At the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council meeting last week, Vice Mayor Tom Goltzené said he felt an explanation was needed to voters for one of the town referendum questions that will appear on the Aug. 30 ballot asking voters whether they want to remove a town charter provision prohibiting Loxahatchee Groves from taking out loans that require more than three years to pay off.
At the Aug. 2 meeting, Goltzené explained that the express purpose of removing the requirement was to use gas tax money as collateral to take out a long-term loan to make road improvements.
“Without raising anybody’s taxes, we will be able to borrow that money, repay that with money that comes from sources other than local taxation, and then be able to use that money for the benefit of the people of Loxahatchee Groves,” he said. “If it does not pass, we will not do that.”
Goltzené said he would like to run ads in local media and on the town’s web site informing voters of the stakes at hand.
Town Attorney Michael Cirullo said it was OK to educate, but not to advocate. “It has to be stated objectively, as far as educate folks on what it means,” Cirullo said.
Goltzené said his intention was to get feedback on whether people wanted their roads paved or not, and said he had no intention of paving people’s roads if they did not want it, but did not want to have to hold a referendum on each road.
Cirullo said the charter amendment would remove the requirement to go to a referendum each time the town paves a road, and that taking out general obligation bonds does require a referendum.
Since there would not be another meeting before the referendum, Town Manager Bill Underwood suggested that his staff put together an announcement.
Goltzené made a motion to let town staff write the announcement, but Councilman Todd McLendon said he did not want to send out an announcement without seeing the final product.
“I’d have no problem had we done this a month ago, but I don’t want to give a blanket, ‘send out whatever you want’ approval,” he said.
Mayor Dave Browning was concerned that residents with paved roads had paid for the improvements in the past. “I think there really has been two sides on the district road-town road thing,” Browning said. “Loxahatchee Groves has always been a community. We have not always been a town. Even as a community, one of the problems was that our taxpayers paid every dime to maintain our roads while every other community around us got gas tax money. When we became a town, at first we didn’t even realize that we were going to qualify for gas tax money, but we did.”
He said the original founders of the town never wanted the town to go deeply into debt.
“Therefore, they said we will not borrow money to do things because it’s easy for a council to get visions of grandeur,” Browning said. “They didn’t want to borrow money, but at the same time, what we’re looking at is the possibility that we could borrow $6 or $7 million that would be enough to do all of our roads and only commit to pay back what we receive in gas tax money, which would not be a burden to anybody.”
The debt question is the third of three referendum questions being asked of Loxahatchee Groves voters on Aug. 30.
The first question asks whether voters want to change the town’s election canvassing board members and duties. Voting for the question would remove town council members from the canvassing board and designate board members as the town clerk and two people to be appointed by council resolution.
The second question asks whether the town charter should be amended to allow the duties of the town manager or management firm’s contract and qualifications to be amended by ordinance.
In other business, Underwood asked for direction on legislative priorities, and Goltzené said he would like to pursue money for road improvement, guardrails and water lines.
McLendon said he was OK with road improvements and water line money, but was concerned about getting guardrail money if it turned out that the equestrian trails had to be 25 feet from the canals.
“Perhaps we should look into putting culverts in covering those up, but at the same time that we do that, we need to offset that mitigation-wise with another natural area somewhere,” he said. “If we take over five acres of canal, we need five acres somewhere to mitigate that. You get something better anyway because it gets rid of the need for a guardrail, it gets rid of that safety issue and you’ve got a much wider path there.”
Goltzené said drainage improvements were the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District’s business, and he was concerned about property owners’ perception of widening the trails.
“Until people feel that the horse trail amenity is an improvement to the neighborhood, and not somebody stealing my land and putting something that I don’t want there — until you change that feeling in the community, you’re going to have a problem with horse trails,” Goltzené said.
The council also approved a resolution setting road improvement priorities.
The resolution provides that existing town roads provided by the LGWCD be incorporated into the road improvement prioritization plan. Funding options will be consistent with state law and the town charter. Consistent with state law, issuance of general obligation bonds pledging ad valorem taxation would still require approval by the town’s electorate.
Roadways eligible for town-financed improvements would be prioritized using a cost-benefit analysis based on the greatest benefit to the most people at the least cost per capita. Roads in the most deteriorated condition would be prioritized for improvement, and affected residents of the roads would confirm support for the proposed improvements, including providing the town any necessary easements or dedications.
Once a road requiring improvement is identified, and the affected residents have approved, a survey would be completed, if necessary, and bid specifications for improvements would be prepared by town engineers. Drainage associated with the improvements would be included in the improvements.
McLendon made a motion to approve the resolution, which carried 3-0 with councilmen Ron Jarriel and Ryan Liang absent.
During budget discussions, Goltzené said he would like to transfer money from the capital improvement fund into the paving of town roads, which had only about $200,000 set aside for that.
“That will not really achieve the goal we had planned for the road prioritization, which is to get these side roads done,” he said. “I think that we should transfer about $800,000 so that we have a full million for the purpose of road preparation.”
McLendon agreed with Goltzené. “I don’t think anybody disagrees with that,” he said. “We need to get serious and get done with it. I’m tired of pushing rock around week after week. It’s a complete waste of money.”
He noted that improving the roads will improve property values, which would in turn improve the town’s tax base.
Mayor Dave Browning agreed.
“I think we’re in a very unique time right now,” Browning said. “The paving, the asphalt, is cheaper than the rock, and part of that is the same reason we’re paying $2.10 for gasoline. A big part of asphalt is oil. Right now we’re at historically low prices.”
Goltzené made a motion to add $800,000 to the transportation fund, which carried 3-0.