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Trump’s visits to Mar-a-Lago stretching Palm Beach’s budget and locals’ patience

First Published      Last Updated Mar 20 2017 08:30 am

Palm Beach, Fla. It is high season in South Florida: blue skies, low humidity, warm temperatures and increasingly regular visits from the president of the United States.

With those visits, the busiest time of year for longtime residents of Palm Beach has taken on a new unpleasantness. Airplane noise, traffic and a rash of angry confrontations between pro and anti-Trump demonstrators are beginning to seem like the new normal.

"He's baaaack!" warned one resident on a neighborhood blog. "Get out your earplugs it is going to be another noisy weekend!"

President Donald Trump's trips here - which have added up to more than half of the weekends since his inauguration - are also forcing a brewing budgetary crisis for Palm Beach County, which faces the prospect of millions of dollars in unexpected costs associated with aiding in securing the president's luxury estate.

"I'm not sure that anyone understood that when the president referred to Mar-a-Lago as the 'Southern White House' he really intended to visit almost every week," said Rep. Theodore E. Deutch, D-Fla., who represents Palm Beach and is pushing for federal appropriators to address the growing costs. "There are a lot of people who come to Palm Beach County over the entire winter to enjoy the weather and enjoy the golfing."

"When the president chooses to do the same thing, it raises a whole host of other issues," he added.

Palm Beach County officials are warning about the ballooning costs associated with paying time and a half to sheriff's department deputies to secure the president's exclusive members-only club - a pricetage that is already more than $1.5 million - and county commissioners are pleading with federal officials to step in and relieve the financial burden.

"I would never consider a proposal that says we're not going to use our county resources when the president's here. It's our patriotic duty," said County Commissioner David Kerner. "Its just unfair that burden should be borne alone."

Kerner has proposed an inventive solution: levying a "special benefit" fee on Mar-a-Lago to recoup some of the cost. The alternative, according to Kerner, is raising taxes for everyone or making cuts to the budget.

Doing that could imperil proposals to allocate more county money to combat opioid abuse and to hire more sheriff deputies next year.

"Those are real issues: keeping cops off the street and diminishing our opioid epidemic response," Kerner added.

Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who has known Trump for the 25 years, met privately with the president in February at Mar-a-Lago.

"I told him we were incurring these expenses, and he said, 'I'm going to take care of law enforcement,'" Bradshaw said. "We were having a conversation, and he said, 'I'm a big supporter of law enforcement, you guys are doing a good job down here with the Secret Service, and I don't expect that you guys are doing it for free.' So he gets it, he knows what's happening."

The White House did not respond to a request for comment on whether the president feels the county should be reimbursed for the cost of assisting in his security.

Once just another celebrity living along what locals call "millionaires row," Trump is now the leader of the free world and along with straining the county's budget, his presence has upended some of the carefree peace of his winter enclave.

A local airport faces "devastation" as a result of flight restrictions. Residents in neighborhoods nearby complain about the constant jet rumbling of commercial flight paths redirected over their homes.

"They'll start with the planes going over at 5:30 a.m.," said Carol Canright, a West Palm Beach resident. "You have to turn up the volume to hear over it."

Local real estate agent Linda Cullen said flights are taking off over her house every three minutes when Trump is in town.

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