The Town of Loxahatchee Groves has a number of challenges in 2019, including the search for a new manager or management company, maintaining and improving infrastructure, and re-establishing a working relationship with the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
Town Manager Bill Underwood told the Town-Crier this week that his immediate focus is on infrastructure issues.
“We’re moving forward with getting a grader,” he said. “We’ve got three good employees who are operators with the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District. We’ve patched a lot of potholes. We’ve laid a lot of rock, and we’re going to be putting down much more rock real soon.”
Funding will be through a combination of gas tax money, district funds and the general fund, Underwood said.
“We’ve completed roughly a dozen catch basins on the roads, and we’re continuing that program,” Underwood said. “Hopefully, we’ll try to get more than that done this year, so the roads drain well. We’ve done a lot of repairs to the canal banks where they’re sloughing off.”
Underwood said the equipment that the town inherited from the LGWCD required a lot of repairs.
“It was not working very well,” Underwood said. “If the equipment they sold was worse than the equipment we have, then I guess it’s a good thing they sold it. It has been continual repairs.”
Replacing the equipment will be slow, he said, since the town currently does not have the ability to take out loans for more than 36 months.
There is also a charter question on the March referendum asking voters if they want the town to allow a loan for up to 10 years in order to provide 50-50 matching funds to residents who want their roads paved. A policy was approved for residents to apply for road improvements with a 50-50 match, but the companion referendum item failed the first time it was on the ballot, so the town is trying again.
“We’ll see how that goes, and we’ll be able to do some road repairs, assuming it passes,” Underwood said. “We’re going to try to get another tractor for mowing because we’ve had some issues with the large and smaller tractors.”
Other plans include selling or trading in the long-reach excavator.
“We’re going to swap that out for other equipment because it really doesn’t fit very well in Loxahatchee Groves,” he said. “Most of the berms are too narrow.”
The town will continue work on its equestrian trail system, which recently opened up due to the LGWCD’s acquisition of ownership of canal easements before the district merged with the town.
“We’ve opened all the gates, and one of our issues, which is why we need a new mower, is to keep the berms mowed so they can be used,” Underwood said. “We mailed out to all of the landowners where they abut the berm advising them that they were being opened up, and if they had a concern or issue, that they should contact us. Thus far, we’ve had less than a dozen folks [respond].”
The council will continue its search for a new manager or management company to run the town, which began with the hiring of an assistant manager and district engineer.
“A manager search firm comes in next week,” Underwood said. “We’ll see where that goes.”
Underwood said the major issue will be whether a new manager or firm understands the dynamics of the town.
“There are a lot of issues,” he said. “They need to understand the populous, the demographics, the major issues of the town relative to canals, of the district, roads, police/sheriff’s services and code enforcement.”
Mayor Dave Browning plans to meet with Sheriff Ric Bradshaw to discuss continuing law enforcement with the PBSO, which gave notice it would not continue its contract with the town after Oct. 31, 2019.
Underwood said he is waiting to see the outcome of that meeting.
“The three pillars of government are safety, health and welfare, and one of the safety factors is public safety — that’s police and fire,” Underwood said. “If you have that pillar, and you’ve lost a leg, I don’t know what that means because I’ve never been in that situation.”
Underwood said code enforcement will continue, although there are issues with the codes of the town, and the council recently reduced its code enforcement budget.
“We don’t do it to make money,” he stressed. “We only do it because the council said do it. It’s part-time, and being part-time, it’s very difficult to cover everything that is going on. I believe some on the council want to control which codes should be enforced and which ones should not.”
Underwood said the Unified Land Development Code Committee has been working hard to fix flaws in the code, but they are not moving fast enough, and there are flaws in the comprehensive plan that have prevented the town from making infrastructure improvements.
Underwood said he has advised the council that it needs to change the floor area ratio for commercial areas, at least for Southern Blvd.
“They need to attack the comp plan and the ULDC with great gusto,” Underwood said.
Underwood said residential enterprises are one issue that prevails because the term is not defined, and many of the residential enterprises came into existence before the town incorporated.
“Technically, you could build a power plant,” Underwood said. “When they implemented the business tax receipts, [council members] tried to give people a year to get right with the law or quit business.”
Underwood said some of the residential businesses have existed for as long as 30 years but have never been county approved. “That’s the current issue they have to come to terms with,” Underwood said.
He said the town’s new public works department, formerly the LGWCD, is making headway with the road and canal repair with the recent hiring of engineer Larry Peters.
“We are making progress, and I think they’ll continue to make progress,” Underwood said.
Underwood added that the hiring of Francine Ramaglia as assistant town manager was perfect for handling the transition of the LGWCD to the town, with her experience with the Acme Improvement District and the Village of Wellington.
“She has the unique position of being able to merge the district into the town — an experience that not every manager has,” Underwood said. “That is a priceless combination.”