In a 3-2 decision, the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Board of Supervisors agreed Monday to be a co-applicant for a permit from the South Florida Water Management District with the Town of Loxahatchee Groves and other entities, including Palm Beach State College, to make improvements to South B Road from Southern Blvd. to the Palm Beach State College entrance.
The LGWCD was asked to participate because the district owns most of the easement there.
LGWCD Administrator Steve Yohe said the district had received a copy of a letter dated Feb. 25 from the SFWMD to engineer Thomas Mueller of Alan Gerwig & Associates, the company that is doing the improvements, saying that the college does not appear to be the title holder, and under state code, a permit could be issued only to the owner. “Mr. Mueller requested that the district become a co-applicant to the permit application to satisfy the Florida Administrative Code,” Yohe said.
Supervisor John Ryan pointed out that the district had not yet completed the survey and map of district roads, including South B Road, that establish legal boundaries for the district roads, which will be turned over to the town after they are paved.
“I believe the college has done some survey work and planning for that roadwork,” Ryan said. “My sense is that we ought to be a co-applicant with the town.”
He said the town has controlling interest in the funding agreement for the road, although Solar Sportsystems, the developer of the northeastern 90 acres, owns the eastern edge of the easement. “I think it would be appropriate at this time because I understand they want to begin construction work as soon as possible,” Ryan said.
Yohe said he had received an e-mail form Mueller that day that there is an agreement between the college and the commercial parcel to have the road completed by the end of the year, which means they have to begin work by May, but the district needs to be a co-applicant in order to meet that schedule.
The permit pertains primarily to the aspect of cleaning up water running off the asphalt portion of the road. “This is that portion of the road that will be asphalt and not OGEM,” Yohe said.
Supervisor Frank Schiola said he opposed being a co-applicant, recalling that Councilman Ron Jarriel had asked Palm Beach State College President Dr. Dennis Gallon if the college would keep paying assessments on the property, and Gallon said it would.
“As soon as they got everything that they wanted, they came to the district and said, ‘State law says we’re not going to pay,’ and now they come to us and say they want us to be a co-applicant so they can get this thing going,” Schiola said. “To go ahead and say we’ll be a co-applicant, I’m dead set against that. I feel the college slapped all of us in the face.”
Supervisor Don Widing said he thought the college representatives at the time might not have known whether they were obligated to pay the assessment or not. “I wouldn’t want us to be the entity to restrict the forward progress of the college,” Widing said. “I think it’s a good thing for this community. To me, it’s a moot point.”
Ryan pointed out that the college was underwriting all the improvements to South B Road, including the replacement of the bridges at Collecting Canal Road. “It’s a four-party agreement… but the college, the way I understand, is putting up the lion’s share of the money, and fully $125,000 is going into the replacement of the bridge at Collecting Canal,” he said.
Ryan said an assessment to the college’s 75 acres would provide about $11,250 annually. “If you looked at 10 years, that’s just about the amount of money they are placing into replacing the bridge at Collecting Canal,” he said. “I don’t sense that this is an issue that I’d like to try and take advantage of.”
Schiola agreed with Ryan about the college covering most of the improvement costs but would like to get the money for the improvements into an escrow account.
Ryan said the four parties had reached an agreement on the improvements, and he could go along with Schiola’s request that a condition be included for the full improvement funding, estimated at $2,264,000, be placed in escrow.
“I feel that even though this is part of the town’s agreement with them, they are improving the safety and functionality of one of our assets that we will eventually turn over to the town,” Ryan said.
Supervisor Robert Snowball pointed out that it was the SFWMD asking for the permit, not the college, and said he would like to be done with the issue rather than invite a conflict.
Widing agreed with Snowball’s point, noting that the SFWMD has been very helpful to the LGWCD. “At the times we needed water and nobody thought we could get it, we got it, the discharge just the opposite,” he said. “We’ve had it both ways.”
Ryan said he did not see that the district was acting against the SFWMD by imposing an escrow condition. “I think what we’re trying to do is assure the improvements,” he said.
But Widing said the town would be the recipient of the money. “I don’t feel we have a dog in the hunt here,” he said.
Widing made a motion to authorize the district to become a co-applicant to the SFWMD’s permit without the escrow condition, which carried 3-2 with Ryan and Schiola opposed.
In other business, the district received a clean annual audit report.
David Caplivski, senior auditor with Grau & Associates, said there were no discrepancies in the district’s financial records for the 2014 fiscal year.
“The audit went smoothly, and we received all the information timely, everything in order, and staff was easy to work with,” Caplivski said. “I want to point out that our opinion was an unmodified opinion, which is a clean opinion. That’s always a good thing.”
As of Sept. 14, 2014, the district had assets of $420,000 in restricted funds for debt service and capital outlay, about $470,000 in unassigned fund balance and about $3.1 million in total assets, he said.
“Last year, the board asked about the unassigned balance and how it compared to other districts, and whether or not it should increase or decrease, and that’s a decision for the board to make, but I did do a calculation, and the $470,000 is about 28 percent of the fiscal 2015 budget,” Caplivski said.
He said revenue for the district comes mainly from maintenance and debt assessments, but in fiscal year 2014 the district also received $170,000 in grant revenue. “The other big item the district continually receives is the intergovernmental revenue from the Town of Loxahatchee Groves in the amount of $190,000,” Caplivski added.
Expenditures were primarily in three sections: physical environment of about $1.2 million, debt service of about $400,000 and capital outlay of about $420,000.
Supervisor John Ryan said he was caught by surprise that the five-year lease-purchase of capital equipment — a long-reach backhoe and hedging tractor purchased in 2014 — was recorded as an expenditure in one year, and Caplivski said it was something the district was required to do under governmental accounting standards.
“It would be the same as if the district went to the bank and borrowed $420,000 and then purchased the equipment,” he said. “It has to be shown the same way. At the end of the lease, the district owns the equipment.”
Ryan complimented Yohe on his management, not only for the work cleaning the canals with equipment purchased with grant money, but his grant work with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as well. “The bottom line is we increased the fund balance by $70,000,” Ryan said.