RIVIERA BEACH, Fla. — The Port of Palm Beach is an economic engine for Palm Beach County and the surrounding areas. It processes more than $14 billion in commodities annually, according to the port.
Michael Williams, the port's director of finance, said inflation is hitting the port hard and a tariff increase is needed to keep up with the rising cost of labor and materials.
"For us, there are real hard costs that have increased," Williams said. "And, really, when you look at a CPI increase of over 10% in the Miami urbanized area, which includes West Palm Beach, this increase of 5% really doesn't keep up with inflation."
The 5% increase would be the largest tariff increase the port has ever made. The owner of one Palm Beach County company said it could be the last.
Glen Dias owns Gulfstream Line. He said he's been running the business out of the port since 1973. Gulfstream Line transports anything from food to materials between South Florida and the Bahamas.
"I've already been talking with a few customers telling them what's coming, and they're already talking about not coming back up here and staying down south," Dias said.
Williams said the money generated by the tariff increase would go towards maintaining infrastructure and increasing wages at the port. He said they are currently negotiating with port union staff.
"Some of the hard costs for us besides, obviously, maintenance and upkeep of the port facilities, our liability insurance is increasing, health benefits are increasing, and so, with this 5%, this is how the port generates funds," Williams said.
According to the port's agenda, some of the labor rates could go up 25% or more.
Dias saids if the tariff increase pushes his clients to go elsewhere, it could make it tough for him to maintain his labor and material costs.
"If they leave to go somewhere else, that's less revenue for my company to pay our bills, to pay our employees and to pay for equipment," Dias said.
The tariff increase would not impact all companies using the Port of Palm Beach. Many of the larger companies like Margaritaville at Sea are locked into contracts. Dias said because his company doesn't have a major shipping line, it isn't able to secure a contract. He said he hopes to take this up with county commissioners in August.
The Port of Palm Beach scheduled a public hearing for Tuesday, but the meeting was postponed.