In her ninth State of Palm Beach address, Mayor Gail Coniglio spoke about the upcoming positive changes in Palm Beach’s future – as well as some challenges that the town will have to tackle. [See the entire speech in the video above – 15:33]
She spoke about protecting the environment, nourishing the beaches, and improving salary and benefits for public safety employees. She also gave status updates on current construction projects.
Mayor Coniglio delivered her speech Monday morning during the Palm Beach Civic Association’s Annual Meeting, the 75th of the association’s long history. The meeting was held at the Henry Morrison Flagler Museum with more than 400 people in attendance.
Civic Association Chairman and CEO Bob Wright introduced Mayor Coniglio, describing her as “a strong advocate for Palm Beach and the community beyond the town’s borders. She works hard to build productive relationships with elected officials, staff, and other representatives in the county, state, and federal government.”
The mayor thanked the Civic Association for its work.
“It is your civic activism that has successfully fulfilled your mission to preserve, protect, and enhance the quality of life in Palm Beach for 75 years,” Mayor Coniglio said. “The extraordinary level of intellect, passion, and life experiences provides the impetus to ask the hard questions, seek new and innovative solutions, educate and engage our neighbors to prepare for the future while respecting our past.”
Mayor Coniglio likened the island’s residents to a family tree that “looks like the giant Kapok tree outside of this building. It has seen a lot, has grown with the times – yet keeps its strength and unique character. Our roots are what makes us strong.”
Preserving the Environment
The mayor urged the residents to be good stewards of the earth in order to preserve the environment for the future. She urged residents to support the town-wide partnership, under the leadership of the Civic Association, to “Go Green” and utilize reusable bags to eliminate the use of single-use plastic bags.
The town’s Public Works Department has implemented the “Green Initiative” – an effort to install and maintain native plants in our public areas, rather than exotic species that require a lot of chemicals.
“The white fly infestation a few years ago – and actions that were taken to address it – helped open our eyes to see that we should do better,” the mayor said. “Toxins in pesticides severely impact our ecosystem which can affect us, our children, our pets, right on down to the bees and butterflies. The bottom line is that we are improving the air we breathe – right here, right now – in our own backyards.”
The town is also looking to improve water quality, she said.
As fertilizers wash down into the waterways from rain and sprinklers, those nutrients contribute to algae growth. Although the county only requires 50 percent of fertilizer products to be “slow release,” the town applies 100 percent. Nearly zero percent runs off into the storm basins, she said.
Coastal Management Program
Through legislation and a commitment to make the Mid-Town project a federal project, the town has received approval for $25 million to improve the coastal management program. This will include long-term cost sharing, the mayor said.
“This help from the federal government, including assistance from FEMA, will be noticed later this year with beach nourishment in both Mid-Town and Phipps and dune restoration in Reach 8,” she said. “Looking at the challenges in front of us, a new 10-year plan will need to be developed with a focus not only on our eastern beach side, but also the lagoon’s western front.”
The accelerated capital improvement program is in its final season. This summer, the town will have five sewer lift stations under construction, along with two traffic signal replacements. Through this accelerated program, the town will have successfully rehabilitated all of the drainage pump stations and sewer lift stations.
“This new infrastructure improves the reliability of both our storm and sewer systems now and for many years to come,” Mayor Coniglio said.
Ongoing construction projects continue to impact traffic, the mayor said. Public Works staff publishes weekly traffic reports on the town’s website. These notices help guide us around road closures or lane closures due to construction.
The undergrounding project continues to make tremendous progress, the mayor said. Challenges in obtaining easements in Phase 3 north and south has slowed progress, but reaffirms the conviction that everyone must work together, she said.
Construction for the Southern Boulevard Bridge is on schedule for completion in February 2021 and construction of the Recreation Center is on schedule for a November 2019 opening.
Last year, the town completed a comprehensive review of town operations. This review looked at every service provided by the town and identified ways to reduce costs. The raking of seaweed from public beaches was one service that was under consideration for elimination. After hearing from residents, that service has been added back into the budget and both Mid-Town and Phipps beaches are being cleaned twice a week. (Cheers erupted from the appreciative crowd).
“Due to compensation, salary and benefits, we have been challenged to attract and retain the best-of-the-best public safety employees,” Mayor Coniglio said. “Salaries and benefit program upgrades will be considered later this spring based on the Palm Beach County marketplace. Input from you to the Town Council is critical as again we have to balance our checkbooks and exceed our expectations with levels of service.
“One way to help offset any additional costs to compensation is through increased revenues from the town docks,” she said. “Town staff, with assistance from our lobbyists, are working closely with the state and federal regulatory agencies to permit a new first-class marina at the town docks. Although the project comes with a healthy $32 million price tag, the annual revenue is estimated to be $14 million. The financial benefits to the town are obvious, but the result of a superior level of service – unmatched in the region – will make the project even more special and Palm Beach proud.”