Lox Council Approves Road Improvement Cost Sharing Policy

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council on Tuesday approved a cost sharing policy for road and drainage capital improvements in preparation for a $5 million bond anticipated to be approved next month, beginning with five roads that have been previously approved.

Town Manager Bill Underwood outlined the policy recommended by staff. “We have two policies that the council has adopted relative to roads,” he said, referring to a road prioritization policy adopted Aug. 2, 2016 and a capital improvement and drainage policy adopted June 22, 2017.

“These two policies are going to be impacted. April 2 we’re going through the court validating the bond issue referendum. Some 30 days after that, we will be able to actually borrow the money. My position, and what I would recommend to the council, is we don’t borrow the money until we’re ready to identify the roads and we have some preliminary work done on the engineering.”

Underwood explained that highly populated roads are considered a priority for improvements.

“Property owners must agree to the improvements, and property owners must provide adequate drainage and swales to protect the road,” he said. “That kind of guides the council on where you want to focus your resources.”

Priorities will be implemented by the council or by resident petitions.

“There’s a petition process,” Underwood said. “The town verifies the petitioners, that they are the owners, and the town prepares a preliminary budget. We mail out voting cards to the improvement area, and assuming that 51 percent actually agree, because part of the issue is this policy states that the property owners that are affected by the improvement area will pay 50 percent of the construction costs. The town is going to be absorbing engineering soft costs.”

He said the capital improvements can be for roads, drainage and more.

The applying resident pays a $100 fee and the town provides applications and petition forms for the resident to start the process.

“They will identify the specific improvement, the boundaries, map of the area, and get signature pages included with the owner, address and parcel piece — vital information that we need to be able to eventually get structured into an assessment that will go onto the tax roll,” Underwood said.

The town will be responsible for preparing a preliminary budget and per-acre assessment for the area. A public hearing will be held, and if acceptable, will be presented to the council authorizing the mailing of a letter card advising the estimated cost. The council will have leeway to increase the suggested 51 percent approval rate.

“You can make it 60 [percent], you can make it 80 [percent], whatever you want,” he said. “If we don’t get them within the 45 days, it’s considered null and void. If we get the 51 percent, the town will proceed with scheduling the project.”

Any additional property that is required, such as swales, will be acquired before the project starts.

“It really doesn’t do any good to build a road that’s going to be underwater,” he said. “We want to get that in place prior to the actual design, so we know where we’re putting swales and catch basins.”

Councilman Todd McLendon made a motion to approve the policy with some changes, including one that makes the petition more equitable to the amount of land the residents own, so the owner of a large piece of property does not absorb most of the cost.

During public comment Laura Cacioppo and Mary McNicholas agreed with McLendon that the policy needs to be equitable so large property owners are not unduly burdened.

“We’re open to suggestions for a compromise,” McLendon said.

Mayor Dave Browning pointed out that the roads paved with open-graded emulsified mix (OGEM) were approved by voters in a Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District referendum by acreage, and the taxation is by acreage.

McNicholas asked if the policy was primarily for roads, and Underwood said it was primarily for road projects that will have a life span of 10 to 20 years.

Geoff Sluggett said he was glad to see the council moving forward with the policy, although he was also concerned with the method of assessment.

“Ever since incorporation, we’ve been coming before this board asking for something to be done with our road, and roads in general in Loxahatchee Groves,” Sluggett said. “It’s going into the 12th year, and we’re still having this discussion. I hope whatever gets done at this point, we’re not here in another year or two years still discussing this policy.”

McLendon’s motion carried 5-0, and Underwood asked for direction on whether to move ahead on five or six roads that have already been approved for improvements — San Diego Drive, Los Angeles Drive, Paradise Trail, Flamingo Road, Raymond Drive and 22nd Road North. McLendon made another motion to move ahead with those projects, which carried 5-0.