Three candidates for two open seats on the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Board of Supervisors met in a forum hosted by the Loxahatchee Groves Landowners’ Association on Thursday, June 9.
The candidates are incumbent Supervisor Dave DeMarois and first-time candidates Simon Fernandez and Anita Kane.
LGLA Treasurer Ken Johnson moderated the event, asking questions submitted by members after candidates introduced themselves.
Fernandez, a seven-year resident and owner of about 30 acres of land where he operates several businesses including a nursery, said that as a taxpayer and landowner, he wanted to be sure that he is getting his money’s worth.
“At the suggestion of one of the council members, he said that I should get involved, and this was my first opportunity to get involved with the community,” he said. “So I hope if I am elected to be of help and be of assistance.”
DeMarois moved to Loxahatchee Groves in 1979 and built a house several years later. He has been on the board since 1997 and has chaired the board since 2005.
“It has been a pleasure working with the people of Loxahatchee Groves,” he said. “When I first got on the board, the only people representing Loxahatchee Groves was the landowners’ association. You guys did that until 2006 when the town evolved.”
DeMarois said that the district has made significant road and canal improvements during his tenure, and he wants to work with the town to continue moving forward.
Kane has lived in the western communities for 20 years and Loxahatchee Groves for just over three years. She became involved with local government through the town’s Finance Advisory & Audit Committee, which she chairs.
“I have become very familiar with the financial issues of Loxahatchee Groves, and I think, like Simon, where I’m a business owner, I know how to make hard and intelligent decisions about getting the most for your dollar,” she said. “When things don’t happen when you own a business like we do, it’s your own pocket that the money comes out of. In this case, it’s the taxpayers’ pockets that the money comes out of, so I think there are areas that we can be more financially responsible.”
Kane said that the town and district should work more cooperatively.
“I don’t agree that it’s cooperative and moving forward,” Kane said. “In fact, I believe it’s very controversial, and I think that it would be really nice if landowners knew who to go to to ask questions and actually get an answer from, rather than, ‘That’s not our problem, that’s their problem.’”
Asked whether they favored merging the district with the town, Fernandez said he would prefer to wait and, if elected, see the workings of the district from the inside.
“Until I see the inside workings of the district, it would be unfair for me to say ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ Until I see the whole operation, and if there is anything being done wrong, or if it’s better for the town or better for the district, until I get to that point, I’m not going to make a decision,” he said.
Kane said special districts were created in Florida to perform a specific function.
“I’d like to see the district spend more time managing water and spend less time performing some of the functions it is currently performing,” she said. “With that in mind, whatever would be the most cost-effective for us as landowners, I think that’s the way that we should go.”
DeMarois said merging the district with the town is easier said than done.
“What a lot of people don’t understand is that when and if you become a dependent district, there’s a lot you have to go through to do that,” he said. “When you go through the steps, you actually have to go to the legislature. Before you do that, you have to have a referendum. When you do that, it’s done by an acreage vote, not by a regular vote.”
If the process is done successfully, the town takes ownership of all the district properties and manpower, DeMarois said.
“If it does that, it’s going to have to grow some,” he said. “I know the city is going to hold a referendum this year to see if it can borrow money and expand some of the things that you can do within the city, so that’s a lot to do going forward. If the people want it, I’m for it, and if you have a good council, I think that it’s better for the taxpayers.”
DeMarois pointed out that in its 10 years of incorporation, the town has had four different managers, while the district in that time has had few increases in property assessments.
Asked about their goals for improving roads and canals, Kane said that the first thing that she would recommend is that remaining roads get turned over to the town.
“I think that would simplify the process of who’s responsible for what,” she said. “And I think that it will allow the district to do what its intended legislative function is, which is to manage water. If we get away from roads and start working on some of the easements that are still blocked, on managing the water, putting in drainage, I think that’s a much more effective use of the landowners’ money.”
DeMarois said that the roads could be turned over to the town, but that if it does not have enough money to maintain them, it would have a negative impact. He said some council members have complained that some of the roads turned over to the town had not been properly maintained.
“We’ve had two or three council members openly and publicly say, ‘Wow, we’ve got these roads; they’re not up to par.’ How come the water control district isn’t doing that? It’s because we keep our taxes low,” he said.
Nevertheless, DeMarois added that the district roads and canals are in better shape than they ever have been.
Fernandez said he would focus operations of the district in road and canal maintenance. “Once again, like a business, a government agency, the money is going to come regardless,” he said.
Asked about cleaning out the canals and discouraging littering, DeMarois credited landowners with helping keep the canals clean, and pointed out that the district recently purchased a long-reach backhoe that is in a scheduled program for canal maintenance, but said it is difficult to stop people from dumping debris into the canals.
“Who pays for it? We all do,” he said. “We all have to get rid of that stuff.”
Fernandez said closer monitoring of district staff might help.
“One of the common comments that I have received from the voters is, ‘Sometimes I see them sleeping in the trucks; sometimes I see them talking on the phone,’” he said. “That would be one of the areas where we need to take the management and put it in place to make sure that the canals are clean.”
Kane said she agreed with Fernandez, and added that she felt the district’s equipment is not appropriate for the job.
“The Thing-a-Ma-Digger is actually not the right piece of equipment to use,” she said. “That’s evidenced by all the dents on it, the fact that the lights are all smashed out, and it has been dumped in the canal three times by the operators and had to be pulled out. A long-stick backhoe would actually be much more effective.”
Kane added that if the district turned over roads to the town, it would not need equipment such as graders.
The proxy-vote election will take place on Monday, June 27, with ballots to be counted and results announced at the LGWCD annual meeting at 7:30 p.m., where the top two vote-getters will be nominated and elected. Property owners can obtain a proxy voting form at www.lgwcd.org.