To mill or not to mill? And by what process should homeowners in The Acreage decide?
Those were the questions several 94th Street North residents were asking at the Wednesday, June 7 meeting of the Indian Trail Improvement District Board of Supervisors.
Resident Alex Small expressed her frustration that a petition she promoted to oppose millings on 94th Street was not being accepted as final by ITID.
Within the allotted 45 days after notice that the street was scheduled for millings, Small said she spent many hours collecting the necessary 25 of 48 signatures from property owners needed to block millings on the two-mile stretch.
“I was taken aback… [because] I completed what was required in a timely manner,” she said.
Small’s comments triggered a larger discussion about the changing nature of the area’s needs and ITID’s ability to serve them, especially as it pertains to longer stretches of residential roads.
“We only ever anticipated milling roads of a quarter to a half mile,” ITID Vice President Betty Argue said. “Now we’re able to do [longer sections], and that’s great, but at the end of the day, what residents want is what residents should get.”
As it is, 50 percent plus one residents of a dirt road must request millings, then be among the first five petition presenters at ITID offices on the first business day of October. A $500 filing fee is required.
If a street is not among the five selected but is later chosen for millings, residents get notice 45 days before the millings process begins should they wish to challenge the decision with a petition.
“We know there are a large majority who want their roads milled, but when they say they don’t want it, we need to respect it,” Argue said.
Another question, she said, is for how long should a petition for or against milling be valid? One year? Three years? Five years?
“These are things that were never contemplated when we adopted the petition process,” Argue said. “They’re just some growing pains we need to work through.”
Argue asked that staff add a review of the district’s milling policy to the board’s July 19 agenda and that no millings be placed on 94th Street North without direct approval from the board.
However, Supervisor Patricia Farrell said she believes the millings procedures have undergone enough study.
“We’ve already done a revamp on the procedures,” she said. “I think we’ve already changed the process enough.”
In other business:
• The supervisors moved consideration of the 2024 fiscal year budget to the July 19 meeting.
At their May 31 budget hearing, staff offered a proposed $24 million budget that would require a large assessment increase to fund. From the outset, staff made clear that cuts were expected before the budget is finalized.
At the June 7 meeting, supervisors were told $4.6 million in possible cuts already had been identified. They tentatively set the district’s 2024 Truth-in-Millage (TRIM) rate to cover a possible $19.4 million budget, which is still subject to additional cuts. That means the per-acre assessment increase could be as much as $132, but it cannot be more. If it remains at $132, the average ITID property owner would pay $919 per acre in district assessments.
ITID has until July 28 to submit its final TRIM number.
• Parks & Recreation Director Kenny Lawrence proposed an $858,121 maintenance budget for fiscal year 2024 that would shift maintenance of all nine of the district’s parks to a private company.
The 2023 maintenance budget was $284,000. The change would represent a $574,000 increase.
Lawrence has said that more staffing — either in-house or outsourced — is needed to properly maintain and oversee the parks, especially Acreage Community Park. Using an outside company allows the district to avoid hiring eight or more full-time workers, he said.
The supervisors took no action on Lawrence’s proposal but will take it up as part of the overall budget process.
• Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Rob DeMarzo reported that several juvenile suspects had been identified in the recent arson at the Temple Park restrooms.
It’s the latest in a series of problems created by the residents of five Florida Department of Children & Families (DCF) youth homes located in The Acreage, said ITID Executive Director Burgess Hanson. He noted that video shows that “the suspects were dropped off at Temple Park and left unsupervised.”
The youth homes can house up to five troubled youths, who are supposed to be under 24-hour supervision.
“It’s a handful for a two-parent family to handle five kids, let alone five troubled kids with one person,” Argue said. “I think [that DCF policy is] doing a disservice to these kids… but as it relates to the district, it’s an impact on the works of the district and it is affecting the community as well.”
DeMarzo pointed out that recent vandalism at ITID parks had mostly been done by local children, but he added that crime generated by youth-home residents has been and remains a serious problem, particularly when it comes to automobile burglaries and petty theft.
In May, three construction burglaries, three residential burglaries, three vehicle burglaries, seven larcenies and 13 stolen vehicles were reported to the PBSO from the ITID patrol area.
“More than 50 percent of our calls are [related] to these homes,” he said. “We spin our wheels. We do our job. We arrest the same kids over and over again.”
Asked what would happen with the suspects in the Temple Park arson, DeMarzo said that would be up to the State Attorney’s Office, but it is possible they will be returned to the same group home.
Argue asked staff to draft a letter to DCF and the Palm Beach County Commission expressing the board’s concern about the process and the location of five group homes in the area.
The best hope for giving “idle hands something positive to do” may be getting youth home residents involved with a Police Athletic League (PAL) program or with Acreage Athletic League competitions, Farrell said.
PBSO Capt. Craig Turner has been trying to establish a PAL program in The Acreage but has yet to find a suitable location or the funding for the two facilitators needed to oversee it.
• Finally, the board agreed to a five-year contract extension for Hanson, which includes a two percent raise. The change took effect immediately. Hanson’s new base salary is $193,800. Farrell said that Hanson is well worth it due to his “knowledge of the community and the respect he has from his staff and the board.”