Two important referendum questions are being posed to Loxahatchee Groves voters on the Tuesday, March 12 ballot. One asks if they want to extend the bond repayment period for residents who want to improve their roads, and the other is to give the town flexibility in deciding on its future law enforcement services.
Mayor Dave Browning said approving the bond referendum would extend the ability of the town to take out long-term loans to benefit residents who want their roads improved by waiving a charter requirement that the town be restricted to three years to pay off a loan and allowing 11 years instead.
“The referendum would allow the town to borrow money on behalf of the residents to be paid back over an 11-year period only for road construction,” Browning told the Town-Crier on Tuesday. “It is not open to anything else. If they vote to get their road paved, they reimburse us over 11 years.”
Browning said the law enforcement referendum changes the charter requirement for the council to go to a referendum to seek police protection from an entity other than the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.
“What this does is it allows us to do whatever we need to do without coming before the people again as a referendum,” Browning said. “We have a contract with the sheriff, we still want to keep it, but it doesn’t limit us to that.”
Browning said the charter did not anticipate the possibility of the sheriff recently deciding not to renew the contract.
“We never considered the sheriff opting out,” Browning said. “When we became a town, our neighboring community, Royal Palm [Beach], had its own police, so we always had the opportunity to go to them if the sheriff did not want to do it.”
Now, with the PBSO in Royal Palm Beach, the town’s options are limited.
“It’s a hard one,” Browning said. “I think people are going around saying if we vote for it, we’re not going to have a contract with the sheriff. That’s really not what it says. It just gives us the ability to better negotiate because we’re not caught in the spot where we have to deal with the sheriff, and we don’t have any other choice.”
Town Manager Bill Underwood stressed that the bond referendum only affects residents who have approved road improvements.
“This particular one on the roads has identified specific roads that would be able to be funded through an assessment… and what I’ve heard that people tend to think is that it puts the town in debt,” Underwood said. “What it’s putting in debt are those specific property owners. They are the only ones who will ever be assessed to pay the debt, not everybody.”
Underwood said the affected residents include those who have approved paving projects on Los Angeles Drive, San Diego Drive, 22nd Street North off C Road and North B Road. He pointed out that North B Road resident Marianne Miles spearheaded a petition approved to get paving by at least 51 percent of the land mass on B Road, which is a connector for several of the approved roads.
“Because this is an assessment, I don’t know why people would be necessarily against something that is not impacting them directly,” Underwood said.
Underwood said he felt the town could have extended the bond question to 15 years, since the paved road has a lifespan of 20 years and the property owners who volunteered to pay an assessment to pave their road could reduce their annual payments through a low-cost municipal bond.
“It doesn’t affect anybody else, and that misnomer — and I’ve heard that some of the candidates believe that it’s going to put the town in debt — the people put in debt are the people who agreed to be assessed,” he said.
Underwood said the town is the conduit for the debt for the individuals who live on those streets, and the bond can only be used for road construction. “It’s to build roads on those specifically identified segments,” he said.
Regarding the law enforcement question, Underwood noted that Wellington took the sheriff’s clause out of its charter years ago, although it has a vibrant relationship with the PBSO.
Underwood added that the primary function of government is for the health, safety and welfare of the citizens, whether in the charter or not. He feels taking out the sheriff’s language from the charter does not negate the responsibility of the town to provide services for the health, safety and welfare of constituents, and that the sheriff will have to continue some form of law enforcement even without a contract.
“The sheriff kind of dictates what that enforcement is,” Underwood said. “My understanding is that they will respond to 911 calls. I guess that if they get a lot of frivolous 911 calls, they may start questioning that. However, it has got to be a serious action that they will respond to. Other actions — your tractor got stolen, somebody broke into your house or your car, numerous other items — they might do a report for you.”
Underwood pointed out that having a full police service includes having a detective service and investigations, as well as many other services.
“I don’t know what the citizens’ response is going to be if they’re not responding to every call, or they’re not running traffic, or they’re not stopping through trucks,” Underwood said.
He pointed out that the town is in the process of adopting an ordinance requiring police protection, which can be amended by council action.
“The charter referendum just takes it out, so it doesn’t address it one way or the other,” Underwood said. “They can eliminate it and still contract with the sheriff. They can eliminate it and still create their own police department.”
Underwood pointed out that the statute states that you can have a contract with neighboring municipalities, but those use the PBSO.
“In our [situation], it’s either the sheriff or your own,” he said. “Eliminating that from the charter… the council decides what the level of service is that will be forthcoming.”