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Palm Beach County Can't Just Tax Mar-a-Lago

Newsweek logo Newsweek 4/12/2017 Greg Price
The Mar-a-Lago estate in Palm Beach, Florida, April 5. A Palm Beach County commissioner said Tuesday a simple vote would not be enough to get back taxpayer money shelled out for the president's trips.: RTX34ALR© REUTERS/Joe Skipper RTX34ALR

As President Donald Trump gets set to visit to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida for the Easter holiday, county commissioners are reportedly toying with the idea of imposing a special tax on the private club in order to get reimbursed for the exorbitant security costs associated with repeatedly hosting the commander-in-chief.

Trouble is, one commissioner is skeptical such a measure could be a simple remedy.

Related: New Lawsuit Demands to Know Who is Visiting Trump at the White House, Trump Tower and Mar-a-Lago

To date, the president has already visited the club six times since he took office three months ago, including for his welcome to Chinese President Xi Jinping last week. The frequent visits, including some that have not involved official policy discussions, have resulted in costs of roughly $60,000 per day to Palm Beach County, or nearly $2 million in the last 12 weeks, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Xi’s visit alone cost $250,000, said the county sheriff, Ric Bradshaw, according to the report.

Federal government officials have told the county commissioners they will be reimbursed, but they are evidently tired of waiting. One commissioner, Dave Kerner, had suggested redistricting Mar-a-Lago in order to cover the security costs associated with a Trump visit.

“We're very honored to have the president here, but at the same time, his travel here is such high frequency he's not visiting Palm Beach County—he's governing from it,” Kerner told Money magazine last month. “Whatever our priorities are, the taxpayers didn't pay this money to us to protect the president.”

Trump has been receiving tax breaks on the property since he purchased it in 1985. The billionaire gave away development rights to the property for one, and because it is classified as a club, rather than a hotel, he received another tax break.

Given the recent surges in the club initiation fee and annual dues for members, it would appear Mar-a-Lago could foot a heftier tax bill. It’s estimated to be worth $150 million, with the initiation fee jumping to $200,000 since Trump’s election victory and members shelling out $14,000 annually.

But switching up the tax code doesn’t fall under the county commission’s purview, District 1 Commissioner Hal Valeche told Newsweek in a phone interview Tuesday. Rather, a redistricting would have to occur under one of the county’s special and independent taxing districts, not via a simple vote from the commission.

Doing so, according to Valeche, would still be cumbersome to the rest of the county, even though the potential measure would be created for just one entity: Mar-a-Lago. He said the county’s congressional delegation, as well as the county commission, had written letters to receive the funding, adding that the commission had not been briefed recently.

“The simplest thing would be for the U.S. government to reimburse,” Valeche said, adding that he was “puzzled” and “troubled” it hadn’t already.

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