Political newcomer Neil O’Neal III is running against incumbent Vice Mayor Ron Jarriel and challenger Phillis Maniglia for Seat 1 on the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council. The election will be Tuesday, March 13.
O’Neal is a fourth-generation Palm Beach County native.
“My family has lived here for quite a while and lived here in the Groves for about eight years now,” he said. “I worked for my family’s roofing company during my high school years and went off to the University of Central Florida for a year and came back, and I’m working for my family again.”
While back at home he got his real estate license.
“I’ve been working with that and my family business,” he said. “About a year and a half ago, I got involved with the town in local politics and became a member of the Republican Executive Committee and decided to run for town council.”
O’Neal believes that he is best qualified as a candidate due to his background in real estate, which gives him insight into the town’s effort to grow commercial uses.
“I believe I’m a very pragmatic and reserved person,” he said. “I’m not outspoken a lot of times, but I think I do a pretty good job about telling how I feel about certain things. I believe I can be there to represent everybody. I want to benefit the town and help solve the problems that we have.”
O’Neal, who is 21 years old, explained that he does not have a lot of accomplishments to name, but is proud that he got his real estate license.
“Being able to pass the test was pretty great for me,” he said. “Running for town council at my age, a lot of people aren’t even thinking about that.”
He believes that the top issues of the campaign are getting roads the proper care and protecting them from pass-through traffic, and revising the town’s Uniform Land Development Code.
He thinks that road services should be improved in the town.
“The roads are pretty bad, and fixing those are the main priority,” O’Neal said. “Even after we get proper funding for the roads, we still don’t have a lot of money to work with that will provide any other services for the town.”
He would like to see a newsletter sent out to residents to keep them educated about what’s going on.
O’Neal favors a focus on improving roads and finding a way to pay for them.
“The roads are definitely a crisis now,” he said. “We need to bring them up and fix the drainage. How would we pay for it? The town has a tax assessment that they’re going to have on the tax rolls for next year, and also pass an increased millage rate. That way we can properly fund the town and what we have now. We had to trim the budget quite a bit because we weren’t able to pass the recommended millage rate.”
O’Neal envisions the future of Okeechobee Blvd. as two lanes for as long as possible.
“The county intends to four-lane it regardless of what we have to say,” he said. “The construction of a four-lane road between Folsom Road and Seminole Pratt isn’t in their five-year plan yet, but I know that eventually they will start to allocate funds for that. The least we can do is begin construction of traffic-calming devices so that way we can deter more pass-through traffic.”
He said commercial development is relevant to the town because it is getting more applications as the economy improves.
“I believe that the current policy about keeping commercial on Southern is something I support,” he said. “I don’t believe the town has anywhere else, as of right now, where it can support commercial.”
O’Neal thinks the town has a great town manager, but he can only do what the council directs him to do.
“The burden pretty much lies on the council to give feasible and clear direction to the management company on what the council wants to happen,” he said. “I think they do a pretty good job for what they have to deal with.”
He thinks the town’s budget is tight, but he has not seen any serious consequences.
“I haven’t seen any major red flags within the budget… that we could change because most everything that the town pays for is contractual, such as the sheriff’s contract or code enforcement, but there’s not major line items within the budget that we’re able to change,” O’Neal said.
His immediate vision for the future of Loxahatchee Groves is smooth, dry roads.
“I would like our town to be the rural paradise that it is,” he said. “There’s a lot of agricultural, equestrian, and some people just move out here for the privacy. I think one thing that will be part of our future is the new commercial that is going up on Southern, and that’s going to be a major convenience to residents. I think we need to make sure we’re approving commercial that will be better tailored to the residents and something they will all benefit from.”
O’Neal said voters should vote for him because he does not have any special interests in the town.
“I think that I am very concerned for the residents,” he said. “I don’t see anything else but things that would help the residents.”
He said he would not take the council member pay in order to help pay for the roads, and if elected would not take town real estate listings.
“I think that voting for me, as someone who is going to live here for quite a while, since I am young, I have many years left to live here,” O’Neal said. “I’d like to see it preserved here for not only my generation, but for the older generations that live here, as well as future generations. I think that my job, first and foremost, is to help all the residents and better improve the lifestyle that we have,” he said.
Learn more at www.voteoneal.com.