Letter: Loxahatchee Groves Reaps What It Sows

Over the last few years, a majority of members on the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council and the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District have supported the growth and control ambitions of a town management company that has failed to provide cost-effective and safe road maintenance for OGEM roads since the fall of 2013 and the remaining dirt letter roads since the fall of 2017. Codes have been growing beyond our rural lifestyle and have become somewhat weaponized by the town manager and his flawed code officer. With a dependent water control district, we no longer have acre-vote democracy to protect agricultural landowners. The storm recovery backup of district employees and equipment are gone. Town road maintenance costs using private contractors are more than twice the district’s previous costs per mile.

The fall 2016 inspector general two-year audit report on the town said we had a unique and flawed all-in-one town management company structure that should be changed. The May 2018 inspector general investigative report said that our town manager had paid himself more than his contract provided for in past years, and a majority of our 2016 council had backdated by six months the unnecessary (at the time in April 2016) current town management contract to cover up more excess payments.

During the Aug. 7 council meeting, only two council members (David DeMarois and Phillis Maniglia) questioned major changes in the town manager’s proposed and approved (on a 3-2 vote) new two-year and three-year contract provisions. Also concerning was the town attorney’s admission that the extent of his review of the contract that it was “legally sufficient” and the council could agree to it. It was apparent that the town attorney had not reviewed details of the new contract and helped explain major changes to the council, such as vested paid vacation time, reduced scope of work responsibilities and paid individual time to respond to inspector general inquiries. We also have a new separately paid assistant town manager in the budget. The manager said that his monthly management company fee of $41,311 ($495,000 per year) would remain the same for the coming year, and he tried to say that his new vested 14 weeks of paid vacation amounting to $140,000 (14 weeks at 40 hours per week at $250 per hour) was just a separate, reasonable personal benefit even though he was not a town employee.

Worse yet — cost increases for landowners. Recent town letters propose increasing acre assessments from $145 per acre to $300 per acre, trash collection at $470 per residential unit, an ad valorem millage increase from 2.15 mils to 3 mills, and plans to borrow several million dollars with no specific road paving projects and unsettled cost sharing with affected residents. We have the wrong town management and majority town council to continue with poor judgment, poor planning and extravagant mistakes. Maybe it’s time to consider dissolving the town back into Palm Beach County. Sept. 6 will be an important public meeting.

John Ryan, Loxahatchee Groves