Town of Loxahatchee Groves staff asked for permission Tuesday to work on details of the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District becoming dependent to the town.
A bill to allow the change, subject to a referendum, is making its way through the legislature in Tallahassee. Town Manager Bill Underwood said there are a number of issues that will need to be researched should such a change take place.
“I don’t even know all the issues, but I do know that one of the items… says that all the resolutions that the district has come over in full force and effect until we say we don’t want them,” Underwood said.
He added that there is an issue with the borders, which are not quite contiguous. The district will either need to reduce its borders, or the town will need to take in additional property.
Underwood asked the council to allow town staff to work through what will be necessary for a clean transition for the district to become dependent in the event that the bill and the subsequent referendum both pass.
Town Attorney Michael Cirullo said the bill states that jurisdictional boundaries of the district will be amended as necessary to address parcels located within unincorporated areas or other municipalities. He pointed out that some parts of the district, such as Palms West Hospital and its outlying parcels, are outside of the town’s borders.
“One thing that would be useful in the bill, for example, would be some sort of language that says if the boundaries of the town change, that the boundaries of the district would match the boundaries of the town, so that you would not have to create a special act if we add a parcel,” Cirullo said. “If it passes, we will inherit this bill.”
Cirullo said that if the bill passes, it might be necessary to pass another “glitch bill” to correct any oversights. “We’d like to at least understand what we are getting ourselves into,” he said.
Councilman Todd McLendon made a motion, which passed unanimously, to authorize staff to work with the district and clear up whatever issues arise.
“This came up a couple of days ago, and I started thinking about questions I would have,” McLendon said. “There’s a lot of questions I would have, and probably a lot of questions you guys would have, and there’s a lot of things that we don’t know — and it’s going to happen really quick.”
Mayor Dave Browning pointed out that the hospital and the surrounding property was taken out of the town’s original incorporation effort at the requirement of the Village of Royal Palm Beach, which wanted to annex the hospital itself.
Browning also pointed out that the LGWCD does not provide any drainage to that area.
“None of those properties drain into our canals,” he said. “They all have their own drainage, so we really don’t provide anything for them. We just get a little bit of assessment from them.”
Cirullo said he did not know if there are actually any major issues but wanted to be prepared in the event there are.
“We want to know that if an issue comes up, we’re going to try to address it,” he said. “If there is anything in that bill that I need council input on, we’ll ask the mayor to call a special meeting.”
Councilman Dave DeMarois asked whether the bill provides for the transition of district employees to the town, and Cirullo said that is one of the issues.
“The bill doesn’t say either way,” Cirullo said. “You have to decide that.”
Vice Mayor Ron Jarriel said the hospital and its surrounding property could bring in a lot of revenue.
“If you haven’t checked this out, I would hope that you check it out,” Jarriel said. “Florida Statutes say that when you are bordered on all three sides, one town or another can make you pick which town you want to go with. I happen to know that we have the lowest taxes. I happen to know that Palms West [Hospital] is our neighbor, and they seem to be a good neighbor, and I think it’s time to start getting revenue for our town.”
Browning said that right now, the hospital is happy being part of unincorporated Palm Beach County.
McLendon said he agreed with Jarriel.
“If we can incorporate that, we’re not adding to the impact of our town,” he said. “All we’re adding is the financial. I think if we can work with the hospital, if they need different things that they cannot get from Palm Beach County land development-wise, I think we can work with them and give them some enticement.”
During public comment, resident Nina Corning pointed out that if the bill passes, the referendum would be during the election of the district’s only supervisor that is elected by popular vote rather than acreage by proxy. She raised the question as to whether the referendum would be popular vote or proxy.
“This needs to be written in there that this is going to be by acreage vote, because they need to have the right to decide whether they are going to have a vote anymore,” Corning said.
McLendon said the bill does not specify how the referendum vote will be done.