During a discussion of quit-claim deeds Monday required by the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Board of Supervisors to turn over remaining district roads to the Town of Loxahatchee Groves, Chairman Frank Schiola passed the gavel to make a motion to turn over all district roads with the provision that the remaining debt of residents who approved a bond issue for their road improvements be settled.
The motion failed for lack of a second, although other supervisors favored continuing negotiations that began at a joint meeting with the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council last month to turn over remaining district roads to the town, where all attending appeared to be in consensus.
“Since we were all at the meeting, we heard what each other said about our respective counter-partners at the town,” Schiola said. “I did listen very, very carefully, not only to them, but to the board up here.”
He said that Supervisor Anita Kane made a lot of sense when she first came on the board about the inequity of taxing some residents who agreed to bond issues to have their roads paved with open-graded emulsified mix (OGEM).
“The town made it very clear that they want a list of the roads now,” Schiola said. “I want to give them the roads now, and I want to put it in the form of a motion now in front of this board that we turn over the remaining Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District roads to the Town of Loxahatchee Groves, and I want to also put in there with the proviso that because they do want us out of the road business, and I do want to get out of the road business, that they go in and take over the $1.2 million debt that’s on the OGEM roads.”
No one seconded the motion, and LGWCD Attorney Mary Viator pointed out that the agenda item had been intended for discussion only.
“I expected a lot of discussion about this, and I’ve thought long and hard about this, but right now the town owns North A Road, C Road and D Road, but yet the district is accepting assessments that those landowners agreed to through a legal vote,” Schiola said. “Why are they paying an assessment when everybody else in Loxahatchee Groves is getting their roads paved? It doesn’t seem right to me. It doesn’t seem fair.”
He added that he understood that at the time, the district had no funding mechanism other than a bond issue approved by referendum.
“Then the town came in and said, ‘We’re going to start paving roads.’ But because these roads were already done, those weren’t part of the equation,” Schiola said. “Those people there are paying district taxes, they’re paying that assessment and they’re paying town taxes. If this $6 million bond comes through for the town, they’ll be paying on that also.”
Schiola said to be fair, the town should take over the responsibility of paying off the debt service on the roads that the district paved.
Supervisor Don Widing said the board had met in good faith with the council and had agreed to continue quarterly joint meetings.
“I think that may have been stretched out a little too far, but I think we need to respect the process,” Widing said. “I don’t disagree conceptually with what Mr. Schiola has to say. I think in the end, I would want the same outcome. I think it is the right thing to do.”
He added that if the district wants to change its agreements with the town to turn over the roads, it should not be tangled up with money discussions.
“The money is separate, and what’s complicating all this is it’s going to take a little time,” Widing said. “I think we can get there, and I have the same destination. We’re each probably going to take a couple of separate roads to get there.”
He said one of the money complications that had not been discussed was gas tax money that the town had been allotting to the district for road maintenance.
“It has been a bargaining chip and a pain to me personally because it has been used that way,” Widing said. “I don’t want to offend anybody in the town, but that’s the way it has been interpreted to me.”
Widing said the district will still have a mission, and with the loss of the gas tax money will face either cutbacks in services or assessment increases. The district also would face legal questions as to the legality of the town taking over the district’s debt for road resurfacing that has already been incurred.
“We’re not there yet,” he said. “It may be doable, or it may not. If the town wants to take over that debt and bail them out, I don’t disagree with that, either. That would be a great thing to do, and it would be the fair thing to do for the community, but that’s where I’ve got to stop and say that’s the town’s business.”
Widing said that his goal is a plan by the town to start the process. “I don’t have answers for that yet, and I thought the purpose of the quarterly meetings was to do that,” he said, suggesting that they go to monthly joint meetings until all the issues are resolved.
Supervisor Anita Kane agreed that the road transfer and the money are two separate issues, and the money issues would be more complicated.
“There have been some discussions about repaving some of those roads, and they should be some of the first ones to take advantage of the OGEM that’s already down there, and asphalting over the top of it so that it doesn’t deteriorate completely,” Kane said. “There has already been a significant amount of money invested in those roads… so those should be some of the first that we put asphalt over.”
Supervisor Simon Fernandez said it was significant that the district and the town had met to discuss the roads.
“I think the next most important thing is another meeting not three months away,” Fernandez said.
He suggested that LGWCD Administrator Steve Yohe get another meeting going with the town to answer some of the questions raised that evening so the result will come after a smooth transition.
Widing agreed that a meeting sooner rather than later should be considered because the town and district would be starting their budget processes soon.
Supervisor Laura Danowski said she would like to find a plan and suggested that the town take the lead on that.
“I would like fairness and equity for all the residents,” she said. “Underwood Management has nine lovely plaques on their wall about their accounting prowess and money management and cost accounting. Put something on paper. The residents deserve a plan.”