A majority of votes in favor of an undergrounding project could force a minority to pay the most.
Residents of the north-end Longbeach Village and Sleepy Lagoon communities have been among the most vocal opponents of a $23.85 million undergrounding project for neighborhoods and side streets. They would also be among the most impacted, paying six times what residents of newer communities with undergrounded utilities would pay.
But if every north-end resident votes against the project in March, the referendum still could pass.
Town Manager Dave Bullock calls it “the two-thirds majority of Longboat Key.”
“The majority of the residents and registered voters live on the south end of the Key,” Bullock said last week. “That’s the way it is and has been for years.”
Commissioner Phill Younger, who changed his mind between first and second readings for the project and now opposes the referendum, said it’s “grossly unfair to the north-end property owners.”
Using Jan. 4 project assessment data and Longboat Key voter information, Younger calculated that approximately 67% of voters already have underground power lines and would pay an average of $73 per year, which would amount to 24% of the cost.
The remaining 33% of voters have overhead power lines and would pay an average of $456 per year, or 6.25 times as much as those property owners with above-ground wires. Those same 33% would pay 76% of the project’s cost according to Younger’s data.
“It’s equivalent to two foxes and a chicken meeting in a committee to decide what’s for supper,” said Younger, referring to the two-thirds majority. “The chicken loses that argument every time.”
Younger failed to sway his fellow commissioners Jan. 5 to consider an alternative with two referenda he proposed:
One referendum would ask all owners of properties with underground utilities whether they support paying for 20% of a project to underground utilities for neighborhoods and districts that agree to bury their power lines.
Another referendum would simultaneously go before owners in neighborhoods and districts with approximately 25 or more property owners seeking to bury their power lines. If they approve it, they agree to pay for approximately 80% of project costs while underground utility property owners pay for the other 20%. If those residents vote it down, they keep their above-ground power lines.
Younger urged his fellow commissioners to delay the neighborhood project referendum until August.
Some commissioners, including Mayor Jack Duncan, believe the concept Younger proposes defeats the overall purpose of burying all of the Key’s power lines
District 1 Commissioner-elect Armando Linde, a resident of Country Club Shores on the south end — where utilities are above-ground, but residents largely support the project — attended the Jan. 6 Longbeach Village Association meeting that drew approximately 80 north-end residents.
Linde wrote in an email to Country Club Shores residents that if the referendum passes, many Villagers plan to attend a June court hearing in Sarasota that will be scheduled to validate the bond issuance.
Linde and others are urging south-end residents not only to vote in March but also to plan to attend the future hearing to show the judge support for the funding methodology.
Younger said the only way the commission can return to the issue is if one of the commissioners agrees to revisit the vote before the March election.
“I’m just looking for fairer representation,” Younger said. “At the very least, the chicken that shows up with the two foxes to decide what’s for supper should be given a gun.”