You’ve got to feel for Hollywood residents, who after those in Lauderhill and Lauderdale Lakes, pay the highest tax rate of Broward County’s 31 cities. The cost hits home not only at tax time, but when they try to sell their property and see the sticker shock on buyers’ faces.
Because of generous union contracts awarded over the years, $50 million of Hollywood’s $282 million annual budget goes to pay legacy pension costs — money that could otherwise have funded a badly needed city facelift.
Instead, city commissioners are asking voters on March 12 to approve three bond referendums — $78 million for a new police headquarters; $64 million for city parks, golf courses and cultural facilities; and $23 million for neighborhood improvements, including seawalls, sound walls and signage.
We encourage taxpayers to dig deep and vote yes on all three. The city will be better for it.
That said, passing these bonds means the cost of living in Hollywood will increase again. For a home with a taxable value of $165,000, the three bonds would add $106 to the annual property tax bill. That’s not an insignificant sum in a city where half the residents are what Mayor Josh Levy calls “income constrained.”
Plus, if the city commission soon passes a $400 million bond for a needed septic-to-sewer program, water rates will also increase. And don’t forget the county sales tax just increased by a penny for transportation.
It’s clear that Hollywood has rebounded from the dark days of 2011, when it faced a $38 million budget shortfall. The last two years, its budget grew 9 percent a year, with taxable property values jumping from $13.2 billion to $16.4 billion today. (Every new billion of value adds $7.5 million to the city’s general fund.)
With the clouds having parted, the city last month eased years of strained relations with the police union by restoring the pension benefits it cut in 2011. In return, officers agreed to take lower cost-of-living increases, forego merit increases through September 2021, and contribute more toward their pensions and health insurance costs.
Now, commissioners want to address the city’s look and feel.
When these bond proposals first surfaced last year, we were skeptical. But the city has listened, made adjustments and created proposals certain to improve the city’s appearance and the residents’ quality of life.
Among other things, the plans call for:
— Building a 120,000-square-foot police headquarters — almost twice the size of the current headquarters — on the site of the driving range at Orangebrook Golf and Country Club. A 450-space parking garage also is planned.
By moving the police station off Hollywood Boulevard, the city would open a prime, two-acre site for something that would enhance the boulevard and boost the city’s tax rolls. It’s an appealing idea.
That said, the city should be embarrassed for having allowed this building to become such a rundown moldy mess. It’s one thing to argue that the police force has outgrown a building built in the 1970s, when the force was half its size. It’s another to see photos of its shocking state of disrepair. Some governments manage to keep buildings healthy for hundreds of years. This one is only 50. There’s no excuse.
— Revamping the 265-acre Orangebrook complex in a way that preserves, yet enhances, two 18-hole courses. One course would be designed to meet championship-level standards, something that would become a destination and enhance the city’s sizzle. Plans call for a new clubhouse and a hotel, though no one can yet say which brand. The complex would be wrapped by a perimeter trail for walkers, joggers and bikers.
— Updating the Hollywood Beach Golf Course designed in 1924 by Donald Ross, a revered name in golf course architecture. A new clubhouse would be built where the old one was torn down. A perimeter park with walking trails would invite non-golfers. And with fences replaced by a more natural buffer, it would enhance city life near downtown’s Young Circle.
— Adding about 14,000 feet of seawalls around North Lake and South Lake, built in two phases and only on public property. Where there is now rocky rip-rap, seawalls would be built to the county’s new 5-foot (NAVD) height requirement. For existing seawalls, that means a likely rise of about 2.5 feet. These new structures are sure to alter the view, but they are sorely needed in neighborhoods on the front lines of sea-level rise.
— Adding sounds walls to protect three communities from traffic and other noise.
— Updating old and weathered neighborhood entry signs.
— Acquiring, if a fair price can be negotiated, the former Sunset Golf Course, which would be turned into a nature preserve with walking trails. The site could help with water retention and stormwater management. And decades from now, as the sea level rises, it could become a reservoir or “aqua-park.”
— Finishing the undergrounding of power lines in North Beach — those outside the boundaries of the Community Redevelopment Area — so all power lines on the barrier island would be buried.
— Holding off on plans to ask taxpayers to fund a new city hall. “We know we have issues, but right now, it’s not a necessity,” Levy said. “The community told us, ‘You need to stay with your existing city hall.’”
That said, Levy believes City Hall Circle is an underutilized site. He thinks it would make sense to explore a private-public partnership for its redevelopment. Nothing is in the works, he says, but “if an opportunity comes up, we shouldn’t shy away.”
South Florida is no longer a cheap place to live. And some of us are really struggling.
That said, Hollywood needs sprucing up.
Given its location and natural beauty, Hollywood should be so much grander than it is.
It’s not possible to pay for big improvements on a pay-as-you-go basis, Levy argues, and you can’t reduce the tax rate until you get growth in value.
These bonds will go a long way toward helping Hollywood gussy itself up and attract the kind of growth that will make residents proud. They deserve your support.
Editorials are the opinion of the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board and written by one of its members or a designee. The Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Rosemary O’Hara, Sergio Bustos and Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson.