A capsule look at the issues
Editor’s note: As Delray voters prepare to go the polls on March 14, the Delray Newspaper offers a brief look at hot topics on the city’s agenda. We hope this capsule view offers you a primer on some of the issues to consider.
Economic development is the lifeblood of a community.
Cities need to be cognizant of their tax base and whether they remain competitive as attractive locations for people to live, work, visit, recreate and invest.
Delray’s economy is heavily weighted toward tourism and hospitality—food and beverage serving as key drivers for the city’s brand.
The recovery industry is also a large player and a source of considerable local angst.
Real estate sales and development are also key economic drivers as Delray has enjoyed healthy appreciation of both commercial and residential values since the end of the recession.
Over the years, there have been efforts made to diversify the local economy led by the city, the CRA, Downtown Development Authority and Chamber of Commerce. Key targets have been entrepreneurs, tech companies, retailers and creative industries ranging from architects and designers to advertising and social media firms.
While the downtown has thrived since the late 90s and early 2000s, key parts of the downtown remain vulnerable to seasonal swings, a lack of downtown office space and high rents.
Areas that can use help include: North Federal Highway, Osceola Park, South Swinton, South Federal Highway, Northwest/Southwest Fifth Avenue and West Atlantic Avenue.
Congress Avenue and the “four corners” area of Military Trail and Atlantic Avenue also have potential.
Sober Homes/Heroin Addiction/Homelessness
By some estimates, the nation may be enduring the worst substance abuse epidemic in history. Heroin, prescription painkillers and now fentanyl are leading to record numbers of overdoses, deaths and a need for recovery services. It is also feeding a growing homelessness and vagrancy issue.
While the problem is nationwide, Delray Beach has been hard hit. But despite cries from residents to just shut down sober homes and recovery centers, the truth is cities are hamstrung when it comes to their ability to control, regulate, close down or ban facilities. The industry is protected by two federal statutes: the Americans with Disability Act and the Fair Housing Act which protects people who need services. It is illegal to discriminate against people in recovery. A recent joint letter from the departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development is said to give cities some discretion on the location and proliferation of new facilities, but city attorneys and industry representatives are divided over whether the letter will have a demonstrative impact on hard hit communities.
Residents are also concerned about a growing homeless and vagrancy problem mostly in the downtown area. Cities nationwide are struggling with the issue.
According to a semi-annual report released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Delray experienced a 17.5 percent increase in the number of property thefts in the first six months of 2016 compared to 2015. There was an 8 percent increase in burglaries and a 24 percent increase in stolen vehicles, according to the stats.
In June 2016 alone, the city logged 108 auto burglaries, long time cops can’t remember the last time they even came close to 100.
While commissioners don’t have a direct impact on crime prevention, their support or lack thereof for law enforcement can make a big difference in terms of resources.
City Finances, Operations, Personnel
While Delray Beach has a growing tax base, healthy reserves and a high bond rating on Wall Street, city officials have raised concerns about finances ranging from pension liabilities and the high cost of events to the costs of dealing with the opiate crisis and more.
Residents and contractors have raised concerns about the lengthy permitting process and others have poked holes in city operations and practices.
Turnover remains a concern, with the city still searching for a permanent city manager among other issues.
An emerging issue in Delray Beach is culture, not of the artistic kind, but the kind that refers to civility, collaboration and a sense of community.
The City Commission is split 2-2 and longtime watchers of city politics are comparing the tension on the dais to the 1980s, a time of divisive politics and instability.
The advent of social media and the increasing coarseness of campaigns has left Delray divided and has discouraged experienced civic volunteers from running or even serving on boards. For the first time in memory, civic institutions ranging from the 90 plus year old Chamber of Commerce to Old School Square have had periodic and sometimes sustained rocky relations with the city over events, leases, programming and the make-up of their boards.
Candidates running for the two seats will be asked to grapple with these issues and more.
A capsule look at the issues