The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council decided at a special workshop and meeting Tuesday, Oct. 9 to draft a non-charter referendum giving voters the choice whether to approve funding for a 50-50 share in the cost of improving roads.
The decision is in the wake of an unsuccessful referendum in August that would have changed the town charter to allow residents to take out loans that would be shared 50-50 with the town to pave their roads. The failed referendum was worded fairly broadly, and detractors feared it could used for other purposes.
People on several roads in the town have already petitioned to have them paved but are hamstrung getting loans to share the cost, because the charter prohibits the town taking out loans for more than three years.
A referendum was approved by voters several years ago allowing the town to take out loans using gas tax money as collateral, but the recent referendum asking to allow loans for the property owners’ 50-50 share portion for road improvements failed.
Some residents, including council members, felt that the language was not clear enough and could have allowed the town to take out loans for other items, such as equipment or to purchase land. The new ballot question, to appear on the March 2019 municipal ballot, will have more concise language that clarifies the purpose of the loan, and would not change the charter, which many people objected to because of the broad language.
Loxahatchee Groves Planning & Zoning Committee Member Robert Shorr said he did not feel it was necessary to change the charter in order for people who want to share the cost of improving their road to take out a loan.
“I don’t think you need to change the charter,” he said. “All you have to do is come up with wording that’s up front, honest and lets the people know what you want to do with the money.”
Shorr added that he felt the less expensive open-graded emulsified mix (OGEM) paving would be sufficient for the dead-end roads that have petitioned for paving.
Roads that have petitioned for paving include North B Road, which is a heavily used through road; Los Angeles, San Diego and Raymond drives; 22nd and Flamingo roads; and Paradise Trail.
Shorr said the referendum language needs to be clearer.
“The charter allows for specific projects and specific programs to be voted on by the people,” he said. “We want to take this $4 million [that has been approved] and make it go twice as far.”
Councilman Dave DeMarois agreed and asked attorney Jacob Horowitz, filling in for Town Attorney Michael Cirullo, if he could clear up the language.
Horowitz said that the charter states that the electorate can authorize the issuance of debt for a very specific purpose, and the council would need to define that purpose.
“This provision would allow that without a codified amendment to the charter,” he said. “You would essentially be implementing this provision, having that referendum to authorize an issuance beyond what the charter otherwise limits.”
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia said one problem with the last referendum was it stated that the loan would be for “land, equipment and roads.”
“Are we buying land anytime soon, because I’m against that,” she said.
Vice Mayor Todd McLendon, who was presiding at the meeting in Mayor Dave Browning’s absence, agreed, saying that the purpose of the meeting that evening was to narrow the language down to specifically what the council was trying to do.
Maniglia asked if the town had any estimate on the cost of leasing or purchasing heavy equipment such as graders, and Town Manager Bill Underwood said the town is doing that right now with a lease for a grader.
DeMarois clarified that the grader is being leased under the now dependent Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District.
Maniglia said her point was that the language of the failed referendum was the problem.
“We’re not buying land or buying heavy equipment that’s going to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars,” she said.
Connie Bell, who sits on the town’s Finance Advisory & Audit Committee, said she is the representative for 22nd and Flamingo roads, as well as Paradise Trail, and the town paid its former road contractor, Bergeron Land Development, to bring those roads up to grade.
“22nd was one of those that was brought up. However, there was no drainage put in before they brought the road up to where it’s at,” Bell said. “22nd was always on the list of roads to be done without a referendum. That’s why you paid all that money out to get the roads built up.”
She added that Larry Peters, the town’s new engineer, found the engineering and drainage maps for some of the roads at the LGWCD office, which would save a lot of money.
“If the referendum is not going to happen, I’m requesting that this council give us some of that drainage money that’s being spent on our road, because we have several properties that absolutely flood up to their front door when we get a lot of water,” she said.
DeMarois made a motion to hold a new referendum with language that states the specific roads to be improved, leaving an opening for other residents who petition to have their roads improved.
“I would say that we have B Road as the lead, because it’s a main road, and then the seven other roads,” he said. “After that, it would be town-wide.”
“So, this would not be a charter change, it would be a referendum?” McLendon asked.
Maniglia said that if the referendum is approved, it would allow financing for B Road and the seven other roads, as well as allow financing of any other residents who want improvements to their roads more than grading and adding rock.
McLendon questioned why specific roads need to be mentioned in the referendum language, and Horowitz said to use the greatest amount of specificity possible within the 75-word limit of the question.
“We would also suggest that you provide the amount of the loan and the duration of the loan,” he said.
Horowitz said that the town’s legal counsel would craft a proposed ordinance that will come back for a first reading at the next regular council meeting.
“You will see the actual wording of the ballot question,” he said. “You will see the wording of the ordinance, and you’ll be able to weigh-in on all those issues and fine-tune it. We will have some flexibility within the confines of those 75 words.”
DeMarois’ motion to hold a new referendum carried 4-0 with Browning absent.