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Golf course buyer’s plan B could mean higher tax rate

The new public golf course buyer needs a B plan if city council opts out on Monday.

Their workshop will be council’s third look at the layout and $20 million ask to build Boca National Golf Club.

If the answer is no, the project manager proposes a 30 percent hike in the millage rate to raise enough money. One mil equals $1 for every $1,000 of taxable property value. And the golf course designer proposes building in phases.

If you own property and/or live in the Greater Boca Raton Beach & Park District, this will affect you. District revenue comes from property taxes based on the millage rate.  

Here’s the map for the estimated 98,000 city and county residents in the district.

The district/buyer has to file a proposed millage rate by Aug. 1 with the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser.  But it’s not a done deal.

District residents will have a say at public hearings now and in September.

Commissioners will set the proposed millage rate at 5:15 p.m. July 25. The meeting/first public hearing is in the district boardroom at The Swim & Racquet Center, 21626 St. Andrews Blvd.

See the backgrounder on the golf course below remarks and commissioners’ reactions at a recent meeting.

“You don’t get anything done unless you do it yourself,” project manager Art Koski said about asking city council to participate. “Build this golf course as you have built all the other facilities,” he said. He cited Spanish River Facilities/de Hoernle Park, Swim & Racquet Center, Sugar Sand and Patch Reef parks among others.

“The district’s taxpayers have never objected to, or said they didn’t get their money’s worth. We’ve always considered raising money through taxes.”

The district’s accountant estimates a 30 percent millage increase will generate $9 million a year, he said.

The next step would be bidding out a construction contract. And the tax increase would be enough to start building a nine-hole and use one or two other holes [from the 18-hole course] as a driving range, said Price Fazio’s Wayne Branthwaite. Amenities like the clubhouse could be phased in.

Residents would be noticed. And the public could weigh in, based on who shows at the public hearings, Koski said.

“The city can still decide to buy in. If they decide ‘yes,’ we can still reduce the millage rate before the second public meeting,” he added.

“I don’t like raising single-family homes by $80 to pay for this,” objected Commissioner Erin Wright. People who aren’t golfers may object to paying with their taxes for a facility they don’t use, she said.

“We don’t use the Swim & Racquet club and we paid for it,” countered commission chairwoman Susan Vogelgesang.

“We need to be prepared for every eventuality,” said Commissioner Robert “Bob” Rollins Jr. “We can’t wait any longer to get this done. No one likes a tax increase. We don’t need another loan.”

As background, the district bought the 214-acre closed Ocean Breeze golf course at 5800 NW Second Ave. for $24 million. The cost was disputed at the time. Now the city claims it paid too much.

The district bought the small, separate hotel parcel with its own money. But the city loaned the district $19 million it intends to repay. So the district wants a grant, having already paid for the property and design work.

There’s not enough in their new budget for the build and other major projects, like redoing Gumbo Limbo Nature Center.

The district chose Price Fazio to design the new course and trusts their expertise. Team members have been meeting with council individually to show and explain their design decisions. [The revised plan eliminates a tunnel under Second Avenue so golfers wouldn’t have to cross the street.]

The district hopes those meetings will persuade council to approve the plan and partner with the district at their workshop Monday. [It’s after the 1:30 p.m. CRA meeting in council chambers in City Hall on the northwest corner of Palmetto Park Road and Northwest Second Avenue.]

But council has balked at spending the money and building another 18-hole course when the muni [and the city’s 9-hole] lose money every year.

And councilman Andy Thomson has talked up the nine-hole public course in Winter Park as a cheaper option.

So, most people in the know think money to build or approval is unlikely. There was even talk about the city taking over. That has gone nowhere so far.

But all the back and forth has delayed the project, designed to keep public golf in the city.

GL Homes has agreed to delay closing the sale on the city’s municipal course out west to make that happen.

The original sale price was $65 million. Some residents want the city to use some or part of that money for Boca National.

What happens next is up to city council on Monday and what the district decides to do then.

By Marci Shatzman

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