LGWCD Finalizes Annual Budget

The Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Board of Supervisors approved a resolution Monday setting its assessment rate and certifying its assessment roll, projected to bring in $1,564,885 in revenue for fiscal year 2012-13.

The board set assessment rates in July at $135 per acre for maintenance of properties on unpaved roads, which is $16.45 below the current assessment rate of $151.45 per acre.

LGWCD Attorney Mary Viator explained that the resolution is different than in the past because there are four roads paved with open graded emulsified mix, or OGEM, as well as a culvert project being paid for by assessments. Viator said notices were mailed and the district received four letters challenging the assessments.

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council in July approved $150,000 to help finance district road maintenance, which allowed the district to adopt the lower rate. The council also approved a subsidy to pay for a portion of the debt assessments on four OGEM roads, which would normalize the assessment rate to no more than $104.17 per acre.

The debt assessment rate for North D Road was lowered from $113.61 per acre to $104.17 per acre. The rate for South C Road was lowered from $162.70 per acre to $104.17 per acre. The rates for North A Road and North C Road remain unchanged since they are below the normalized rate of $104.17 per acre.

Several residents filed letters complaining about the assessment, and Viator said she wanted people to understand the process. “We have already been through the process,” she said. “This is the final notice that they will be assessed, not people actually protesting the process.”

Supervisor John Ryan made a motion to adopt the budget and assessments, and to acknowledge that there were four letters of protest. However, the protested properties were determined to be in the proper assessment areas. The motion carried 5-0.

In other business:

• The board also approved an emergency line of credit for $400,000 in the event that a state of emergency is declared by the governor.

At the board’s direction, LGWCD Administrator Clete Saunier said he contacted BankUnited to solicit their interest in proposing an emergency line of credit agreement under the same terms as the district’s agreement with SunTrust Bank, which had initiated a $2,000 annual fee to carry the line of credit, although it had not charged a fee at all prior to that.

However, BankUnited proposed an annual fee of $4,000, which is 1 percent of the credit line amount. He also asked SunTrust Bank if it would be willing to reduce the annual renewal fee from $2,000 to $1,000, and it agreed. The current emergency line of credit agreement expires Sept. 23.

Ryan made a motion to approve Suncoast’s fee of $1,000. “The fee is one quarter of 1 percent,” Ryan said. “That’s a very reasonable fee. For the benefit of having a $400,000 line of credit that’s secured against FEMA and other agencies, it is reasonable to have each year. I’d feel much more comfortable having this to rely on rather than dollars we have in the bank we may need for other purposes.”

Supervisor Don Widing agreed, saying he had just gone through a similar process at his job trying to get coverage. “We’re at the peak of hurricane season right now,” Widing said. “I recommend we approve this.”

The motion carried 5-0.

• The board also approved a referendum process for stabilization of North B Road with OGEM.

In May, the district received a petition from the property owners who access their property from B Road between the intersections of Okeechobee Blvd. and North Road, requesting that the board improve the road following the procedures set forth in the district’s enabling legislation for the other OGEM paving projects recently completed by the district.

The district has estimated the costs for stabilizing the section of B Road will be a total of $668,942. The acres benefiting from improvements are estimated to be 748, which would give an estimated cost per acre of $895.

The estimated annual cost per acre, if financed over 10 years, would be $108, assuming an interest rate of 4 percent annually.

A workshop has been set for Saturday, Oct. 22 at 7:30 p.m. to explain the process to the property owners. Ryan made a motion to approve the process, which carried 5-0.

• The board also decided to hire a new contractor to control vegetation growth after flooding during Tropical Storm Isaac was complicated by excessive vegetation.

Saunier said the spray used by the current contractor, DGC Environmental Services, proved to be inadequate and recommended the contract be terminated.

Saunier said his staff had attempted to work with the contractor about insufficient service for the past several months. Two site reviews were conducted with the owner where excessive vegetation growth was identified for immediate action. The contractor responded each time with additional manpower to spray the overgrown vegetation, but the chemical treatment proved to be inadequate.

Saunier recommended that the contract with DGC be terminated for default, provided that the contractor would be given 30 days written notice specifying the default and would have the opportunity to correct the problem within that time.

Saunier also recommended that the district’s procurement and contracting policy requirements for soliciting new aquatic vegetation control bids be waived and a new agreement with the previously advertised RFP’s second lowest bidder, DeAngelo Brothers/Aquagenix Inc., be executed contingent upon DGC Environmental Services’ termination.

Saunier recommended waiving the bid process due to the critical, immediate need for the district to secure an aquatic vegetation control contractor during the hurricane season. DeAngelo was the provider for many years prior to the current contractor.

Supervisor Don Widing made a motion to approve the termination process, and it carried 5-0.

• The board also decided to hold a workshop to iron out terms of a new contract with Saunier, whose current contract expires in November. Saunier has been administrator for 14 years and was hired at a time of instability in the district. The contract offered Saunier many benefits, including a separation package that assured supervisors would not terminate him for frivolous reasons.

The workshop was set for Monday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m. Several supervisors said they might favor offering Saunier the same benefits package as other employees, and set a salary range.