In a joint meeting Tuesday, the two governing bodies of Loxahatchee Groves took steps to refine their relationship, with the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District agreeing to turn over recently paved roads to the town.
Meeting at the Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce building, both entities agreed that the LGWCD should remain independent, focusing its responsibilities on drainage issues and canal maintenance.
Bill Underwood, CEO of the Town of Loxahatchee Groves’ management firm, noted that he has seen municipal governments and special districts function together autonomously with each having well-defined roles.
The LGWCD will continue with grading and mowing roads, including town roads, under an interlocal agreement to be drawn up in the near future. The town will have the option to make agreements with other maintenance firms in the event that the LGWCD is not able to perform the work when needed, or if specialized equipment is required.
Although no formal action was taken at the meeting, the two groups reached a consensus that the respective bodies would take steps independently to pursue the agreed-upon goals.
Among them is the future of the roads recently paved with open graded emulsified mix (OGEM), including portions of A, C and D roads.
Town Attorney Michael Cirullo said he will need direction to work on transferring title of the district roads to the town.
“Right now, you’ve got the district and non-district roads that interplay with gas tax dollars,” Cirullo said. “You’ve got a lot of things to coordinate between the two.”
Cirullo asked both boards to decide on a course of action.
“If it is the desire of the boards to continue with the system that you’ve got, that’s the policy focus to deal with,” he said. “If it’s the policy direction to work toward a unified town system using the authority of the town as a municipality, that’s a different policy direction.”
“I would concur,” LGWCD Attorney Mary Viator said. “Once we get that [policy], we can expend the time and the money to go ahead in that direction.”
Town Manager Mark Kutney said roadway issues are being addressed more and more by town staff.
“We’re starting to evolve in that direction, accelerated due to Tropical Storm Isaac,” he said. “More and more requests are being made on town management staff to address roadway issues. It is very difficult for us to move forward without a policy and a procedure in place.”
Kutney added that addressing road issues is complicated by the privately owned easements that make up the system. “We want to move forward and work on these issues, but we also feel that legally, we have to make sure that we have all the tools we need,” he said.
Kutney said that working together, the town and the district can solve the problem.
“We have the brainpower and the ability to make these things happen,” he said. “There may be some issues to be overcome, but I believe if we’re all together, same goals, same page, we have the collective ability to do it.”
LGWCD Administrator Clete Saunier agreed, explaining that the agenda items under discussion had been developed by the Intergovernmental Coordinating Committee, made up of himself, Kutney, Supervisor John Ryan and Vice Mayor Jim Rockett.
“Mr. Ryan actually prepared this agenda, at least in its initial form, as a suggestion for us to consider,” Saunier said. “I think I would agree with Mr. Cirullo that policy direction is needed.”
Ryan said issues with individual deeds of easement make transfer of the roads more difficult and that a title action to give the district or town full claim to the easements might be necessary. He agreed that it would be appropriate to turn over management of district roads to the town as they are fitted with OGEM and speed humps.
Cirullo said that a deed held by Southern States Land & Timber is one of numerous documents that dictate the makeup of the district’s rights-of-way.
“That may address some of the roads, but not all of them,” he said. “You also have special acts that have been adopted recently, and the dedication statutes, which the town could take advantage of while the district could not.”
Cirullo warned that it would be a long process to perfect the title to the road system.
Saunier said the issue is further complicated by uncertainty over where the canal and road easements should be.
“The reason it’s an issue is because the canals, as we all know, were done back in the 1930s, where a guy held his thumb up and said, ‘Yeah that’s about right,’ so the roads in some cases are entirely in the right-of-way [and] sometimes they’re off the right-of-way.”
Supervisor Don Widing asked whether the issues might be simplified if the district were to become dependent to the town, and Underwood said he thought the district could function independently as long as respective responsibilities were clearly defined.
“In the cities I’ve been in, water control districts are commonly independent agencies,” Underwood said. “They don’t seem to have an issue dealing with the local governments and the right of access to the roads… In fact, they usually work very well together. The issue is trying to come together and determine what we want to do.”
Supervisor Frank Schiola said that if the group could come to consensus on the roads, he would feel the meeting had accomplished something.
Councilman Tom Goltzené said he favored the town assuming responsibility for the paved roads. “If the plan is to turn the roads over, the sooner the better,” he said.
Mayor Dave Browning asked for a show of hands to begin the process of turning over the OGEM-paved roads to the town, and it was unanimous.
Both bodies also directed their respective staffs to research the feasibility of turning the bond issue for the OGEM projects over to the town as well.