The Acreage Landowners’ Association conducted a forum Tuesday, Oct. 11 for candidates seeking seats on the Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors.
Incumbent Supervisor Gary Dunkley faces a challenge from Steve Roberts for Seat 2, while incumbent Supervisor Michelle Damone has been challenged by Betty Argue in the race for Seat 4. The election will be held with the general election on Nov. 8.
Members of the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans moderated the forum.
Asked why residents should vote for him, Roberts responded that he’s not a politician, but a Realtor. “I don’t have alliances with any of the groups here,” he said. “I want to work to get something accomplished.”
Dunkley, a 30-year businessman completing his first term on the board, said he moved to The Acreage 15 years ago and built his home. “I love the neighborhood,” he said. “I read the [Palm Beach County] Sector Plan, thinking we would have space. When I moved out here, everything changed. I find that Indian Trail has a lot of obstacles that we can overcome, but we have to change our focus.”
Dunkley said that his main objectives are to improve drainage, keep closer watch on the budget and protect roads that face increased traffic due to encroaching development.
Damone, a 20-year resident of The Acreage, said that she got involved by working with all the organizations in the area before she considered running for the board.
“I love this community,” she said. “There are so many historical aspects that I had a part of simply as an advocate rather than an elected official.”
Damone said that it’s easier to stand on the sidelines and say “no” than to come up with solutions.
“I firmly believe that the experience that I’ve had over the years, and the historical knowledge that I have, is valuable to this community,” she said, adding that she has built relationships with other local leaders.
Argue, who has 10 years of experience as a paralegal and eight years as a Realtor, said that residents should vote for her because she has demonstrated leadership to protect the community.
She became involved in 2011 when her oldest son was involved in a serious accident, then Tropical Storm Isaac brought flooding in The Acreage.
“Around that time, I started paying attention to the local Facebook discussions, and I saw some really poor leadership and poor behavior, and then Minto came along, and I started paying attention to what was going on there,” she said.
Argue is president of the Loxahatchee Groves Elementary School Parent-Teacher Organization and is active with ALERTS (Acreage/Loxahatchee Engaged Residents Taking a Stand) of PBC.
“I’m very involved with our community and want to keep what we have without it being destroyed by everything that’s coming,” she said.
Asked about her position on discussions about Acreage incorporation, Argue said that the county’s comp plan is supposed to protect the area.
“What has happened is that the county has abandoned that comprehensive plan to suit development,” she said. “From that perspective, I think incorporation could protect our community… However, on the flip side, there are a number of problems with incorporation. One is that we would be creating another level of government.”
Argue has had residents tell her that they are opposed to additional taxes. “I would rather see ITID dissolved, or as a dependent district,” she said.
Damone said that it is the people’s right to look at incorporation.
“We tried to do this back in 2002 when development was encroaching like it is now,” she said. “It failed because some people used fear tactics. Here it comes again in 2016. New developments are approaching us, and we are seeking incorporation to control our destiny.”
Damone said that she supports doing a feasibility study on the topic. She pointed out that the Town of Loxahatchee Groves incorporated in 2006 and has more control over its area than ITID does now.
Damone pointed out a few obstacles to ITID becoming a dependent district. “Even if you could resolve those issues and have Indian Trail become a dependent district, I don’t think dissolving is the correct solution,” she said. “You still have to maintain roads and water control.”
Dunkley said that incorporation is an issue to be decided by the people, not ITID.
“If this is what they want to do, then I agree with it,” he said. “I will not make a decision until I see a feasibility study.”
He said that ITID already has its hands full trying to streamline its administration and improve drainage.
“We have equipment that is going to need to be utilized more because of roads that will be used by incoming development,” he said. “Do I think there should be a second layer of government? No, I don’t.”
Roberts said he did not live in The Acreage in 2002 during the first incorporation effort, but agreed that a feasibility study should be done.
“Personally, I just wouldn’t be able to say, ‘Hey, let’s go ahead and incorporate,’ knowing it’s going to cost me X amount in tax dollars every single year above and beyond what I’ve already been paying,” he said.
On the other hand, Roberts said that he enjoys the freedom and separation of The Acreage, and pointed out that incorporation brings more authority. For example, allowing golf carts. “Under incorporation, we could set some of those guidelines,” he said.
Asked how to make district spending more efficient, Damone said that in 2006, a previous board had inflated the budget by almost $4 million, and Damone worked hard to reduce that spending.
“We solved the lawsuit we had with the Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department that was costing the district $1.3 million in frivolous lawsuits,” she said. “Through my leadership, we stopped that bleed of money.”
She added that when she returned to the board, staff was put in place to get a clear audit over the next five years.
“Under my leadership, we got reduced assessments for six years in a row, so I’m very proud of my leadership here at the district,” Damone said.
Argue said that her taxes had gone up over the past five years, and after sitting through budget hearings, projects had been delayed in order to balance the district budget.
“In the budget sessions in particular, there were things that were kicked down the road that were important,” Argue said. “There are many things that are important coming down the pipeline that are going to be very expensive. While it looks good during an election year to keep your taxes low, it is not good for our residents next year, and the year after.”
Argue added that $3 million collected five years ago designated for the Acreage Community Park expansion does not have the same value now.
“We’re already at $7 million, and the park is not done,” she said. “Phase two, $3.2 million, and we will have depleted all the funds there, unless we come up with some bond money. While it’s wonderful to say that under your leadership we have gotten all these things, the money has been spent irresponsibly.”
Dunkley said that too much money has been wasted by ITID, and he does not know why the parks and administration budgets remain so high.
He also does not like that the district leases equipment rather than buying it.
“We don’t maintain the equipment that we have, causing us at the end of four or five years to have to replace [it],” he said. “That doesn’t make sense. There are a lot of things we are not doing that I feel we should be doing.”
Roberts said that arguments about too much spending, such as leasing equipment as compared to buying it, are pointless because they are not grounded in something to compare it to.
“When someone says something costs too much, I would really like to know, compared to what?” he said.
Roberts said that he supports community parks, and sees that Acreage residents use and enjoy them.
“It’s one of the things that is unique about The Acreage,” he said. “All these groups are out using this, and you don’t have that anywhere else, and that’s going to cost money. Sometimes it breaks down to a couple of dollars. It’s up to the people to decide whether that couple of dollars per household is worth it.”
Watch the actual debate on the ALA website. Gary Dunkley was sleeping and Betty Argue special to the evening bashing her opponent.
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