Latest ITID Budget Proposal Would Still Raise Assessments

Under the latest fiscal year 2023 budget proposal from staff, Indian Trail Improvement District residents could pay an additional $319 per acre to fund a $19.8 million budget, supervisors were told during a Wednesday, July 20 budget workshop.

That is down from staff’s previous budget proposal, but still represents a $7.2 million increase over the current year’s budget.

While the supervisors approved the proposal for purposes of the state’s TRIM (Truth in Millage) law deadline of July 22, it represents the upper limit of where next year’s assessment increase could be. The final budget and assessment numbers will be less, ITID Vice President Betty Argue said.

“I can’t defend this… The timing is terrible,” she said, referencing inflationary pressures in housing, food, gas and other essentials. “We’ve got to find a way to reduce that number… I could cut $3 million right now.”

“What is the amount that the board can live with?” Executive Director Burgess Hanson asked. “I can get it down to whatever you want. Give me a number, and let’s get it done.”

It’s not a matter of a specific number, Argue said later. “I think we can do better so that it is not so painful for our residents,” she said. “If we could get [the assessment] down a couple of hundred dollars, it would make a big difference for people.”

ITID’s fiscal year 2022 budget was $12.5 million with an average per-acre assessment of $600.

In June, district staff presented an initial “wish list” proposal of $24.3 million — an $11.7 million increase that would have doubled the per acre assessment, not including the $53 per acre assessment in some of the district’s units to fund the R3 road program. It included many of the programs and projects often requested by supervisors.

A public hearing on the budget will be held Wednesday, Aug. 17.

Even though the budget presented by Hanson represented a $4.5 million reduction from staff’s first proposal, Argue was particularly frustrated with the line item that included $500,000 for “future litigation expenses,” and $500,000 to begin replenishing a reserve fund that ITID has been tapping for several years.

ITID has been involved since August 2020 in a lawsuit with Minto Communities USA, the City of Westlake’s major landowner and developer, and the Seminole Improvement District over access to 140th Avenue North.

Overall, the proposed budget contains more than $2 million for attorney fees of one kind or another, Argue said, adding that the district’s legal fees are “out of control.”

As for the reserve fund, she said, “We can’t afford to have a cushion. We need to have a budget and stick to it.”

Other areas of concern among the supervisors were equipment purchases — from heavy, road-working equipment to pickups to specialty mowers — and salary increases for a number of positions.

Argue noted that the district is still playing catch-up on infrastructure maintenance and improvements neglected for the past 20 years. “We need to continue with those infrastructure projects,” she said. “[But otherwise,] we need to do only what we need to do.”

In other business:

• The board held a workshop regarding the Santa Rosa Groves neighborhood and heard from Hanson that there is an “80 to 90 percent chance” that ITID will be able to obtain $3 million in financing for improvements to the roads and canals of the newly activated unit.

“Santa Rosa Groves basically has no infrastructure,” he said. “We have to build everything from scratch.”

At 6.65 percent interest over 20 years, the per acre annual assessment on $3 million would be $469.30. On $2 million, it would be $320.37, Hanson said, while warning that he was unsure a $2 million loan could be obtained. In the long run, “$3 million is the cheaper path,” he said.

However, during public comment, Elizabeth Accomando, who lives in Santa Rosa Groves and was one of the leading proponents of activation into ITID, urged the district to stay with the $2 million number that had been previously discussed.

“We can’t afford the [higher] debt,” Accomando said. “If we can do the minimum, make the roads passable and get drainage intact so nobody floods… everyone would be more than happy living with that at this time.”

• During the board’s regular session, supervisors heard that the developers of a planned shopping center at the southwest corner of Northlake and Coconut boulevards — to be known as the Shops at Indian Trails — are seeking a letter of support from the board. The shops would be located across Northlake from the sprawling Avenir development, which is slated to eventually contain 3,000 single-family homes and 250 multi-family units.