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Longboat Key Monday, Dec. 2, 2019 1 week ago

Longboat beach bonds head to March ballot

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With no Town Commission races to consider, referendum is the only local issue to on which to vote.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

With no contested races for Town Commission on the March 2020 ballot in Longboat Key, the bond referendum on beach nourishment and maintenance will be the only vote in town this spring.

Oh, and those men and women contending for president. They’ll be there, too, on Tuesday, March 17.

Commissioners on Monday signed off on the wording for the measure that sets in motion authorization to borrow no more than $34.5 million for no more than eight years. The comprehensive beach plan targets two major projects -- sand-saving groins on the north end of the island and islandwide renourishing projects. Included in the project is 912,000 cubic yards of sand. By the way, that’s enough sand to fill 11 of Epcot Center’s iconic Spaceship Earth spheres.

Sue Smith, the town's finance director, said the source of the money has yet to be determined: bank loans or public bonds. Bond interest rates could likely be lower at the time of borrowing, Smith said. If the borrowing was done today, the rates would range from 2.22% for six years to 2.29% for eight years.

The vote went 7-0.

Supervisors of elections in Manatee and Sarasota counties set a deadline of Dec. 16 to make sure there was ample time to add the town’s desired wording to ballots.

Expect town officials in the new year to begin a public outreach campaign aimed at civic and resident groups to further discuss the details of the beach plan and its benefits. Town voters have never rejected a referendum on beach borrowing, and town officials typically have borrowed a fraction of the maximums authorized by referendum.

Property owners in the Gulfside district, essentially all properties west of Gulf of Mexico Drive, would be responsible for paying off 80% of the debt through property taxes, and owners in the Bayside district, which includes the town’s islands in Sarasota Bay, pay 20%. Should Bayside voters turn against the bonds, Gulfside owners would pay back the full amount, though the work and total borrowing could be scaled back.

On an optimal timeline, millage rates for property owners would be set as part of the fiscal year 2021 budget, using updated property values established next spring and summer, and be published in August, 2020’s Truth in Millage statements. The first work on the beaches could begin in early 2021.

The town’s current tax rates for beach maintenance expire at the end of this budget cycle.

Among the projects envisioned as part of the beach plan:

  • Continue with Canal 1A dredging on the north end of the island;
  • Install five permeable groins on the north end in fiscal year 2021. Cost: $10 million, which includes dredging. Officials in Manatee County have been asked to consider paying $2.89 million to help finance this project because of its location in Manatee County. There’s been no word on reaction to that request;
  • $25 million for sand fill in fiscal year 2022;
  • $1.5 million for Army Corps Shore Protection Program in fiscal year 2021-23;
  • $1.45 million to tighten New Pass groin in fiscal year 2024;
  • $4.5 million for sand search, design, consulting and monitoring of protected species.

All told, the beach project is expected to cost in the neighborhood of $45 million, though the town estimates needing to borrow a maximum of $34.5 million.  State and federal reimbursements are likely, but not guaranteed, to bring down the required borrowing substantially, town officials say, adding it’s prudent to seek authorization to borrow the higher figure just in case.

In a financial model used to compare relative costs, a borrow of about  $28.5 million is envisioned with expected reimbursements.

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