On a 3-2 vote, the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council approved a quit claim resolution last week for the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District’s remaining 13 miles of roads that had not been previously transferred to the town.
At the Sept. 19 meeting, Town Manager Bill Underwood said the resolution will accept the remaining easements that the LGWCD is offering the town.
Councilman Todd McLendon made a motion to approve the resolution, which would finalize a years-long process to transfer all district roads to the town. The motion was seconded by Councilman Ryan Liang.
Councilman Dave DeMarois asked Town Attorney Michael Cirullo why the town was going with interlocal agreements pertaining to the roads, relating to gas tax money that the town has paid previously for maintenance of roads designated as district roads.
Cirullo said the town had been paying the district to maintain roads designated as district roads.
“They’re all public roads, and the town has the responsibility to make sure these public roads are maintained,” Cirullo said. “You basically contracted with the district to take care of the roads that were designated as district roads dating back to incorporation of the town.”
DeMarois said his understanding when he was on the district board was that the town had insisted on claiming the roads in order to get the gas tax money.
Cirullo said there was concern at the Palm Beach County League of Cities, which distributes the gas tax money, that the town was claiming roads that are actually the district’s and are not eligible to receive gas tax money.
“Changes had to be made to the interlocal agreement to ensure that there wasn’t any designation of ownership toward the district,” he said.
DeMarois said he had asked Underwood at a recent Intergovernmental Coordinating Committee meeting whether the town had budgeted enough money to take over maintenance of the remaining 13 miles, which would cost $600,000 to $700,000.
“We’re going to be able to afford whatever the council wants,” Underwood said, adding that what is not included in the budget is the more than 1,100 truckloads of fill necessary to bring roads up to grade.
DeMarois said he’d prefer delaying the transfer for a year to see if the district follows through on becoming dependent to the town, explaining that it is considering an assessment increase to cover costs of possible equipment leasing to continue maintenance, if needed.
“Let them keep the roads for another year and let them become a dependent district and spend the money wisely rather than indebt ourselves,” he said. “We’ve had people come to us already and say we’re not taking care of Collecting Canal and D Road. I’m not supporting it. It puts us in a precarious position.”
McLendon noted that the town had just slashed its budget because of a dramatic increase in the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office budget.
“I guess my issue is we thought it was so important to not raise taxes, and now we’re telling [the LGWCD] to raise the acreage assessments $10 an acre town-wide?” he said. “We’re shoving off our problem to them.”
Mayor Dave Browning said there is a small part of the community that pays only the acreage assessments.
“It doesn’t hurt my feelings for the assessments to go up and take care of part of their share of the roads,” Browning said. “If we can put this off for a year, I think I’d be for it.”
However, Browning said having all the roads under one jurisdiction would make life easier for residents. “Right now, when people call and say, ‘My road needs to be graded or maintained,’ we have to stop and think, ‘Which road is that?’” he said. “That causes a lot of confusion.”
Underwood stressed that only 13 miles remain for transfer to the town.
McLendon said that the town will still be collecting gas tax money for the 13 miles of roads but had not budgeted for maintenance payments to the district, which had totaled about $70,000 last year. DeMarois said, however, that the town could make adjustments in the future.
“It all comes out of our pockets, no matter which way you look at it,” DeMarois said.
Underwood noted that the town has the option of imposing an assessment to cover the cost of maintaining those roads.
Liang said his hesitation would be the cost of bringing the roads up to standard.
“I don’t think we need to do all of it all at once,” Liang said. “When you look at the complete road system, it’s a lot, but you don’t eat an elephant in one bite. We already have several road projects that we’re working on.”
He suggested working first on roads that need immediate repair and doing the rest piece by piece.
Underwood said the town could install culverts in roads that are having drainage issues.
“We’ve got $213,000 coming in from sales surtax revenue, and I should have about $150,000,” he said. “We can do a lot of drainage culverts. We can do some engineering… and build the culverts and catch basins where they need to be.”
He added that D Road has many potholes that collect water.
“Get the engineer to come in and shoot grades and see where the road is going to be, eventually,” he said, but suggested putting the drainage in now.
McLendon said the current LGWCD board has members who are willing to work with the town after years of non-cooperation.
“We finally have a board there that will work with us,” he said. “Now there’s hesitation on this side? We’ve taken over 95 percent of the roads. Let’s just take over the other 5 percent and be done with it. We asked for it. It was a unanimous vote to ask for the roads.”
Vice Mayor Ron Jarriel said he was hesitant to accept the transfer with the roads in the condition they are.
“They’re wanting to give us a mess,” Jarriel said. “All the district roads are a mess. When you ride them after a storm, they’re like canals; they’re holding water. You ride our roads after a storm, and they’re in good shape.”
He said the town’s road maintenance contractor, Bergeron Land Development, was working on cost estimates to bring D Road and Collecting Canal Road up to standard.
“I fought hard to get D Road and Collecting Canal [Road],” Jarriel said. “We can’t even take care of those roads. The residents are calling and complaining. We need to prove ourselves with D Road and Collecting Canal.”
McLendon’s motion to approve the resolution transferring the remaining district roads to the town carried 3-2, with DeMarois and Jarriel opposed.
In other business, the council approved a resolution adding and increasing fees for planning and zoning, including a 10 percent fee to recover staff costs, which the council increased from staff’s recommendation of 5 percent.
Underwood said the resolution sets fees for the permitting processes relative to the town.
“I’ve added some fees,” Underwood said. “We have time extension fees, and we have special exception review fees… There is the RV pilot program fee, and the RV pilot program seasonal solid waste fee.”
Underwood added that the town previously did not recover costs for staff time.
“It recovers all your consultant [fees], but it does not recover staff, so we put in a de minimus 5 percent on top of whatever that is,” he said.
McLendon asked Cirullo if there would be an issue increasing the 5 percent fee to 10 percent, and Cirullo said the fee was intended to cover only administrative costs and that said he would have to go with the recommendation of the manager.
Underwood said the town collected about $150,000 from these types of services last year, which would have garnered about $7,500 with a 5 percent fee.
“Each case is different,” he said. “We’ve had one case that has consumed an extensive amount of staff time that you paid for. Some cases are relatively easy. I can tell you that in the one case, you lost your tail.”
“I would like to see us go with 10 percent,” McLendon said, who made a motion to raise the percentage.
Cirullo said the change would be acceptable legally, as long as the fee is cost recovery and not a revenue source. McLendon’s motion carried 5-0.