The Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Board of Supervisors on Monday reached out again to the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council to ask for a joint meeting about town roads and maintenance.
A joint meeting tentatively set to happen before Monday’s LGWCD meeting did not occur. The meeting was to be discussed by the council at its meeting on Nov. 1, but the council did not get that far through its agenda.
LGWCD Administrator Steve Yohe said that he had included an item for discussion among board members at the request of Supervisor Laura Danowski on whether they wanted to try again.
“They didn’t get to that in their last two meetings because their agenda was so long,” Yohe said.
Part of the issue revolves around the district’s hesitation to take over maintenance of town roads and turning over remaining district roads to the town. About half of the town’s roads are maintained by the district and the other half by the town.
Danowski said that part of the reason the district did not bid on the town’s last request for proposals for road maintenance was the poor condition of some district equipment that might limit its ability. “The grader wasn’t functional,” she said. “Basically, we didn’t have operating equipment to say, ‘Yes, we can perform the job.’”
At one point, town officials had talked about hiring their own road crew, she noted.
“I’m sitting here thinking, can the town buy the district a smaller grader to do the small roads, or the district make payments to the town, or can the town fund another operator?” she asked.
Danowski added that no clear agreement has been reached on the parameters of the district maintaining town roads.
Supervisor Anita Kane said she and Yohe had a conversation with town officials about a plan for road maintenance.
“I see this as an extension off that plan,” Kane said. “This is some of the stuff that Steve had submitted previously, the legality, whether it would employee sharing, or outright employee taking, or whether this be a branch. There’s a lot of logistics to be figured out, but I think it would be a nice solution, because you would have maintenance already here in place.”
Supervisor Don Widing said that prior to the town’s incorporation, the water control district had envisioned that it would be the public works department for the community.
“That was pretty much the concept that prevailed for quite some time,” Widing said. “I’ve heard talk about this might be an exercise of power, but it has never been about power. It’s about service.”
He said that Loxahatchee Groves is a small community, but no different in the demand for services of larger communities.
“I’m familiar with public works operations,” Widing said. “We’ve got neighbors to the north and south that give us excellent examples of what they do and how they’ve done it. I don’t know that they’ve done cost comparisons, and it’s hard to do because you can talk about miles and talk about product, but when you’re talking about dirt and base materials, now we’re talking about dust control, we’ve been through that exercise before, too.”
Widing said that he does not care about who winds up with the power or authority to manage the roads. “I look at this more as a resident,” he said. “I’m more concerned for the residents, the cost containment and the level of service. To me, it’s all in the numbers, and any government should be operated that way.”
Widing said that the town appears to be spending a lot of money for its private contractor, Bergeron Land Development, compared with district costs, but a closer look is needed.
“When I look at the numbers and what the town has already spent, it’s a lot of money, but I can’t say for sure that it’s apples to apples, because when I hear Bergeron is putting rock down, how much rock are we putting down?” he wondered.
Widing said he would favor the district responding to a bid by the town if it wants to put one out.
“If the town wants to put it out for bid, and if the water utilities wants to get in the business, it has to be in an interlocal agreement,” he said. “I don’t support the town buying a grader and hiring an employee [for the district]. Either we’re going to be in the road business or we’re going to be out of the road business.”
Widing said that he was exhausted talking about receiving gas tax money from the town to help with road maintenance.
“At the end of the day, our people are caught in the middle of this, and it’s being talked about as a power struggle. That’s a disappointment to me because that’s not where I sit,” he said.
Danowski asked how supervisors felt about a small assessment increase by the district, but Widing said that the town has revenue sources the district will never have.
“To me, if they want to put out an RFP, they have the money to do it,” he said.
Widing said he wants the community to no longer be divided over the roads.
“This has been a community struggle for a long time,” Widing said. “How come we’re 10 years into this process and still haven’t figured this out?”
Kane asked Yohe for a recommendation, and he said he could bring it up at the next Intergovernmental Coordination Committee meeting.
“Ask them to put it at top of their agenda,” LGWCD President Frank Schiola said.