PALM BEACH, Fla. - Should The Breakers, Palm Beach playground for the rich and famous, get a $600,000 tax break?
The Palm Beach County Commission will decide Tuesday, when it considers giving the venerable icon a property tax exemption for renovated historic buildings, in this case worth an estimated $61,767 a year for the next decade.
The tax provision, added by the county in 1995, says that if a historic building is fixed up by the owner, the subsequent increase in taxes - based on the associated jump in the building's value - can be waived for 10 years. For the Breakers it would amount to just under 3 percent of $2.3 million the hotel paid last year in property taxes.
The program requires buildings to first be approved for a similar tax break by their own city or town, which must also have a deal in place with the county. The town of Palm Beach approved The Breakers' plan last December. Now it falls to the county commission to consider the deal.
It hasn't rejected one in recent memory, said Barbara Alterman, the county's director of planning, zoning and building.
Most applications are for single-family homes and seek a much small tax break, Alterman said. But the Breakers' owners also spent a lot more money on improvements, she noted - more than $13 million, according to county documents.
Such historic buildings "are part of our heritage, and particularly the Breakers," Alterman said. "That is definitely part of the history of Palm Beach County."
A spokeswoman for the resort said she couldn't immediately answer questions about the tax request. But Jane Day, a consultant for the Town of Palm Beach's landmarks commission, who worked on its application, said the application was based on The Breakers' renovation of 115 guest rooms. The work, completed last year, created 150 to 200 jobs, she added.
"The Breakers is a really good corporate citizen in the town, and we are very excited that they are working with the landmarks commission, and have been for years, to keep this property in its best historic state," Day said.
It's an "unusually large" tax break, County Administrator Bob Weisman said. Asked whether it matters that The Breakers is a well-heeled business, he acknowledged, "I'm sure some people are thinking about that."
But "it's the kind of work, in terms of historic preservation, that the [county commission] has previously approved," he said.
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