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Longboat Key Tuesday, Mar. 30, 2021 9 months ago

Town considers funding model for canal dredging

It would cost the town about $11.4 million to start the program.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

The town is looking into the development of a canal-dredging program and the details on how to and who should pay for it.

During a presentation at the March 22 Town Commission workshop meeting, Longboat Key projects manager Charlie Mopps estimated the program startup would cost about $11.4 million.

“The goal is an ongoing funded program, not just the project,” Mopps said. “It’s a program.”

Mopps based the startup projection on Charlotte County, where he managed the county’s waterway system for 15 years. He also used the town’s beach renourishment projects as a guide.

“Once you get past this $11.4 million and now you’re in the maintenance, that $11.4 million becomes much smaller and much [more] manageable so the assessments can go down,” Mopps said.

At-Large Commissioner BJ Bishop pointed out that the town would need to raise the money during the next few years.

“We get to the bottom [of] that really terrifying number, $11.4 million that we need to have come from somewhere,” Bishop said. “I would assume that we don’t need to fund that bucket of money all in one year.”

Town Attorney Maggie Mooney explained to commissioners that ad valorem taxes and other taxes each come with specific requirements on access and overall benefits.

“Non-ad valorem assessments have different legal tests that we would have to meet if that’s the path that the commission decides to go on, but the importance of non-ad valorem assessments is you get to assess based upon benefits received versus just the value of the fund site,” Mooney said.

Mooney said the payment of the program is a problem because it’s been considered by previous Town Commissions.

“I call it a problem because it’s been kicked around for many, many years,” Mooney said. “My predecessor, and I’ve been with the town now for eight years, must have written three or four memos laying out these same options to the prior commission saying, ‘You’re either having to fund it through your general fund, which has some restrictions on usage when you’re funding through millage, or you can develop a non-ad valorem assessment program and shift some of the funding burden to the people who benefit the most.’"

If the town pursues a non-ad valorem program, the town would have to create a methodology to determine who benefits and what the basis would be per property owner.

Town documents state that portions of Longboat Key’s canal system are so interconnected that it provides overall general recreational amenities to people regardless of whether individual properties front canals. Other parts of the system provide a more direct benefit to canal-fronting properties.

Public Works Director Isaac Brownman said the reason for the proposed program is to develop sustained plans for canal dredging and canal navigation maintenance. He said the Town Commission requested in February 2020 for the Public Works Department staff to bring back information about a possible canal program, and that it is one of the commission’s 2021 strategic plan initiatives.

On March 22, town commissioners reached a consensus to allow staff to move forward with researching a preferred program concept and have them work with a consultant on funding models.

“We don’t have a consultant identified, but we will go through our procurement process to identify consultants and select one that way,” Town Manager Tom Harmer said.

Mopps said the next time commissioners hear from the Public Works Department about the proposed program, the town will likely have hired a consultant.

Town staff is expected to follow up with commissioners on cost estimates; making sure the program abides by Town Code and state law; and providing program parameters and funding methodologies.

“We haven’t spent any money today, have we?” Mayor Ken Schneier joked.

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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