The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council last week approved paying $150,000 to the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District to help finance road maintenance so the district can avoid an assessment increase this year.
Councilman Jim Rockett dissented in the 3-1 vote June 26.
Town Manager Mark Kutney said the request from the district was discussed at the Intergovernmental Coordination Committee meeting May 18. The town, which receives state gas tax revenue, has been granting the district between $130,000 and $150,000 annually to help pay for various road projects, including maintenance of non-district roads.
“The district has been consistent in terms of asking for $150,000,” Kutney said. “However, we’re still in the process of debating and discussing [the amount] as we go forward.”
Budget timelines put the council under time constraints for a decision.
“There will be several meetings in July and August on the budget, and they may have to call for a second meeting. We’re going to have input from the attorneys and… talk about it a little more,” Kutney said, adding that there has been discussion of having the district doing edging and grading along town roads.
The Intergovernmental Coordination Committee has two representatives each from the town and the district. This includes the district administrator and the town manager, along with a district supervisor and a town council member serving in a three-month rotation.
Rockett, whose first committee meeting was the one on May 18, said he opposed continued subsidies to the district without closer scrutiny.
“I don’t want to be in a situation where we’re always here for them to count on us,” he said.
Rockett said they also talked about the possibility of the town agreeing in writing with the district to increase maintenance of non-district roads that are the town’s responsibility, and that LGWCD Administrator Clete Saunier had been working on that agreement.
“That in itself will [increase] income for the water control district, which would be folded into how they would approach their resources,” Rockett said, adding that he wanted to assess “the real need.”
LGWCD Supervisor John Ryan, the district’s liaison, said people involved were working to arrange special meetings to meet budget deadlines, and that approval of the $150,000 was important so the district could avoid an assessment increase.
“I think it is difficult for everyone to schedule this time of year,” Ryan said. “We’ll work with the town on rescheduling.”
Ryan said the town has been sitting on a detailed spreadsheet of scheduled maintenance by the district, asking officials to “complete their review in the next day or two and go ahead and pay that so that we know what our cash balance is going into the discussion.”
Kutney said the town’s financial staff is reviewing the request. “That was dumped on us, and our financial staff has been reviewing it,” he said. “It’s not like we’re holding it and sitting around.”
Mayor Dave Browning said the gas tax is based primarily on the number of miles of roads in a municipality. “I don’t understand why there would be any question why we would hold up funds for the district,” he said.
Kutney said the money was being held up because inappropriate information had been submitted.
Rockett stressed that he was not trying to avoid paying the district.
“It’s a matter of having sufficient documentation to support the payment,” he said. “It’s our perspective, and staff’s perspective, that they have enough support that they can sustain an audit without a problem.”
He added that both entities have until Sept. 30, the end of the current fiscal year, to make things right. “I would think that we’re well ahead of that pace if we get done in July,” Rockett said.
Councilman Ron Jarriel said it didn’t matter to him where the money comes from, but that the town is collecting gas tax revenue based on district-maintained road mileage in the town.
“If my management team tells me that legally it needs to come out of contingency, and we have more than we need right now, then I say do what you’ve got to do,” he said. “We know that the district has to let the people know. They can’t wait until September when it comes to the budget. At their next meeting they will have to come up with a recommended increase.”
Jarriel said he doesn’t want residents to be told that there might be an assessment increase if there is no reason for such a notice to go out.
“We’ve got a town now, we’ve got the funds,” he said. “It’s not going to break us when we give $150,000 to the water control district. The purpose is to keep the district from raising assessments. We’re not throwing money to the wind; we’re throwing it back to the taxpayers.”
Jarriel made a motion to approve the $150,000 payment, which carried 3-1 with Rockett opposed and Councilman Tom Goltzené absent.