn’t agreed to a buy-in. 

But the proposed tax hike is not just about having enough money to build the course, district chairwoman Susan Vogelgesang said after the vote.

“We have other projects on our overall budget,” she said. The funds would let the district not defer projects set for the new budget year they’re considering.  

The 4-1 vote on the proposed millage had Commissioner Craig Ehrnst deferring. He had to leave [for his birthday], so he didn’t explain his decision. Earlier he agreed with council’s reach-out for ideas from other golf course designers by their Aug. 27 meeting. But he found the lack of buy-in “disappointing” after presenting the district’s point of view Monday.

“I’m looking for $5 million before we raise taxes,” he said before he left. For more revenue, he suggested selling or leasing the former hotel site the district bought outright. “We can market a hotel to a private developer to pay us one time or ongoing,” he said. That building and others on the 214-acre site have been demolished.  

From the outset, Commissioner Erin Wright said she wants to keep negotiations with the city ongoing and positive. “I’m going to support this,” she said about the proposed millage hike. But she wants to hear residents’ feedback in September.

Commissioner Steve Engle took a tougher stance. He asked the district’s lawyers to look into all agreements to pay their part of projects like beach re-nourishment. The district agreed to proceed.

The city always asks the district for money, but “this is going to stop,” he said to applause from the audience.

He doesn’t want to “close the door” with council, said Commissioner Robert Rollins, former district chairman.

But he doesn’t agree with the city taking over running and building the course, a move council put back on the table. “I’m sensing they don’t want to be in the golf business,” he said. The city is selling their municipal course to GL Homes.

“It’s a rough decision to raise the millage rate, but it needs to be done,” Harold Chaffee, president of Keep Golf in Boca, told commissioners.

“I also support the change to the millage rate,” said Rick Heard, co-owner of Don Law Golf Academy.

Heard, the former pro at Ocean Breeze, now Boca National Golf Club, presented a favorable price comparison for the Price Fazio course layout before the district and city council earlier.

The city plans to pursue a cheaper alternative.

“Stay the course and don’t compromise to save a dollar here and there,” Heard said.

Here’s the map for the district.

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