As most of you have heard, the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office has given notice to the Town of Loxahatchee Groves that they will no longer provide services to the town as of Oct. 1, 2019. This action was taken by the PBSO because the Loxahatchee Groves Town Council publicly stated that the PBSO increase for contract services has put the town in severe financial difficulty and has the town teetering on bankruptcy. If this were a true statement, then it’s right to hold the PBSO accountable, but is this the real story? Let’s look at what the town has done to save money in the past, and who they blame for this financial crisis.
The town forced a takeover of all roads that were maintained by the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District. The town claimed that they could maintain paved and dirt roads cheaper and streamlined if the town had complete control. Myself and two other LGWCD board members knew the town had no cost analysis or operational plans, so we held our ground. Myself and one other board member were voted out of office, and two new pro-town board members were voted in. At the following board meeting, all roads were turned over to the town. The town has spent double to maintain these roads over what the district was charging to maintain the district and town roads combined. Then, this past June, the landowners (with positive input from the district board) voted to turn the district over to the town. As the town took over more responsibility, they found that there was not enough money to maintain the roads, canals and mowing the canal banks. The town sold both graders that were paid off for a fraction of what they were worth. The town has stopped repairing the paved roads and is not grading the dirt roads as needed. Holes and washouts are not being repaired, and the canal banks are not being mowed, because the town doesn’t have the money.
The council has given the town manager a raise in pay from last year, bringing his contact to more than $700,000 per year. The council has also given the town manager paid time off of 14 weeks, amounting to an additional $140,000, and if the town manager quits or is fired, the town must pay him this money in full. The town manager is an independent contractor paid to run the day-to-day operations of the town, yet he is being treated as if he was an employee of the town with a benefit package. Add in what the town pays to the contracted town attorney, the contracted town engineer and contracted town planner, the town’s budget is well over $1 million. The council admits that there is little money left over to repair the crumbling infrastructure, so the council’s solution is to raise town taxes, as well as water control district and solid waste assessments. Now the town will have to form its own police department, costing an estimated $4 million or more to start, and over the years, millions more to operate. That leaves very little money to maintain roads and canals.
The council and manager are quick to assign blame. First at fault was the water control district, and now it’s the PBSO. The council and manager have never taken responsibility for their actions. So, I ask you, is it really the PBSO’s fault for the town’s financial crisis, or does the blame lie with those put in charge by us, the taxpayers, who elected them to watch out for us instead of watching out for the town contractors. The town has scheduled a meeting on Oct. 30 to discuss the town manager’s contract. It’s time for the people of Loxahatchee Groves to stand up and say enough is enough before the council taxes us to the point where none of us can afford to live here.
Frank Schiola, Loxahatchee Groves