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Longboat Key Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019 2 weeks ago

Longboat initially OKs maximum borrow for beach projects, asks Manatee for help

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Commissioners agree on ballot language of no more than $34.5 million, though final OK pending in December.
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

With one more vote from the Town Commission, a ballot measure for the March election will be finalized, seeking a maximum of $34.5 million for the town’s next round of beach renourishment and maintenance.

Commissioners on Monday unanimously signed off on the maximum dollar figure and maximum length of the loan (eight years) with the understanding that the town will likely end up borrowing less. The ballot language will come up again in December for final approval, then it will appear in town elections on March 17.

In three referendums since 1992, the town has sought voter approval to borrow a total of $51 million, but the actual figure borrowed totals $40.3 million. Town voters have never rejected a beach plan referendum.

Sue Smith, the town’s finance director, told commissioners that the overall plan, which includes a range of work beyond sand dredging, is estimated to cost $45 million. Cash on hand from local tax sources along with state and federal reimbursements from beach damage done by storms dating back to 2008 reduces the need to borrow. And the town expects, but can’t count on, reimbursements from competitive state programs at a rate of 26.94% after the work is done.

Smith recommended authorizing no less than $34.5 million to cover a range of contingencies, including missing out on some of those competitive reimbursements.

Town commissioners also recommended revising the language of a letter, signed by Mayor George Spoll, to be sent to Manatee County Commission chair Stephen Jonsson, seeking $2.89 million to help pay for the beach plan’s first project: a series of five sand-saving groins on the north end of the island, including Greer Island, along with sand pumped from Longboat Pass to fill them. That project is priced at $10 million.

The letter notes that two of the five groins will be placed on Manatee County-owned property, at a cost of $600,000 each, plus associated sand costs.

Commissioners suggested adding context and justification for the financial request.

 “It almost sounds to me we’re begging for the money in the tone, maybe, in the way we talk about it,’’ Commissioner Mike Haycroft said, adding Manatee County residents pay millions in property taxes annually. “It’s Manatee County’s island, it’s Manatee county’s beach.’’

Town Manager Tom Harmer is meeting with Manatee County Administrator Cheri Corea this week to discuss a range of topics. He said he would raise the issue with her, as well.

“We’re trying to find a balance, and we’ll work with the mayor on that,’’ Harmer said on revising the letter. “I think this is the first letter from the mayor to the chair, and it will be very public and discussed by both commissions. My advice would be direct but not too direct.‘’

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