By Tim O’Meilia
Trolleys, festivals and leasing park land to a bridge contractor were ideas suggested by Lantana Town Council candidates to help businesses survive when the East Ocean Avenue bridge is closed for reconstruction late this year.
And no one wants to raise property taxes.
The four candidates in the March 8 town election sketched out their thoughts to about 20 listeners during a forum sponsored by the Greater Lantana Chamber of Commerce Feb. 24 on the breezy covered deck of the Old Key Lime House.
Incumbent Tom Deringer said trolleys have been successful in the past in Lake Worth and Lantana and would be a good method to bring people from the Plaza del Mar shopping center in Manalapan to Ocean Avenue and other Lantana shops.
“The town’s got to make that investment in business,” he said, adding that he feared customers of Lantana businesses would simply shop in Lake Worth or Boynton Beach rather than circle around to Lantana when the bridge is closed.
His Group 3 opponent, Joe Farrell, supported an idea already proposed by town administrators: to lease land in Bicentennial Park to the bridge contractor for staging and storage of construction equipment. That may mean removing the playground during construction.
“Bringing in festivals is a great idea but we need parking,” he said.
Group 4 candidate Susan McCreery suggested water taxis might be used to bring shoppers to the mainland. “The parking situation has to be addressed when the bridge is closed,” she said. “The issue affects the whole town.”
Phil Aridas, her opponent, said the town needs innovative ideas to deal with the closure. “Let the restaurant owners bring their ideas to the chamber and then bring them to the council. We don’t have all the ideas,” he said, referring to the candidates.
Farrell said the town must promote beautification of businesses and residences to attract new investment in town. “Once Lantana is prettied up — without raising taxes — then businesses will be attracted to come here.”
McCreery, a member of the town’s planning and zoning board, agreed. “One of my hobbies is beautification,” she said. “When we encourage these efforts, it brings up property values.”
Deringer said town officials have to be welcoming to prospective businesses and not put obstacles in the way of obtaining permits. “We have to let people know we’re business-friendly,” he said.
Aridas proposed that the town create an “easy payment plan” of 30-60-90 days for cash-strapped business owners who must renew their occupational licenses and pay other fees.
“Town beautification is wonderful but cash flow is the biggest problem,” he said.
Mayor David Stewart tested the four, asking them if they knew the town’s property tax rate and how much revenue the town collected from property taxes.
All four were knew the correct numbers: $3.24 per $1,000 of taxable property value and $2.2 million. Only six years ago, the town collected $7 million.