Boca’s August election results in November runoffs

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By: Marisa Gottesman Associate Editor
Boca voters were split in the August election resulting in a narrow victory for council members receiving raises and two runoff races for the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District candidates.
Voter turnout was low and the results were close in all but one question posed to voters.
That means voters will have local items on their November ballot in addition to selecting a new president.
When it came to deciding whether council members should receive a raise, just over 50 percent of the 9,873 voters agreed to the raise to the 49.57 percent who wanted to keep the council salaries the same. Election officials said the 85-vote difference did not require a recount.
As of Oct. 1, the mayor’s annual pay will increase from $9,000 to $38,000. Each council member’s annual salary will increase from $7,200 to $28,000.Their benefits of a $5,400 annual car allowance, health benefits and contributions to the state pension will remain the same.
This is the first pay increase for Boca’s deleted officials in more than 30 years. Voters have rejected giving the elected officials raises twice before, but the third time was the charm.
The reason given behind the pay raise is to be able to attract qualified candidates to run for the part-time position.
“It was gratifying to see the city’s residents recognize the caliber and commitment required to be an effective mayor or council member,” Councilman Robert Weinroth said. “Our city has benefitted from residents willing to study the issues facing our city, run for elected office and work collaboratively with fellow council members and community leaders to make Boca Raton a much sought after place to live, work, learn, raise a family and play. I am honored to be a member of the council and could not think of another place my family and I would rather live than in the City of Boca Raton.”
Voters were sure about wanting the ability to decide at the polls who should fill a vacant council seat. Of those who hit the polls, 69 percent voted that the city should hold a special election to fill a vacant seat rather than allow council members to make an appointment to fill the spot.
A special election can cost taxpayers more than $100,000, according to election officials.
Councilman Scott Singer said he proposed the rule change to give residents a chance to have a say in who is making decisions for them on the dais. A majority of voters agreed with him.
“I’m very pleased that Boca Raton residents overwhelmingly showed they want to elect their leaders, and not have insider elites handpick them,” Councilman Singer said. “The votes in Boca Raton and in Wellington, where a similar change also sailed through, show that the people care about democracy and staying involved.  I’m happy to foster greater resident roles in our government.”
Voters were torn on who should sit on the Greater Boca Raton Beach and Park District board. The board consists of five people, who represent a special taxing district of Boca residents and some unincorporated residents. The board makes decisions on how to spend tax dollars to upgrade and update parks and buy land for new parks.
Of the six candidates running for two seats on the board, none of them were able to secure more than half the votes to win their race.
So, the top two candidates will compete once again in a runoff race during the Nov. 8 general election.
In the first race, incumbent Dennis Frisch will take on a one-time city council candidate Craig Ehrnst. Frisch received 41.77 percent of the votes compared to Ehrnst’s 35.26 percent, according to voting tabulations posted on the county’s election site.
For the other seat, incumbent Earl Starkoff will challenge local business owner Erin Wright again. Both received about 37 percent of the votes.
Also on the November ballot for Boca voters will be a question about what the city can do with city-owned waterfront space. The citizen-driven referendum asks residents to vote that the land could only be used for “public use.”
The proposed rule doesn’t mention the city’s plans to develop the former site of the Wildflower into a restaurant.
It has been a top priority of the city and its council members to put the former downtown nightclub back on the city’s tax rolls. The city purchased the property for $7.5 million in 2009.
Residents have been torn on developing the overgrown eyesore into a Hillstone Group restaurant or preserving the space for a park. Now, the residents will likely have the final say on the project through the proposed referendum.