Loxahatchee Groves Town Council members agreed Tuesday, June 1 to shift funding for Okeechobee Blvd. corridor improvements to its 2022 budget, opening the door for the use of money in the current budget on other road projects.
At stake is the town’s commitment to provide $735,000 toward $3.2 million in improvements along Okeechobee Blvd. that would give the town at least some control over further development of the thoroughfare.
The decision came in response to a request from the Palm Beach Transportation Planning Authority for clarification of the town’s timing on the project, which includes a multi-use trail with pedestrian/equestrian warning signals and crossings along Okeechobee between A Road and Folsom Road, and a roundabout at the intersection of Okeechobee and Folsom Road.
Councilwoman Marge Herzog said that the move would create a “win-win on financing, a win-win on timing… [and] a win-win in having input into the design of the project.”
Without a commitment to the project, others will decide how Okeechobee Blvd. will be redesigned. “Don’t let the city people, instead of rural people, decide what we get,” Herzog warned.
“This project is important to everyone in the town,” Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia added.
Currently, the county has plans to widen Okeechobee Blvd. through the town to four lanes by 2030 and six lanes by 2035. However, those plans are not written stone. By doing the improvements under the terms of the TPA grant, the town buys itself at least seven years from completion — the projected useful life of the multi-purpose trail — before the road could be widened.
As part of receiving the TPA grant, the town was to have put up another $415,000 for contingencies. However, through negations between county and town staff, the county has agreed to accept a surety bond instead. The bond is like an insurance policy that can be purchased for a small fraction of the contingency fee.
In other road-related items, the council agreed on a 4-1 vote that North D Road would be the next road up for repair after North C Road, but that the repairs could not exceed $400,000.
They heard from Public Works Director Larry Peters that South E Road is in very poor condition and is in need of reconstruction.
“During heavy rain events, stormwater is pooling in the roadway and will soon wash out the berm along the E Canal,” Peters said.
Council members approved the purchase of $108,700 of base rock for use in the repair project.
However, the council declined to approve a $423,000 bid from Hardrives Inc. for the paving of North B Road from Okeechobee to North Road, citing long-standing easement issues. They directed Town Manager Jamie Titcomb to facilitate discussions and build consensus with B Road residents and resolve the issues as soon as possible.
In other business:
• The council heard a presentation from Pat Stidham, assistant executive director of Dress for Success Palm Beaches, in support of the efforts of Vice Mayor Laura Danowski and Town Clerk Lakisha Burch to collect clothes to help women in need dress appropriately for job interviews and the workplace. Donations are being collected at town hall between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. from now until June 14. Shoes, handbags and gently worn clothing are especially needed. The clothes collected will be delivered to the Dress for Success boutique in Belle Glade on June 16.
• The council approved a resolution related to the Loxahatchee Groves Scholarship Fund, which was created in 2018 with $7,170 from surplus funds remaining from the Palm Beach County League of Cities luncheon, which had been hosted by the town. Since then, members of the Scholarship Fund Committee have done most of the fundraising through donations. To keep committee members from running afoul of the state’s stringent Sunshine Laws, it was recommended that the committee be disbanded each year after the scholarships are awarded and reinstated each April 1, allowing former and possible future committee members to meet, plan and solicit donations. There is currently $11,880 in the fund.
• The council agreed that council members should not be involved in soliciting easements of any kind from property owners. They directed that it should be the responsibility of the town manager, public works director and town lobbyist to solicit such easements.
• It was also noted that the Florida League of Cities recently recognized Titcomb with a 2021 Home Rule Hero Award for “his hard work and advocacy efforts during the 2021 legislative session.”