The Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation approved a local bill Tuesday that starts the process to enable the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District to become dependent to the Town of Loxahatchee Groves.
The process will require the state legislature to pass the local bill, which ultimately will lead to a public referendum.
The delegation hearing was held at the county’s Solid Waste Authority building.
LGWCD attorney Mary Viator presented the local bill to the delegation, explaining that district is currently an independent special district but wishes to become dependent to the town.
“The board of the water control district has submitted a local bill proposing that the district be dissolved and become a dependent district to the Town of Loxahatchee Groves,” Viator said, explaining that included in their submission was a letter of support from the mayor of Loxahatchee Groves, as well as a resolution approved by the LGWCD Board of Supervisors in support of the bill.
LGWCD Manager Steve Yohe also attended the meeting but did not speak.
“The bill proposes to effectively provide services to the residents of the town and the district and to implement fiscal responsibility in doing so,” Viator said. “There’s currently an elected town council representing the town and a separate five-member board of supervisors of the district, which is elected on a three-year term. The proposed bill would allow the town council to designate the district a dependent district and assume the positions of its board, and it would, therefore, eliminate the duplication of the elected representatives.”
The bill also addresses the transition of the board’s special acts to become ordinances of the town, as well as the assets and liabilities, permits, easements, contracts and other financial responsibilities currently in place.
The bill also begins the necessary steps to require that the jurisdictional boundaries of the district be made coterminous with those of the town.
“It is very important for the delegation to understand that this bill requires a referendum to be passed by a majority of the district’s landowners, and should the referendum be passed, the local bill would become effective in its entirety,” Viator said.
State Rep. Rick Roth (R-District 85) asked for an explanation of the areas of the district that are not coterminous with the town, and Viator explained that the board will make sure that both borders coincide.
“There are, basically, three properties that are in the district and not presently in the town, and we are working, and the town is working, with those other additional properties to make sure that they are brought into the town, and if not, they would not be included within the dependent district,” she said.
Roth asked what would be the downside if those properties had to get out of the LGWCD, and Viator said Yohe had reviewed the drainage issues, and those properties currently drain directly into the C-51 Canal.
“We think that those issues can be addressed from a physical standpoint for their drainage,” she said. “They are actually drained through the C-51, and we can work with them so that they could be taken over by the county.”
Viator added that the town and the board had agreed that the LGWCD board would become the members of the town council. “This bill proposes to do that,” she said.
Roth asked if there are financial benefits to the district becoming dependent, and Viator said both bodies are trying to avoid the duplication of services.
“Previously, there had been a division in ownership of the roads, some owned by the district and some owned by the town, and this caused confusion in the town as to maintenance responsibilities,” she said. “I think that it’s a geographical area that has two governmental entities basically involved, and I think that they are trying to be more efficient in trying to provide those services.”
Viator said the efficiency would be further enhanced as the town takes over road maintenance and the district focuses more on drainage.
During public comment, former LGWCD Supervisor John Ryan said he felt it was premature to proceed with the proposed local bill, explaining that the town charter contains a provision that the water control district would remain independent, that the Palm Beach County Office of the Inspector General recommended a complete change in the way the town is managed. He added that there is an inadequate plan for the town to assume control of the outstanding LGWCD road debt and that the town assumes there will be no extra costs or disadvantages to residents.
Ryan continued that the proposal assumes a cost under town maintenance through a private contractor that is three times more expensive than the current policy under the LGWCD, and that some residents have serious concerns about the town’s recent policies on road maintenance and hedging.
“I’m not saying that at some point the water control district should not become dependent to the town, but I think there is a significant state of flux among the town and the water control district and the residents at the present time,” Ryan said.
Loxahatchee Groves Councilman Todd McLendon asked the delegation to support the bill.
“The majority of the community is in support of it,” McLendon said. “The water control district and the town both support the bill. It makes it very simple. We’re asking your constituents to make the decision as to what this ultimately does. It puts it in the hands of the voters to decide whether they want the district to be dependent. You guys can’t make a wrong decision here unless you say, ‘No.’ If you say, ‘Yes,’ you’re giving that authority to the landowners.
State Rep. Matt Willhite (D-District 86) made a motion to approve the local bill, and there was no opposition.