The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council and Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Board of Supervisors held a long-awaited but positive joint meeting Tuesday, Jan. 17 to discuss the transfer of remaining district roads to the town.
Other issues discussed included road maintenance responsibility and the future of the LGWCD.
“I think it would be a lot simpler if the town takes care of roads and the district takes care of drainage, and we try to figure something out with the trails,” Vice Mayor Tom Goltzené said. “We could assign the gas tax money essentially to the function of taking care of the roads, which is all we’re trying to do. I would like to see that as a first step. As to the dependence or independence of the district, I do not see why the district cannot remain independent if it’s a drainage district.”
Goltzené said much confusion has arisen over part of the roads belonging to the district and part of them to the town. “Make it simple,” he said. “If we can work toward turning the roads over, I think that would be a productive move.”
Supervisor Simon Fernandez said that he would like to see what is in the best interest of the community.
“Some of us are going to be staying here for the next couple of years, some of us won’t, so I think that we have a perfect scenario here to make it positive, reduce whatever cost we can to the taxpayers in this town, and once and for all get this done with the politics on the roads,” Fernandez said.
Councilman Todd McLendon agreed with keeping the district independent as long as it continues to do maintenance for the town.
“The roads and whatnot, that’s where the contention is all the time,” McLendon said. “It’s confusing to the residents. They call and have an issue with the road and the question is, is it a town road or is it a district road? I see it completely different from that. They are all town roads, every single one of them. If it’s open to the public, it’s a town road.”
He explained that in 2008, the town took responsibility for the roads, although the district still keeps a list of district-maintained roads.
“Some of the roads the district maintains and we supplement that,” he said. “That’s where the issues come up. I think that they all need to be turned over to the town. I understand there’s disagreements as to what’s the most cost-effective way of maintaining those roads moving forward, but I think it needs to be very clear that the town is responsible for every road.”
Supervisor Anita Kane agreed that the current arrangement is very confusing to her and to residents.
“During my time in office, I have worked very hard to get some things done, and it has been very close to impossible because it’s the same issue of who’s responsible for this and who’s responsible for that,” Kane said. “I think the separation of duties would alleviate a tremendous amount of confusion.”
She also wants an analysis of the cost for maintaining roads.
Councilman Ryan Liang said the district and town have always had problems with road issues, even before the town was incorporated, with the question of district and non-district roads.
“It has just got more complicated,” Liang said. “The question now is how do we transition district roads into town-dedicated roads. I think that’s the main thing we have to focus on.”
He suggested setting up a time frame for the transition.
“Our main goal, obviously, is to help the residents and property owners of the town, and also to streamline the town,” he said. “I think these workshops are a step toward that.”
Supervisor Laura Danowski agreed that the roads should be under one entity.
“It just makes sense,” she said, explaining that she was glad to see the town addressing specific road issues with drainage, stabilization, rock base and paving that have previously gone unresolved.
“The fact that three town roads are going to be dealt with as far as potential surfacing is concerned is a gigantic step in the right direction,” Danowski said.
She said she was still concerned about the increased cost of town road maintenance as compared to the district, although she agreed that the town’s private contractor does a more thorough job.
“Bergeron grades town roads, and they do an amazing job,” she said. “They have the equipment; they have the manpower.”
Danowski said it would be a good service to residents to inform them of the exact cost of the transition and benefits to be derived.
“It is our job as 10 elected officials to educate the residents and represent the residents,” she said. “I am all for working together and getting it done in a cost-effective, planned, timed, cost-analyzed manner.”
Supervisor Ron Jarriel said some roads are worse now than they were 10 years ago when a consultant was hired to see if it was feasible for the district to become dependent to the town, which concluded that it was not.
“That was 10 years ago,” Jarriel said. “Things are a lot different now. This town has a foundation, and it has a big bank account. We’ve got a lot more revenue coming in. We’ve got a contractor, Bergeron, that has brought the town roads up to grade. It has cost more than what the district could have graded them for, but the difference is when they come in here and grade a road, they assess it, they put the road rock material down, because so far we’ve had the funds to buy the road rock material. When the district was grading the roads, we argued about buying road rock material for them to put down on the roads and bring them up to par, so I think we need a professional outfit in here.”
Jarriel pointed out that the LGWCD has a compound where Bergeron could store equipment to reduce costs.
On the other hand, he pointed out that Bergeron’s contract calls for grading once a month, but does not provide for immediate service following a heavy rainstorm or other event, whereas the district can be there the following day.
“We need two entities to come together,” Jarriel said. “We need the district where we need them to grade at the spur of the moment. They can do that because our assessments pay for that grader.”
Jarriel suggested a referendum to ask voters whether they want the district to become dependent on the town.
LGWCD Chair Frank Schiola said the district still has the remaining fund balance from a bond that was issued for completion and maintenance of existing open-graded paved roads, but could not find a mechanism in the documents to transfer that balance to the town.
He also favored a referendum to ask voters if they want the balance turned over to the town or use the money to pay off the debt assessment.
“I agree that we need to do something with these roads,” Schiola said. “We have plenty of work to just do the canals. We’re here to streamline this so it works.”
Mayor Dave Browning said he does not believe that the town owns all the roads.
“I think that people in the legislature would disagree,” Browning said. “I think they need to go under one ownership, and it seems to be the consensus.”
Browning said a referendum is being planned to ask voters if they would support a bond issue for road paving to be repaid with gas tax money.
“Instead of just dribbling in over the next 10 years, it comes in as a chunk, we would be able to use it more effectively,” he said.
Supervisor Don Widing said he was encouraged by what he had heard so far.
“We are elected to do a job,” Widing said. “We are supposed to be good stewards of our residents’ money. As far as a dependent district or not, this isn’t the time for that. We’ve got to eat this one bite at a time. It took us years to get here, so we don’t need to panic and alarm the public like there’s some big crisis.”
After more discussion and an agreement to hold future joint meetings, Town Attorney Michael Cirullo pointed out that they could not take action at a workshop session. He recommended that each board work on scheduling the future joint meetings by placing items on their next agendas.