The Wellington Village Council approved $3.2 million worth of additional capital projects that had not already been approved for next year at its first public hearing on the 2016 budget Thursday, Sept. 10, but stopped short of assigning the money out of concerns about whether a 120th Avenue South paving project had been approved by a majority of residents in the area.
Village Engineer Bill Riebe said letters had been sent to the 15 residents on that section of 120th Avenue, asking if they favored the paving or not. The village received eight letters back in favor, four back opposed, and three were not returned. One who had responded in favor asked for more information.
The paving project would be from 50th Street South to Lake Worth Road, and would cost $2.25 million, including drainage and canal bank improvements, and a total of $4.4 million with a bridle path. A conceptual design has been completed.
Michael Mishkin, president of the Isles of Wellington Homeowners’ Association, said that he had met with Mayor Bob Margolis regarding 120th Avenue.
“Council members certainly understand the situation with 120th Avenue in its current condition,” Mishkin said. “I’m speaking in support of paving 120th Avenue and putting it back on track for a plan that was settled years and years ago, and for reasons beyond anyone’s control just could not be implemented.”
Isles at Wellington resident Shay Discepolo said 120th Avenue has become an increasing source of noise and dust pollution.
“I am one of the homes that backs up directly to 120th Avenue South,” Discepolo said. “This is something that directly affects my family and my neighbors’ families. This is a problem that we experience all year long, but I would say the problem quadruples when we hit season.”
At a workshop meeting Sept. 1, the council discussed unfunded capital projects. A list of 21 prioritized projects began with a $45,000 school crossing at Lake Worth Road and 120th Avenue South. Road improvements on 120th Avenue, at $2.25 million, were fourth, which left it essentially unfunded.
Vice Mayor John Greene asked whether the road projects could be paid for out of the Acme Improvement District budget, and Director of Administrative & Financial Services Tanya Quickel said that they could, and had been presented to be budgeted out of Acme, but that the council had already finalized the Acme budget at the Aug. 25 meeting.
“Next year, if you wish, Acme could reimburse the general fund for these,” Quickel said.
Greene pointed out that a $500,000 Acme canal maintenance project had been put on hold. “Those dollars that were going to be spent are not going to be spent this year and are still sitting unused,” he said.
Quickel said there are a number of Acme projects scheduled to go forward.
Greene asked about the history of the 120th Avenue project. “It was said that this had been previously funded and then unfunded,” he said.
Schofield said the design portion had been financed and significantly done, but that actual construction had not been funded after other priorities arose.
Greene supported the 120th Avenue project and wanted to get at least partial funding for it, but that they had to get clear approval from the residents who lived along the road.
“I think the problem we run into year after year is that we’ve never moved any money toward these projects, and they just sit there as a whole,” he said. “It’s either 100 percent or nothing… and these are projects that have a real need to get funded.”
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig also favored financing the 120th Avenue paving but wanted clarification on the residents’ votes.
Riebe said he had gotten a phone call from one of the previously favorable respondents that day at about 5:30 p.m. asking for more information, which changed the previously positive response to a 7-8 negative, if they count the three non-responses as “no” votes.
“That individual is not sure if he wants to support the project.” Riebe said. “He’d like to withhold making a decision until he has a little more information. He also indicated that he’d like to see a bridle trail along the paved road. That is kind of weighing into his decision.”
Councilman Matt Willhite agreed that they should fund 120th Avenue but was concerned that once it was paved, there would be other issues, such as speeding. If a separate trail is not included, that will remove an existing bridle trail. As an unpaved road in the Equestrian Overlay Zoning District, 120th Avenue is considered a bridle trail, although Gerwig noted that it is a poor bridle trail with the amount of vehicular traffic using the road.”
“In Saddle Trail, we took away their bridle trail on the road, but we are building a supplemental bridle trail,” Willhite said. “We’re not talking about that here.”
He added that if 120th Avenue does not have the votes, it cannot be built.
Mayor Bob Margolis asked about the validity of the 120th Avenue vote, and Village Attorney Laurie Cohen said it was an informal vote.
“What I’m hearing is this gentleman wants to get more information because he’s confused and concerned now,” Margolis said.
Riebe said the resident wants to see more details.
Margolis said his biggest concern is allocating $1 million toward paving 120th Avenue, and then it ends up not being done.
Cohen said the resident vote for 120th Avenue was not like the Saddle Trail paving project, where residents were paying an assessment, but added that the comp plan calls for a vote.
Margolis said the $3.2 million did not need to be allocated to specific projects that evening.
“If we approve funding for 120th this evening and this gentleman doesn’t want it, where do we sit?” he asked. “That’s my biggest concern.”
“We can look at other projects that weren’t funded and can transfer money over to those as we go,” Gerwig said.
Margolis suggested approving the $3.2 million as an umbrella, and pinning it to specific projects before final approval.
Councilman John McGovern said he would prefer to fully finance the 120th Avenue work.
“This is a project whose day has come,” McGovern said. “It’s been discussed and discussed, and the need has continued to rise, and we should complete that project.”
McGovern added that they could also reach out to the three 120th Avenue residents who had not responded.
Schofield noted that the capital budget could be amended at any point in the year.
Greene reiterated that he would like to fund $1 million to get 120th Avenue going, although they did not have clear approval from a majority of adjacent residents, and to finance projects that have priority on public safety.
“I’ve got my list of priorities,” Greene said. “I’ve heard lots of generalities. If we’re not going to come to consensus on how we’re going to allocate these monies, let’s just approve the $3 million as part of the budget. My spreadsheet is plug-and-play. The formula is already in there. I made it very easy. Everybody comes back on [Sept. 24], and we can make a firm decision on where that $3.2 million is going to be spent.”
Greene made a motion to approve the budget as presented, with the $3.2 million included but unallocated, and it carried 4-1 with Gerwig opposed due to Wellington Tennis Center concerns that had not been fully discussed.
The proposed budget is $79 million, including transfers of $9.3 million and revenue from the Acme Improvement District, the building department and other sources, which is an increase of $2.1 million, or 2.7 percent, over the current $77 million budget.
The approved property tax rate is 2.45 mills, which is unchanged from the current year, and will generate $16.16 million, an increase of $1.47 million.
The proposed operating budget is $48.7 million, which is $4 million more than the current year. The total assigned capital project budget is $6.5 million, which is down $1.2 million from the current year. Debt service is $1.3 million, which is slightly less due to refinancing.
The village’s ad valorem property tax accounts for 17 percent of residents’ total county tax bill. The final public hearing on the budget is set for Sept. 24.