Water quality issues appear to be at the forefront for members of the Broward and Palm Beach delegations this Legislative Session.
Transitioning from septic tanks to sewer systems was a bipartisan desire voiced by members of both counties’ delegations.
“The quicker we get to sewer, the better it will be for the environment,” said Rep. David Silvers, a West Palm Beach Democrat.
“Septic to sewer is extremely important for environmental purposes. And I think it would be beneficial for the district.”
Those sentiments were echoed by GOP Rep. Chip LaMarca of Lighthouse Point.
“One of the things that’s really important to me is there’s a very well-funded local match in Lauderdale-by-the Sea for a septic-to-sewer project,” LaMarca said.
“We want to get them off of septic tanks that are failing on the Intracoastal and across in the ocean, which would affect our waterways.”
LaMarca’s legislation (HB 4741) calls for $1.35 million to help with the project. And Silvers has offered up two appropriations bills. One would put $11 million toward a project in Palm Springs (HB 2157). Another calls for $600,000 to help Lake Clarke Shores in their transition off of septic (HB 2931).
Septic tanks have been pegged as a culprit in the recent algae outbreaks, according to January testimony in front of the state Senate. The system’s inability to clean waste is reportedly contributing to the growth of toxic algae. The issue was also raised at a Wednesday meeting of the Florida Congressional delegation.
“We’ll be fighting for some of that money to make sure those things happen here in Palm Beach County,” added Sen. Bobby Powell, a Palm Beach Democrat.
But Powell made clear there’s another top priority when it comes to Palm Beach.
“The big thing that the county kept talking about this past year was affordable housing.”
LaMarca echoed those concerns, saying the situation also needs to be addressed in Broward County.
“Affordable housing and the Sadowski trust fund is probably the top issue, in trying to make sure that is left intact as much as possible.”
The Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund is supposed to set aside tax money to be used to help individuals find affordable housing. But lawmakers have routinely diverted money from that fund.
Sen. Debbie Mayfield has filed a measure in the Senate (SB 70) to stop that practice. Reps. Silvers and Rene Plasencia have filed a bipartisan companion bill in the House (HB 1103).
LaMarca also discussed a bill to extend the Fort Lauderdale Downtown Development Authority (DDA) by 20 years. The DDA aims to upgrade the city’s downtown by collecting property tax revenue.
LaMarca says the DDA is working on a project to rebuild City Hall and another on the federal courthouse. Given the lengthy time frames of those projects, LaMarca didn’t want to let the DDA expire in 2030 before the buildings are completed.
“It wouldn’t increase any tax dollars going into [the DDA],” LaMarca said of his bill (HB 1185), which would keep the DDA running until 2050.
“It would just keep it in place for the additional time.”
Representatives from Palm Beach County also spoke about a pair of local bills. A measure from Rep. Silvers (HB 819) would revise the boundaries of West Palm Beach’s downtown development district.
And Rep. Matt Willhite, a Royal Palm Beach Democrat, introduced a measure (HB 901) to sign off on a new agreement between West Palm Beach and its firefighters.