Overwhelmed with options for funding a $42.1 million islandwide undergrounding project, Longboat Key commissioners opted to plug $50,000 to $100,000 into a study and opted to postpone a decision at Tuesday’s workshop. The decision doesn’t bury chances of a November referendum, though.
Commissioners are still focused on getting the issue on the November ballot and directed Town Manager Dave Bullock to provide new information by June.
Commissioners are wrestling with whether to use ad valorem funds (generated by uniform millage rates and funded by property taxes), non-ad valorem funds or a combination of the two to pay for undergrounding on Gulf of Mexico Drive and other communities that still have overhead wires.
Non-ad valorem assessments are based on the benefit each property receives, meaning residents who already have underground utilities would pay less for a project, and those whose neighborhoods or streets are aboveground would pay more.
The study being performed will assess each individual property and condo unit Key-wide. It will provide calculations for how much each property would pay using a variety of calculations that account for whether they currently have overhead wires or how close they are to overhead wires.
The report, though, states a non-ad valorem funding mechanism has “potential issues of uniformity.”
Bullock warned commissioners of the issues involved with figuring out how much each property owner should pay individually.
“You can create a line, but there will be breaks and openings in the line,” Bullock said. “If we get it wrong, a property owner disputes what he pays and a judge doesn’t validate the bonds, we start over again. I’m not comfortable bringing forward a multifaceted funding approach.”
Bullock said the non-ad valorem funding approach isn’t as easy as the straight 80/20 beach split, in which property owners on the Gulf pay 80% of the cost for beach projects, while property owners east of Gulf of Mexico Drive pay 20%.
A majority of commissioners, meanwhile, voiced potential support for an ad valorem funding referenda for undergrounding Gulf of Mexico Drive, followed by a non-ad valorem funding referenda for the rest of the island. But all seven commissioners agreed to review the report before making a decision.
“If you get data on every parcel, you can validate a decision,” Bullock said.
Undergrounding neighborhoods that have overhead wires, though, will be contingent on the electorate approving a referenda for Gulf of Mexico Drive.
When Bullock reports back to the commission in June, he will also present information about potential benefits of a fiber optic line installation, such as the possibility of improving the town’s communications.
Commissioners, meanwhile, also expressed concerns with making a decision later this year and its impact on a future vote, calling the referenda confusing and expressing a need for clarity.
“What concerns me now is we talked about the ability to communicate to the voters early on about what’s in front of them before we have the vote,” said Vice Mayor Jack Duncan. “Now, we’re looking at June before we decide. I want to continue to recognize the importance of letting residents know what they’ll be voting on because this is detailed and confusing.”