Thalatta Estate: A plan that needs more consideration

By Eugene Flinn….

Eugene Flinn

I believe the village council is wrong to spend $1 million in reserves on Thalatta Estate — a park that I proudly proclaimed to put the “Bay” back in Palmetto Bay at the 2005 State of the Village address.

Thalatta Estate, which was purchased in 2005 at nearly no cost to village taxpayers through millions in grant moneys intended for a public park, is now at risk of being repurposed from an open park for the general public to a rental event venue. We received over $3.6 million from the Florida Communities Trust alone.

The council has no business plan as of this date, but wants to rush forward with this ambition plan, pushed by the current Mayor Shelley Stanczyk, who was quoted in the Miami Heraldas stating that “We have a valuable asset to bring income into our coffers that doesn’t come off the back of our residents.”

Wrong. Spending $1 million in reserves is placing this “asset” squarely on the backs of the taxpaying residents as well as the fact that the village will be forced to remove this “asset” farther away from the general population and into the limited hands of those who can afford the privilege of renting. Rentals grant exclusive possession to the payee at the expense of open park space.

Note that rental estimates discussed have been for costs up to $7,000 for just the site itself. This is just the startup fee, not including tables and chairs, linens, catering, security and car valet services for each event.

Wedding events do not subsidize your county tax burdens at county parks such as Vizcaya, Deering Estate, Greynolds Park or any other numerous county parks. Events at Pinecrest Gardens are not reducing Pinecrest taxes. Rental events help defray the costs of the asset, but they are not money generators and it is foolish to think that Palmetto Bay could ever net out $200,000 to $500,000 per year to, as the mayor puts it, “bring income into our (Palmetto Bay’s) coffers.”

The current Palmetto Bay budget has projected revenues of $70,000 for this coming budget year. That is based upon nearly 24 expected events on the property as it currently exists. This is money in, not net profit.

There are significant expenses for putting on these events. Even if the number of events reached two each weekend, the net revenue would never reach a level that you would see any savings on your tax dollars. Again, events defray costs to taxpayers, never realizing a profit for the taxpaying public.

Besides, is the purpose of government really to go into a profit making business? I would say the business of this Palmetto Bay government should be to provide free access to the bay for its residents of all ages, with revenue events scheduled to help defray the costs. Rentals should be ancillary, not the primary purpose of this great public free (for now) asset.

As part of the original council, the village leadership worked very hard to save money for emergencies. We wanted to not fall into the same fiscal ruts of other traditional governments. I am proud that we saved over $9.5 million in less than eight years, especially impressive when you consider that we paid the county up to $1.7 million per year in mitigation fees for the first 84 months and specialized police services of up to $380,000, or part up for the first five years.

It was hard work to both upgrade services and save $9.5 million, so forgive me if I get a bit touchy about what I see as illadvised spending in the very first budget completed by this new village council, spending down $1.5 million of hardfought reserves, reversing eight years of policy of saving.

This is just their first budget with no announced major grants to mitigate the costs of projects obtained this last year by this current council. What will happen; will we see reserves decline in coming years? Will taxes go up?

The ambitious, but ill-advised plans for Thalatta Estate should be put off for now and not passed unless approved through a transparent public parks master plan process.

Eugene Flinn is the founding Mayor of Palmetto Bay, having served from 2002 until term limited in 2010.

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