In a 3-2 vote Tuesday, the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council dropped a referendum to ask voters whether they want to let the council decide on issuing bonds requiring repayment of more than three years, which would have eliminated the charter-required public referendum on long-term debt.
The council did, however, approve several questions to appear on the March 10 ballot.
In a 4-1 vote, the council approved a nonbinding referendum asking voters whether they want roads improved. It also approved the preliminary reading of a referendum to ask residents, if they want roads paved, whether they’d be willing to pay for them.
The rejected referendum placing long-term borrowing in the hands of the council would have changed a charter provision requiring that voters approve any bonds for longer than a 36-month term.
Councilman Tom Goltzené initially made a motion to approve the question, which carried 3-2 with Councilman Ryan Liang and Mayor Dave Browning opposed, but then Councilman Jim Rockett made a motion to reconsider the question.
Goltzené said he had spoken to many people who would like to see certain capital improvements but do not favor the purchase of the Central Palm Beach County Chamber of Commerce building at Southern Blvd. and F Road for use as a town hall.
“If you’re going to do it, you shouldn’t spend all the money you have,” Goltzené said. “We need options. You don’t want to pay, but you want things done.”
The motion to reconsider carried 3-2 with Councilmen Ron Jarriel and Goltzené opposed, which reopened the item for discussion.
Rockett said he thought the town did not need to borrow money because it has sufficient reserves.
“We still allow for money to be borrowed by referendum,” he said. “I think we are not losing anything. Right now I don’t think we need it.”
Liang said he opposed the ordinance because of the wording.
“Whenever we need to borrow, it needs to be identified, and have it put on public record and discussed before potentially borrowing money,” he said. “I don’t feel safe leaving the terms up to the discretion of the town. It could lead to disastrous results.”
Jarriel said he has faith in the council, but the referendum would give residents the ability to say what they want. “There are things we haven’t done in this community that we should have,” he said.
Rockett said residents have the right to decide whether to borrow money for long terms.
“They have a right to a referendum to decide whether to borrow money,” he said. “We don’t need to change it and put it in the council’s hands.”
But Rockett added that he did favor purchasing the chamber of commerce building. “We’re talking about spending on rental money or putting something into something we’re going to own,” he said.
Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Supervisor John Ryan said the question would give residents the opportunity to express themselves, but pointed out that it takes only 200 signatures on a petition to get a referendum on the ballot.
Browning said he was glad that the town does not have a bond debt.
“We are a unique community, probably the only municipality that doesn’t owe money,” he said. “I have a lot of faith in this council. I don’t know what the next council up here will look like.”
Rockett made a motion not to place the question on the ballot, which carried 3-2 with Jarriel and Goltzené opposed.
The council did approve a straw ballot asking residents whether they want to see road improvements in the future.
Goltzené said that after rejecting the ordinance to approve long-term borrowing, he thought that ballot question would be pointless.
Jarriel, however, still wanted to hear from the people.
During public comment, resident Keith Harris said he thought that a nonbinding ballot question not addressing specific roads would be confusing.
Goltzené agreed, adding that the town does not have a road policy. “The question should be, ‘Do we want roads paved?’” he said.
Jarriel said the question would help develop a policy. “There’s nothing wrong with this,” he said. “It’s to help the council. We don’t have a policy. This is to help determine future policy.”
Finance Advisory & Audit Committee Chair Virginia Standish also called the ordinance vague.
“You are asking people to make general decisions on roads that they are not going to be charged for,” Standish said. “You don’t have a policy that dictates how they are going to be assessed, but you are asking for general feedback.”
Town Manager Bill Underwood said he thought the concept was to ask whether the council should establish a policy for road improvements.
Liang made a motion to approve the straw-ballot ordinance, which carried 4-1 with Goltzené opposed.
In another 4-1 vote, the council approved the preliminary reading of a referendum that would ask voters whether they’d be willing to pay for road improvements.
Underwood explained that some council members said at the last meeting that if residents wanted road improvements, they should be asked if they would be willing to pay for them through higher taxes or special assessments.
“We are not saying we are going to do the roads, but we are looking for feedback from the residents,” he said.
Rockett said he had a problem with a clause that read “and other improvements,” in addition to road resurfacing.
“We’re not talking about regular maintenance or, for example, of an OGEM road where we go out and fix the edges,” he said. “We’re talking about resurfacing roads. To me, that is not a maintenance issue.”
Browning said they would have the opportunity to make minor changes before the final reading.
Jarriel made a motion for approval, which carried 4-1 with Goltzené opposed.
The council also approved another ballot question that would remove certain election procedures from the charter and place them in an ordinance, which would allow the town flexibility in some areas, such as canvassing boards and dates for qualifying. Rockett made a motion to approve the ordinance, which carried 4-1 with Goltzené opposed.