A local bill to make the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District dependent to the Town of Loxahatchee Groves passed in a second reading on the floor of the Florida House of Representatives on Tuesday and was scheduled for a third reading on Wednesday.
Local bills go through both houses as a package before going to the governor for his signature. Before taking effect, the LGWCD bill additionally requires a vote of property owners in a referendum.
“It went to the floor about an hour ago,” Town Manager Bill Underwood told the Town-Crier at 4 p.m. Tuesday. “It passed on second reading. It has one more reading.”
According to information on the Florida House of Representatives web site, it passed its third reading by a vote of 109-3 and was sent to the Florida Senate.
State Rep. Matt Willhite (D-District 86), who sponsored the bill, read HB 1093 in the House Government Accountability Committee meeting on Feb. 13 and it passed without objection. Mayor Dave Browning, Underwood and LGWCD Vice Chair Simon Fernandez were present and available to speak in support during the passage. There was no other public input.
Willhite explained that the bill would let the town absorb the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District as part of the town government. Members of the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council would become district supervisor and all liabilities of the district would become liabilities of the town.
The bill will go to referendum sometime this summer if passed and signed by Gov. Rick Scott, Underwood said.
“The bill says it has to be on or before Oct. 1,” he said, explaining that the referendum would be by proxy based on acreage. “It’s landowners. They can vote by proxy or they can show up and vote. It’s not a popular vote. There have been some people who have questions about that, but it’s a landowner vote.”
At the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council’s last meeting, staff asked for direction to examine the bill for any discrepancies that might cause problems if it passes, such as contiguity of the town and district. Underwood asked the council to allow staff to work through what will be necessary for a clean transition of the district to the town.
LGWCD Chair Anita Kane said the bill does not need a sponsor in the Florida Senate, but the board got State Sen. Bobby Powell (D-District 30) on board just in case there was a need for someone to speak during passage in the upper chamber.
Kane said part of her election campaign was to give citizens a choice and end some of the divisiveness in the town.
She said her first priority was to find a solution for the road problems, particularly how control was divided between the town and district.
“We’ve gotten rid of it,” Kane said. “It all rests firmly in one entity’s hands now.”
Her next task was to get a referendum on the district becoming dependent to the town, although it would mean her and her fellow supervisors possibly being voted out of their jobs.
“The way to resolve that issue is taking it to a vote of the people,” Kane said. “That’s what we’re doing through this legislation. There is a lot of misconception. People think this decision is being made for them. People think they’re not going to have any say, but it will be a landowner vote just like all other water control district votes but one.”
Supervisor Laura Danowski is the only supervisor elected by popular vote. The four others are elected by a proxy vote based on acreage.
Kane explained that the referendum will not be held at the March election because it still has to go to the governor for approval.
“It won’t be out of the governor’s office until, if we’re lucky, sometime in March, so there will be a special referendum sometime in the summer,” she said. “What I call success is giving the people the opportunity to vote on this and put it to rest once and for all.”
Kane said she personally favors the district becoming dependent to the town.
“The reason I’m for dependency is because it will save the taxpayers a significant amount of money by not doubling up on services,” she said.
She added that the LGWCD borrowed heavily from the Village of Wellington model — which absorbed the Acme Improvement District when it incorporated — to fashion its own legislation.
“It’s not up to me to decide what happens to the staff,” Kane said. “I would like to see them keep some of the [district] staff. It’s mostly professional services that are a big drain on the money. That’s a big redundancy.”