Groves Delegation Reports Successful Tallahassee Visit

The Loxahatchee Groves delegation met with state officials at Palm Beach County Days on Jan. 9 and Jan. 10, lobbying for two local bills.

One would allow the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District to become dependent to the Town of Loxahatchee Groves. The other asks for a matching grant to fund the paving of D Road from Southern Blvd. to Okeechobee Blvd.

Town Manager Bill Underwood, LGWCD President Anita Kane, Mayor Dave Browning, Councilman Todd McLendon, Vice Mayor Ron Jarriel and Perla Underwood participated. Meetings included gatherings with State Rep. Matt Willhite (D-District 86) and the staff of State Sen. Bobby Powell (D-District 30), who sponsored the bills in their respective houses, as well as other members of the Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation.

“It was a united front, with the town and the water control district supporting House Bill 1093 that provides for an election by the water control district to become dependent to the town,” Bill Underwood told the Town-Crier. “We also have House Bill 2625, which is a request for an appropriation to improve D Road from Southern Blvd. to Okeechobee.”

Town officials provided lawmakers with the conceptual plan and cost estimates of about $3.6 million for the project.

“We’re asking the state for a 55-45 match,” Underwood said. “The town provides 45 percent, about $1.7 [million], and the state provides about $2 million. We met with those legislators. I would say the majority were positive. That doesn’t mean it’s going to get through the process. It’s got to go through committees and the whole legislative process.”

Underwood said the justification for the D Road grant request, which had its first reading on Jan. 9, is that it is one of the town’s major thoroughfares.

“It is in the middle of town and it does connect Southern to Okeechobee,” he said. “It’s wider than most roads, so we could get two solid road lanes out of it. We can put in good drainage. It can be the example for future roads, even better than South B Road.”

Underwood said the town would be willing to take the state funding in annual increments, starting with the design and engineering.

“We met with individuals who will assist the town in moving forward,” Underwood said. “If we can’t get it in one year, we’re willing to take it part this year and a part the next year, because the first year, six months or more, we’re going to spend surveying, engineering, getting elevations and putting all the plan together. We told all the people we met that we will take any portion thereof.”

He said the town has all the right-of-way needed, so no taking of property will be necessary.

Big Dog Ranch Rescue at the southeast corner of D Road and Okeechobee Blvd. has agreed to pave the northern end of D Road to the end of its property.

Underwood said paving D Road would take another segment of road off the list of dirt roads that need to be graded regularly.

“I think it was positive, and it was a united front with Anita there,” he said, explaining that she supported the town and its effort for road paving, and the town supported her in her efforts to have a bill passed that would allow residents to vote on whether the LGWCD becomes dependent.

Underwood said they concentrated on the two local bills.

“I guess you could go up there with a shotgun approach, but I think we were more focused, and you really don’t get to spend a lot of time with any of them in reality,” he said.

Kane agreed that the delegation was more effective lobbying together.

“I think it went especially well because we presented a united front as the water control district and the town,” Kane told the Town-Crier. “The first was the local bill that I have Matt Willhite sponsoring for us, which is the dependency issue. We talked about that one first, because that’s kind of a no-brainer since we’re not asking for money, and everybody there is asking for money. We softened them up with that one first, and they were very receptive.”

Kane said she thought the local bill calling for a vote on whether to become a dependent district had a good chance to pass due to a state effort to eliminate special districts.

“Apparently that’s the way things are going right now in Tallahassee,” she said. “They’re trying to get rid of the 298 districts, so that was very well-received, I think,” she said. “Then we asked for the matching funds for the road to try to improve not just roads, but the infrastructure under the roads, which is something that has never been done out in the Groves.”

Kane said Gov. Rick Scott and Senate President Joe Negron favor eliminating special districts, known as 298 districts after the chapter of the Florida Statutes that define them. “The number of 298s in Florida has decreased significantly,” she said. “I suspect that it’s because a lot of places are in the same situation that we are in the Groves, which is when there was nothing, the 298s did everything… but as places formed municipalities and became more organized and more structure goes into place, then the tax base shifts and all the growing pains happen when you become a town.”

Kane said one of her campaign promises was to get rid of the divisiveness in the community.

“There are still some issues left, but this was one of the divisive issues, is half of them wanting the special district and half of them not wanting it, so all I’m asking is that we be allowed to put it up for a vote,” she said.