Lox Council, Finance Committee Focus On Infrastructure At Joint Meeting

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council and its Finance Advisory & Audit Committee held a joint meeting on the upcoming year’s budget Monday, Aug. 2, with a focus on creating a capital plan in order to qualify for grants.

Assistant Town Manager Francine Ramaglia said that town staff had presented the council with a mostly balanced budget, and biggest issue was to decide how to address infrastructure improvements.

Ramaglia reminded those attending that the preliminary budget had remained basically the same as the previous year’s $5.8 million budget, with a .3 millage rate, $200 per unit for roads and drainage, and $450 per unit annually for solid waste collection.

“As we started this year, we had a total of $2 million that we could invest in capital projects,” she said. “What we have committed funds to is the OGEM [Open-Graded Emulsion Mix] repair.”

FAAC Chair Anita Kane said that from what she saw on the balance sheet, funds allocated for capital projects next year were already overextended.

“There are no capital funds left for anything in next year’s budget,” she said. “In other words, there are no funds left to allocate for anything else. In fact, we are $115,000 overextended for the next budget year. Is that an accurate statement?”

Ramaglia agreed that the committed funds exceed the available funds.

“We have committed more than what we had available at the beginning of this year,” she said. “We had $2.1 million available to spend, and we have committed a little bit more than that.”

Kane also pointed out that one recently refurbished road failed due to improper drainage and asked about how to ensure proper drainage in the future.

Public Works Director Larry Peters said that the town engineer designed the roads conceptually, and the town provided many locations for drainage.

“Since the inception, I’ve always said you should put in drainage first,” Peters said. “We have chosen not to do so. That’s where we are.”

Kane added that she was glad to see that some of the capital projects had been started but felt addressing some of the drainage issues would be a good idea.

Councilwoman Marge Herzog brought up that funding might be available through the American Rescue Plan. Ramaglia added that in order to apply, the town must be very specific on how the money will be spent.

Titcomb said that any free money comes with conditions.

“It really isn’t free money, it’s conditional money,” he said. “I believe we’re eligible for $1.4 million based on our scale and scope, but again, without a plan — without the conditions in place to actually receive and spend that money — we’re not even trying to grab it yet until we know we can meet all those conditions.”

Ramaglia said that there is a lot of attention now on water projects, and Titcomb agreed.

In summarizing, Ramaglia said the last phase of a working budget is to establish a working capital plan.

“We’ve shared with you that the number one thing that we need to do is start to put some policies and priorities in place,” she said. “We need to figure out how we’d like to proceed in terms of processes on how to develop a capital plan, and also, whether we want to meet again as a group or whether we want the FAAC to put something together and bring it forward.”

Kane said she was disappointed that the FAAC did not have a quorum present. One member called that evening to report that he had been exposed to COVID-19 and could not attend, leaving only she and FAAC Member Bruce Cunningham present.

“I’m concerned about quorums, but we have some great financial minds on the FAAC committee,” she said.

Vice Mayor Laura Danowski said she felt that before trying to put a capital project together, they should decide what policies to use to approve projects.

Ramaglia said the town has working drafts of road prioritization and standards, as well as a draft of the cost sharing.

“We could review these drafts and come up with what we agree on and apply it to the projects that we know,” Ramaglia said, pointing out that the town has several pilot projects that have been completed that could be further developed. “We’re not ruling anything out by having a policy, we’re just putting in the step that brings it forward for the council to vote on.”

Kane suggested reviewing the OGEM projects that have been outlined, pointing out that a lot of them have been completed or are underway.

Danowski asked if the projects should be prioritized by need or by how far a particular project is toward completion, and Town Attorney Elizabeth Lenihan said that the draft policy she has started has criteria that includes what to think about when prioritizing.

“There are tiers of criteria, so some are more important to look at first than others,” she said. “You can either look at them blanketly or which one has so many boxes checked, or you can assign a point system so you can tally up points, then you have a number that gives you priority. So, there are lots of ways you can do it.”

Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia said she felt it was the town staff’s job to prioritize and for the council to approve. “Our public works director and staff can prioritize, not the council,” Maniglia said. “I don’t think it’s our job.”

Titcomb said that the policy falls ultimately on the council, but his staff will present the council with best practices and projected policy.

“In your legislative role, you get to say, ‘Yeah, that’s really important to us,’ or ‘That’s not as important,’ and prioritize what that policy looks like,” he said. “Policy and appropriations are the two main categories that fall in the legislative arena.”