Tuesday’s vote still perplexes many Hobe Sounders

You would think that all Hobe Sound residents would be eager to create their own town. After all, as a town, they would get around $3 million a year back in taxes that they already pay – more than enough to cover administrative costs and have plenty left over to do … what?

Perhaps that’s one of the reasons that some residents are hesitant to mark “Yes” for incorporation on their ballot Tuesday. They see no need to spend any money on Hobe Sound. The edge of neglect in some areas seems to add to its small-town charm, which they prefer to … what?

What are the possibilities? They cannot quite imagine what the Town of Hobe Sound could become if an additional million dollars or two – above expenses – were freely available to spend on itself.

Certainly, the hesitancy comes from more than the lack of imagination, however, or with the responsibility that comes with electing five suitable council members and paying attention to how they will spend all that money.

Some issues bubbling up from under the ink on “No” signs have been identified and can be dispelled, such as the lack of need to “protect” Hobe Sound from inappropriate development. After all, say critics, all of Hobe Sound is already zoned, thus the county cannot come in and do something different, right? Wrong.

The maps were drawn in 1982 and reflect what existed at that particular moment. Our Comprehensive Growth Management Plan requires that if a development application meets all of the Comp Plan criteria, including setbacks, transitions, buffers, density, landscaping, open space, drainage, etc., then the zoning must be changed from the 1982 map to whatever is the most appropriate category now to fit the application.

The zoning does not always control what can or cannot be built.

Particularly vulnerable are the town’s mobile home parks, one of which has already disappeared to make room for a multi-story assisted living facility, not affordable for most residents. Maintaining Hobe Sound’s affordable housing is as great a concern as adding any amenity, say organizers. They have a valid point.

Another common complaint is that creating a town “just adds another layer of bureaucracy,” an anathema to independent-minded Hobe Sounders.

The truth is that it does not add an additional layer. It just replaces the layer that already exists – the Board of County Commissioners – with the Town Council of Hobe Sound, which would make the decisions that affect Hobe Sound.

Since those decisions do not have to be approved by the county’s board, there is no new layer … just expanded control over local issues by elected local representatives of local residents, giving added depth to those HSL decals!.

County services such as police, fire, roads, schools, etc., and the taxes that support them, including the new fire assessment fee, will match what residents outside of the town limits will pay. The town council will contract with the county, or with private firms, for those services.

So how can Hobe Sound operate its own government if all of its taxes go to the county?

Because, as an incorporated municipality, the town qualifies under state law to share in other taxes currently collected by the state, such as sales tax, gas tax, and fees that residents pay. Hobe Sound would collect $3 million annually from those revenue-sharing funds. Currently, Hobe Sound’s share goes to the county, but they’re not required to spend it in Hobe Sound.

The new town would keep its administrative expenses low by contracting as many employees as possible, as does Indiantown, which contracts all its employees. Contract employees pay for their own health and retirement plans, which normally burden governmental budgets – the key to keeping budgets under control.

It’s the same model adopted by the City of Weston in Broward County, which even with 66,000 residents has fewer than a dozen city employees. It contracts with the county, private companies and even non-profits for all of its services. After 22 years, it still has the lowest combined tax rate in Broward County and is often listed as one of the best towns in the U.S. in which to live, as well as most recently being ranked 8th safest in the entire country.

But Weston is not Hobe Sound, and Hobe Sound does not want to be Weston.

So what is the problem with creating a new town? Incorporation is obviously financially possible. It gives residents greater control and a bigger voice. The county government could no longer arbitrarily and unethically impose its will, and with an additional million dollars or so to spend each year, some exciting things could happen for residents and businesses.

The problem is trust. We’re awash in a sea of corrupt politicians at every level of government, including in our own county. Although Hobe Sound has suffered under the corrupt hands of county government, it’s not readily evident, unless of course you are the hard-working owners of Flash Beach Grille. Just ask them.

However when most people talk about corruption, they’re talking back-room deals to get rich and the kickbacks that come along with them. How could anyone trust that it would not happen in Hobe Sound? The truth is, there’s no guarantee that it won’t.

The difference is that Hobe Sound residents will be much more likely to know the character, as well as the qualifications, of those they elect – and character counts the most. Corruption also is much harder to hide in a small town, giving voters the power to stop it should they make a poor choice for council members.

The same holds true for taxes. A Town of Hobe Sound gives five people the power to increase taxes, and that’s scary indeed, but residents would see it. The council will meet at night, so they’ll know about it. They’ll have the power to stop it, something much easier to do when residents know immediately the decisions that are made.

And, yes, Hobe Sound is a destination for retirees. The age of Hobe Sound residents is rapidly rising, and the number of those under the age of 18 has not increased in 10 years.

Does that mean that Hobe Sound is destined only to be the place to go die? No, we don’t think so. The Town of Hobe Sound could be, should be, the place to go live.