Pro-Incorporation Group Moving Ahead After Clearing First Legislative Hurdle

Now that the bid for an Acreage-area incorporation referendum has passed its first big hurdle, pro-incorporation supporters are wasting no time preparing for a possible November vote.

“Due to time constraints, we’re already asking residents to sign up for certain committees,” said Elizabeth Accomando, part of a three-person VoteLox committee that is pushing for the referendum.

The committees will study and make recommendations on various aspects of a possible shift from governance by Palm Beach County and the Indian Trail Improvement District to a municipal government for the 43,000 residents living in the semi-rural enclave, said Accomando, who was elected to the ITID Board of Supervisors in November.

VoteLox has also set up a series of monthly informational meetings beginning Feb. 23 and continuing to Nov. 2.

If the bill makes it through the legislature in Tallahassee this session, the referendum would be held Nov. 7. A 60 percent vote by those who cast ballots is required for incorporation.

A similar referendum bill failed last year after it could not gain the full support of the Palm Beach County Legislative Delegation. The latest bill was approved unanimously by delegation members at their Thursday, Jan. 12 meeting in Jupiter.

“I’ve always said that I represent the people, and I’ll support whatever 60 percent of the people want… That’s democracy,” said ITID Supervisor Keith Jordano, while noting that voter turnout could be problematic in an off-year election. “I’d hate to see it decided by 20 percent of the voters.”

Getting information to the community will be key to the incorporation effort.

“There’s a lot of education that needs be done between now and then,” said ITID President Michael Johnson, who attended the session. “[But] this will give the community a chance to have a voice. Yes or no.”

ITID Vice President Betty Argue said that she believes the issues that stymied the previous bill have been addressed.

“I’m very happy to see the referendum move forward through the local delegation,” said Argue, a supporter of the effort. “I’m looking forward to seeing it get through the legislature.”

State Rep. Rick Roth (R-District 94), who represents the area, sponsored the bill for the second year in a row.

“I think there was less confusion about the bill this year,” he said. “This puts the community on the road to a referendum… but it’s a difficult process, and there is no guarantee the bill will pass.”

The bill must be approved by several legislative committees, then pass both houses of the legislature during the 2023 session, which runs March 7 to May 5. It will then need to be signed by the governor.

Opposition can be expected from within the district and from neighboring municipalities, such as Westlake, that may hope to someday gobble up portions of the area through annexation, Roth said. He added that even Palm Beach County may oppose it because of the loss of some tax revenue from the 17,000 lots within the 110-square-mile community.

Roth put the chances of the bill’s passage at “a little better than 50 percent.”

While Roth suggested that Minto and Westlake might oppose the incorporation bill, Kenneth Cassel, who manages both the City of Westlake and the Seminole Improvement District, said Westlake has no plans to oppose the bill. If other adjacent municipalities, such as Loxahatchee Groves, Palm Beach Gardens, Royal Palm Beach and West Palm Beach, intend to do so, Cassel said he is not aware of it.

“As far as incorporation, we think the process was better this time,” he said. “Let them vote.”

Although all five ITID supervisors have expressed support for the referendum, most have stopped short of outright advocacy for incorporation. Not Supervisor Patricia Farrell, who was elected in November on a pro-incorporation platform.

“I wouldn’t say it was my main issue, but I didn’t hide the fact that I support incorporation,” she said this week. “My plan would be to help educate people on both sides of the issue, pros and cons… to help them understand the impact on the area.”

Farrell and Accomando said their advocacy would be as private citizens and understand that their involvement as public officials must be limited.

Under state law, ITID resources cannot be used to advocate for or against incorporation, ITID Executive Director Burgess Hanson said this week. However, ITID staff can be used to gather information and study how incorporation would impact the workings of the district, he said.