Thursday, May 23

Voters in Palm Beach County to decide on joining city of Palm Beach Gardens

About 8,600 people can vote to join the city of Palm Beach Gardens or remain in unincorporated Palm Beach County on Tuesday.

The vote comes after Palm Beach Gardens City Council approved five annexation plans in December, which would bring about 3,500 pieces of property into city limits. Each zone will vote in a separate election where a 50 + 1 majority is required to join the city.

City staff said the plan would allow the town to increase its tax base, which could potentially allow it to lower the city’s millage rate while being able to maintain services for the town. The city has also argued it would lower taxes if a person’s home had an assessed value at or lower than $411,250, which it estimates is 70% of properties.

WPTV received the city’s data from a records request and found the percentage differs based on the zone. Specifically, a higher percentage of properties seeing their taxes increase are within Zone 2 and Zone 3.

Opposition against the annexation has organized into a political action committee called the Coalition Against Annexation. The group argues property taxes would increase if people joined the city and homeowners would lose rights due to Palm Beach Gardens’ code enforcement.

According to data, that WPTV requested from the Palm Beach County supervisor of elections, the most amount of voters and properties are in Zone 1. It also has the biggest difference between the number of registered voters compared to the number of properties in each zone.

Before voting to move the plan forward, dozens of people spoke out against the plan to annex an area called Zone 1 at Palm Beach Garden’s regularly scheduled council meeting.

Nancy Lodise, who was one of the protesters, said she is concerned Palm Beach Gardens will eventually force her home to switch from a septic tank to a sewer system. She estimates the expenses could create a financial hardship.

“I’m on a fixed income. I’m retired,” Lodise said. “$30,000 to $50,000 would be a financial burden.

Peter Banting, who lives in Zone 5, said in October he supports the project because Palm Beach Gardens completely encloses his neighborhood. He said he’s looking forward to receiving assistance to fix roads, which his neighborhood is currently performing rather than a local government.

“We went out and poured asphalt into the potholes,” Banting said. “It was the only way we could get maintenance of any kind.”

To fight against the proposal, some people in the Hidden Key community hired a lawyer named Nicholas Gieseler. He said Zone 1 is illegal because the city engineered a zone to dilute the voices of other areas, similar to a political gerrymander.

“The only reason they did this is because they know the communities they really want in their city aren’t going to vote for this annexation,” Gieseler said. “So they had to lump them in.”

The city disagrees because a consultant, whom it hired to conduct a required feasibility study, found the area to meet the compactness definition. A judge declined to rule on the lawsuit before the election Tuesday, which means it could reverse the decision after the election.

An additional lawsuit could also occur if voters in Hidden Key, which Palm Beach Gardens is trying to annex in Zone 1, also approve an annexation from North Palm Beach. The town’s city manager said they made the decision to annex the community amid Palm Beach Gardens’ plan announced in October.

Multiple council members approved the annexation plan because they said a vote would allow people to voice their opinions at the ballot box. However, some people owning property will not get to vote in the election.

Charlie Hollings, who is against the proposal and owns property in Zone 1, said his tenant will get the opportunity to vote for annexation rather than himself. He said he’s registered to vote at a different property and warned his tenant about the outcome affecting his rent moving forward.

“The most frustrating part about that is not having a say or control over my own property,” Hollings said. “I don’t understand how this system works.”

Ary Sehayik, who represented the owners of a commercial property, said the ownership group was frustrated because it felt like City Council was taking their property rights away. Data from the city show his taxes would increase by $5,000.

“As a commercial property owner, I feel like my property rights are being violated because we truly don’t get to vote,” Sehayik said.

Candice Temple, who is a spokeswoman for the city of Palm Beach Gardens, said the registered address for voting determines what is on the ballot at the polls after WPTV contacted the city about residents’ concerns in an email.

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