The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council and the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Board of Supervisors met jointly for a second time Tuesday on the topic of transferring control of remaining district roads to the town.
The meeting sought to move a process forward that has been going on for more than a decade but has been hampered by political conflict.
Most recently, the district agreed to turn over two roads, Collecting Canal Road and South D Road, to the town.
LGWCD Administrator Steve Yohe said his board approved turning over the two roads to the town and is in the process of getting legal descriptions to include with the quit claim deed, which is on the board’s June 12 agenda for approval.
Supervisor Don Widing said the district and town are both at a critical time regarding preparation of budgets, and that it is important to resolve the road status for inclusion. Widing added that a transitional plan is needed to continue the process.
“That’s why we’re here, to come up with some idea of our expectations,” Widing said. “I would like to think that, in addition to our essential obligations for services, that we can develop some type of a plan. I’m not talking about a long, drawn-out plan.”
Councilman Ron Jarriel said his main concern is that residents get the same or better service during the transition process.
“If they get better service than what they get from the district right now, it’s definitely going to cost a lot more money,” Jarriel said. “This meeting is kind of early, because at the end of this month, the district will have some new members on board. I don’t know if they’re going to want to stay in the grading business or not, but that will be a choice that they will make.”
Jarriel said he looks at the monthly reports from the district, and Collecting Canal Road and D Road are graded anywhere from a half-dozen to a dozen times or more a month and can be watered the same number of times.
“Right now, we do not do that in the town,” he said. “We have a contract with Bergeron [and] they do a very fine job, but that routine is once a month. The question is with this rain that we’ve had in the last few days, and probably the next few days, I’m hoping the town manager and Bergeron will come together and see how fast they can straighten our roads up.”
He said he will also be watching the district to see how quickly it puts its roads back in decent service.
Jarriel added that he is happy that the district has agreed to turn over Collecting Canal and South D roads, and hopes that the Florida Department of Transportation will help with paving to use those roads as detours for State Road 80/Southern Blvd.
He preferred an interlocal agreement between the district and the town so that the LGWCD will continue maintenance until those roads are paved, continuing to let the district have the gas tax revenue in the meantime.
LGWCD President Frank Schiola favored having the town take over all the roads, but he was concerned that the town might be taking on too much.
Schiola said people are expecting the roads to be paved once they are turned over to the town, but there are other issues that need to be resolved.
“We have infrastructure that needs to be repaired right now,” Schiola said. “We have hedging that needs to be done on the roads. Culvert pipes underneath roads that you have taken over that are failing and need to be repaired. These are things that need to be done, and to wait for them to fail and to wait to fix them, you could actually back yourself into a corner. I know of at least two or three culverts on town roads that need attention, and the longer you leave them, the worse they’re going to get.”
Schiola recommended fixing the roads that the town has and taking over the remaining roads in a timed fashion.
“The district is here,” he said. “We have the equipment. We do need new equipment. We do have the manpower to get it done, so if there is a stepped process to take over these roads, just taking over the roads at one time.”
Supervisor Laura Danowski said she could not justify turning over the remaining 15 miles of district roads immediately.
“Listening to the three men before me, we’re all saying the same thing,” Danowski said. “We need a plan because it’s only fair to the residents to let them know that the services they want are going to cost more. We all know that. How much more? Where is the money going to come from?”
She asked how the town would prioritize to provide what the residents want.
“I support the idea of the district grading the roads until the town can afford to surface them,” she said. “That’s just saving the residents money.”
Danowski agreed that the town’s road maintenance contractor, Bergeron, does a fine job, but at $482 a mile for grading, it is much more expensive than the district.
“As a resident, I can’t justify turning over 15 more miles of road immediately and saying, ‘OK, instead of $200 a mile for grading and watering, we’re going to rob the piggy bank at $482 for grading, watering and rolling,” she said. “The 10 of us need to come up with a working plan that is well-thought-out and includes the residents.”
Councilman Dave DeMarois asked about the method of payment that the town uses to compensate the district for grading and watering, and Yohe said he thought the current method is not reasonable because it costs the district more for maintenance of town roads than the district recovers from the town in gas tax money.
Supervisor Anita Kane stood by what she had maintained during her campaign, that the district should focus on water control and get out of the road maintenance business, and that under state statutes, the town owns the roads because it has been paying to maintain the roads for more than seven years.
“It’s very simple,” she said. “It’s the law, and the town has been paying to maintain those roads for more than seven years. It’s just a technicality of whether we quit claim to them or not.”
Kane also pointed out that the district faces replacing more than a quarter-million-dollars’ worth of equipment if it remains in the road maintenance business, and with that in consideration, the cost for the town’s contractor to maintain the roads would be less.
Councilman Todd McLendon agreed that the roads belong to the town now because it has been maintaining them for more than seven years, and getting quit-claim deeds from the district is unnecessary.
Councilman Ryan Liang said he wanted to be sure that residents were not negatively affected by the transition, while Supervisor Simon Fernandez favored turning over the remaining roads, but added that the residents will be affected, either in their pocket or through decreased service.
Mayor Dave Browning said he felt it was time for the town to take over the remaining roads, but not all at once. “We’ve been funneling gas tax money to the district in relationship to the number of roads,” he said. “It’s time to take over the roads.”