LGWCD Supervisors Ponder Assessment Increase In Budget

It appears that a hike in assessments is likely for property owners in the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District after the initial round of budget workshops. LGWCD supervisors discussed the possibility when they met Monday.

The increase might be necessary due to failing equipment, particularly if the district continues to do its job of maintaining roads and canals. The supervisors said the revenue increase would be used to purchase or lease a new grader and water truck.

The question is complicated by the unresolved transfer of the district’s remaining roads to the town.

LGWCD Administrator Steve Yohe said that after budget workshops May 9 and May 25, the board recognized that an assessment increase for the 2017-18 fiscal year is warranted, either to supplement the loss of gas tax money from the town if the district does not continue to maintain roads, or to obtain a new grader and water truck if the district continues road maintenance.

After the transfer of South D Road and Collecting Canal Road to the town, which is in process, the district will still have 10.6 miles of unpaved roads to maintain. A new Caterpillar grader costs $193,418, with an annual payment of $41,500 for five years. A new Caterpillar water truck costs $136,500, with an annual payment of $29,300 for five years.

“Due to the road maintenance uncertainty, staff conducted alternative budget analyses for fiscal years 2017 and 2018,” Yohe said. “Since the alternatives have an impact on fiscal years beyond 2017 and 2018, a five-year maintenance capital improvement plan was prepared showing the alternatives.”

The budget alternative where the district does not continue to maintain roads is affected by the permanent loss of the town’s gas tax allocation. The budget alternative where the district does continue to maintain roads would have it spending more to buy a grader and water truck for the five-year amortized loan period.

Yohe said the comparative costs of the two alternatives are similar. The assessment estimate without road maintenance is the lower at $157 per acre for 2017-18 and falling to $147.60 for 2021-22.

“This provides you with an envelope to at least recognize that there needs to be an increase, and as you recall, an increase can be lowered after the initial assessment is given to the county in July,” he said. “In September, we can lower it at that time.”

Yohe recommended taking the cautious route of assuming the higher cost initially.

Supervisor Don Widing, who is leaving the board this month, recalled that years ago, the board discussed how the mission of the district’s services are changing, and since then, it has turned over many miles of paved roads to the town, which could reduce the need to fill staff openings.

“Obviously, we’re not grading as much as we used to, so the concept was if that demand for our labor force is diminished, it’s replaced by something else,” Widing said. “The cost of the project shouldn’t go up that much more, because we should have that time that we were spending on grading all those roads that we’re not now.”

On the other hand, Widing said, not having as many roads to grade might give the district a chance to catch up on canal maintenance, pointing out that the district has fallen behind on its seven-year canal maintenance plan.

Yohe said the breakdown of the district’s equipment has had a huge impact on the productivity of district staff.

“That is reflected in the things that haven’t gotten done as quickly as they used to,” he said.

Supervisor Anita Kane said she would like a breakdown of staff costs before the board’s next meeting when it votes on the budget. At that meeting, the board will have at least one, and possibly two new members.

LGWCD President Frank Schiola’s seat is one of two supervisor positions up at the June 26 proxy vote election. Schiola is running for another three-year term. Candidates Karen Piesley and Connie Bell are also seeking the seats. Widing chose not to run for re-election.

Schiola agreed that the board should approve the higher rate initially.

“You don’t want to start off low and, all of a sudden, something else pops up and you’re stuck,” he said.

LGWCD Attorney Mary Viator said the district needs to adopt its Truth in Millage (TRIM) rate by mid-July, with the final certification in September.