The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council met for a workshop session on Tuesday, June 16 to discuss priorities for roads, canals and drainage — and how to fund them.
There was little disagreement on priorities, but the big question was how to fund the work.
Council members wanted to fix or replace OGEM (open-graded emulsified mix) roads, discuss guardrails on canal roads, improve minor roads with easements if the property owners want it, reduce speed limits, replace and improve signage, and improve drainage on the north end of town, among other things.
Opinions diverged during the discussion of the possibility of floating bonds, with some council members saying that they would not support going into long-term debt.
Mayor Lisa El-Ramey said she would not support a program where the cost of repairing some of the smaller roads is encumbered by the residents as a whole. “I worry as we take on long-term debt,” she said.
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia agreed. “I would like to see money in the bank again one day,” Maniglia said.
Assistant Town Manager Francine Ramaglia said that there are limits on what the town can do on a cash basis and noted that the town has two bond issues approved by the voters that have not been acted on by the council.
“Both of those bonds were designed to solve problems that existed at the time, and they were supported by very well-structured policies for the conditions in the town and the district at the time,” Ramaglia said.
The Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District, now a dependent district, had all its rights and responsibilities conveyed to the town, giving the town a totally different financial picture, she said.
“I’m not sure if anybody really said that,” Ramaglia said, referring to previous discussions on bond financing. “We have a lot of financial power in that we have a tool that most towns don’t have. We have a special assessment that is done by acreage.”
That funding mechanism can be used for both maintenance and capital improvements, she noted.
She added that a low-interest general obligation (GO) bond is also available, if approved by the voters, which has the most flexibility. Ramaglia recommended that the council complete a master plan to outline what it wants to do if it decides to present a bond question to the voters.
“In this particular year, because it’s COVID affected, it is not the same as the next year will be, or the previous years have been,” she said, suggesting that they use the delay to better plan and structure the work to be done.
Ramaglia said that in the short term, the town has already been using gas tax money to improve the roads, and they are now in much better shape.
“It seems like we can bring back comparisons of material, and we can use some of the policies that are already on the books for the roads that we need to prioritize,” she said, adding that the Florida League of Cities is willing to float a low-cost bond for the town.
Town Manager Jamie Titcomb added that shorter-term bonds could be rolled into a GO bond.
El-Ramey pointed out that most properties in the community have agricultural exemptions, but Maniglia said that many properties are being sold, and they are being taxed on the sale price.
Titcomb added that tax valuations are up an average of 7.2 percent for Loxahatchee Groves.
Town staff will make specific recommendations pertaining to road and drainage issues at future council meetings.