Lox Groves Council Considering Budget With Tax Increase

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council reviewed a proposed budget Tuesday, July 17 with a tax rate of 3.00 mills, 0.85 mills above the current rate of 2.15 mills. The council also approved an assessment increase for the now dependent Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District in order to cover needed road repairs.

Prior to the vote, the council heard a presentation from former Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District Chair Anita Kane, who currently serves as chair of the town’s Finance Advisory & Audit Committee (FAAC). She recommended that the council adopt the 3.00 mill tax rate, as well as a $300 per acre water control district assessment.

“We had a rather lengthy meeting last night going over the budgets both for the town and the district for the upcoming year,” Kane said. “It’s a tough year, and we made some tough decisions, and some recommendations that are probably going to be unpopular, but the good news is we’re a volunteer committee. We get to make recommendations, and you guys have to make the decisions.”

The first recommendation was for the council to approve the full 3.00 mills, which will require a unanimous 5-0 vote by the council.

“If you don’t get a full majority, you will only be able to raise it to somewhere between 2.3 and 2.4 with a supermajority, which is four of you, which won’t be anywhere near the money you need to make the road changes that we need, so we do recommend that all of you vote for the full 3.00 mills,” Kane said.

The FAAC also recommended that council approve the solid waste assessment of $426 per unit, compared to the current $256.

“This seems to be a huge increase to everyone, but it’s really not as huge of an increase as it seems to be,” she said. “The reason being that for the past several years, the town has been able — because of an excess in the solid waste fund — to subsidize each landowner by $85 an acre, thereby reducing your solid waste assessment. Unfortunately, we had a hurricane, and all that money is gone, so the town cannot subsidize. There’s no money in the solid waste fund.”

The committee also had a long discussion about the water control district road and maintenance assessment.

“Management put in a proposal of $200 per acre,” Kane said. “We’re actually recommending that you put it in at $300 an acre. Our reasons are several-fold. One is that we’ve got to stop patching things. We’ve got to fix it. Putting it in at $300 an acre should give us enough funds to make a significant impact on roads and drainage over the next year.”

The second reason for the $300 recommendation is that the assessment can go down before the budget is finalized, but not up, Kane said.

“You cannot decide $200 tonight, and then not get your 3.00 mills, and then decide that you need to go up to $250 or $275,” she said. “You go in tonight at $300, and you get your 3.00 mills, then you can decide to go down, and you can all look like heroes. Without that $300, you’re not going to be able to effect the right changes. You’re just going to keep throwing our money away and patching roads and patching dirt. It’s going to wash back into the canal.”

Kane added that the committee recommended incorporating traffic calming on Okeechobee Blvd. into the town’s comprehensive plan in order to budget for those changes in the future, and although Underwood Management Services Group did not ask for an increase, that it get a 3 percent increase like the rest of the staff.

Town Manager Bill Underwood presented his proposed budget, although it was not scheduled for approval that night.

“You’re going to be making three decisions tonight, and I think you need to have some context by which to make those decisions,” Underwood said. “You heard from the FAAC, so at this point, you have had the budget memorandum for some time. This year is the year of rebuilding, and that’s what I’m calling it. We’re rebuilding town roads, we’re rebuilding fund balances, and we’re rebuilding the organization to meet the needs of the town.”

All proposed appropriations are in excess of $13 million, although he said there is some double counting that makes the actual proposal about $9.5 million.

“We are looking at borrowing some money to match building roads,” he said. “You take about $4 million out of that $13 million.”

Underwood said he has incorporated a new fund, the Loxahatchee Groves Canal and Road District Fund.

“The general fund is about 17 percent of everything you’re going to spend,” he said. “Transportation is 33 percent, that incorporates about $4 million in debt that the citizens approved by referendum. There is a new referendum coming up on Aug. 28, which will allow for the citizens to asses themselves to do specific road improvements, such as B Road North.”

The Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District accounts for 14 percent of the budget, or about $1.8 million. General fund appropriations include $540,059 (24 percent) for town management, $44,330 (2 percent) for financial services, $120,000 (5 percent) for legal services, $205,924 (9 percent) for planning and zoning, $140,000 (6 percent) code enforcement, $624,000 (28 percent) for police services, $20,000 (1 percent) for public works, $164,730 (7 percent) for general government and $303,646 (14 percent) for non-departmental uses.

At 3.00 mills, the town property tax on a home valued at $142,000, less a $50,000 homestead exemption, would be $278 compared to $191 last year at 2.15 mills, an $87 increase.