Downtown walkway to Boca’s new Brightline station clears first hurdle

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BOCA RATON — A new Brightline station will zip riders from downtown Boca Raton to Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach — with a future expansion to Orlando. And now the job of getting people to and from the station is starting to look easier.

A walkway from downtown to the new station cleared its first hurdle Monday when Boca’s mayor and city council gave the thumbs-up to a proposed budget. They will take a final vote on Wednesday, Sept. 22.

Construction on the Brightline station, which will be on the east side of the city’s downtown library, could be complete around this time next year.

Funding for the station itself will come from a combination of previously approved reserve city funds, from Brightline itself and from a $16.35 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation. But there will be additional construction and costs, such as parking, railroad crossings and walkways.

“We’re preparing to cover costs for a comfortable, walking pedestrian area that goes from Brightline to the downtown area,” said City Councilwoman Andrea O’Rourke. That walkway wouldn’t be built until after the station is complete.

The city also wants to build a railroad crossing at Jeffrey Street, just north of Yamato Road, as the street’s west end stops just east of the train tracks.

A community garden that was moved to accommodate the new Brightline Station will have a reopening ceremony on Saturday, Oct. 16 at 10 a.m. at Meadows Park, 1300 NW 8th Street.

Boca wants to hire an assistant city manager, two permit and licensing techs, two building inspectors and a construction inspector — at a total of $639,100 for salaries and benefits — along with more positions to help city’s new building reinspection program.

They’re also looking for three park rangers, sanitation and storm water maintenance workers, among others. Some of the recent staffing shortages have meant reduced programs or operating hours, City Manager Leif Ahnell said.

“We’re trying to open [the library] for Sunday hours, but we can’t get enough employees,” he said.

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The police department will get another $5 million, mostly to pay for increases in salaries and benefits, personal protective equipment, technology upgrades, surveillance equipment and other equipment.

And the fire department is set to get another $3 million, which will pay for a new fire truck and ambulance, among other expenses.

Ahnell recommends raising the general fund operating budget $16,776,400, or 9%, over last year’s. Instead of raising taxes, Ahnell wants the city to use the $2.2 million it received in COVID-19 assistance from the federal government, under the American Rescue Plan Act.

Ahnell praised the city’s low property tax rate as compared with other major cities in South Florida. With a millage rate of about 3.68, it was lower than Fort Lauderdale’s 4.38, Deerfield Beach’s 6.36, Delray Beach’s 6.84 and West Palm Beach’s 8.42.

Residents can speak during the public comment portion of the next budget meeting. It will be held at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Sept. 22 at 6500 North Congress Avenue. The meeting can be streamed live from the city’s website.

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