Groves Officials Celebrate Legislative Success With Lobbyists

The Loxahatchee Groves Town Council celebrated a successful legislative session with its lobbying team on Tuesday, Aug. 1, reviewing the details of what happened in Tallahassee last spring and making plans for the upcoming legislative year.

On hand for the meeting was lobbyist Rana Brown, joined by fellow lobbyists Ronald Book and Sean Pittman via Zoom.

“We are proud to have had the opportunity to represent you,” Book said. “During the session, we reiterated to people that the Town of Loxahatchee Groves is not just a place on a map, it is a place with real rural lifestyle and a real community that deserves to be paid attention to in the process.”

After several years of not seeing any returns from its lobbying efforts in Tallahassee, the town this year ended up with a $750,000 appropriation to help fund the rehabilitation of its stormwater system. That money was not vetoed by the governor, like many other projects across the state.

Book also noted that he worked with others to stop a number of bills that would have been detrimental to Loxahatchee Groves, such as bills that would have curtailed home rule and intruded on agricultural communities.

After initially deciding not to hire a lobbyist at all, the council voted 3-2 last December to spend no more than $25,000 on lobbying services this year. Both Book’s firm and Pittman’s firm lowered their fees in order to meet the town’s spending limit.

“It was a pleasure to speak your name in offices that hadn’t heard in ways that we spoke it,” Pittman said. “That’s not just in the legislature, but in the governor’s office and with the governor’s budget people.”

Pittman and Book have joined together to represent several Palm Beach County cities, and they have plans for ways to benefit the town in the future. “The best is yet to come,” Pittman said.

Brown thanked State Sen. Gayle Harrell (R-District 31) and State Rep. Rick Roth (R-District 94) for sponsoring the funding request and working to get it approved. She also thanked Vice Mayor Robert Shorr for coming up to Tallahassee to support it as well.

Shorr spoke glowingly of his time with Pittman in Tallahassee.

“It was not like previous meetings,” he said. “These people take a very different approach. Everyone was super-responsive and cordial.”

As for the future, Brown said she is working with Town Manager Francine Ramaglia in talking with the Department of Economic Opportunity, now known as the Department of Commerce, to formally designate Loxahatchee Groves a state-recognized “rural community.”

“This would benefit the town in absolving you of the requirement of matching funding for different state grants that you may be eligible for,” Brown explained. “They were very enthusiastic about the town asking for this designation.”

Ramaglia said the designation will allow the town to apply for funding that it can’t apply for currently. It might also be able to request elimination of matching funds retroactively.

Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia asked if the matching grant money is in the budget for the $750,000 appropriation. Ramaglia explained that more than $375,000 is in the current year’s budget for stormwater management upgrades, which allow the town to access the $750,000 in state funding.

The lobbying agreement approved earlier this year was set up as a three-year plan. Ramaglia will be bringing forward a contract renewal.

Book noted that the upcoming session starts early in January with committee meetings this fall.

Brown said she is also working with the town on applying for a resiliency grant for larger water-related infrastructure projects.

“I look forward to helping you work out your upcoming funding requests,” Brown said.

Mayor Laura Danowski asked how long it will take to get the state’s rural designation.

Brown explained that it is based on data that will then be presented to the governor’s office, since it would be a gubernatorial designation.

“They want us to narratively demonstrate the reasons that we suffer economically because we are a rural community amid an urban environment,” Ramaglia added, explaining that it is a combination of things that will help the town qualify.

She added that the Resilient Florida planning grant approved that evening through support from engineering firms Keshavarz & Associates and the Engenuity Group will eventually allow the town to apply for even more grant money. “The Resilience Florida grant on the agenda tonight takes the town through the process that allows it to qualify for other grants,” Ramaglia said.

During public comment, resident Virginia Standish asked the town and the lobbyists to consider getting state approval for a fireworks ban, similar to the one now in place in Wellington’s Equestrian Preserve Area.