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GMD undergrounding referendum surges forward

The future of Gulf of Mexico Drive utilities is on the line for November's ballot, but some residents have concerns about how to proceed with burying utilities islandwide.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. July 1, 2015
  • Longboat Key
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Longboat Key’s registered voters will decide whether to surge ahead or pull the plug on a $25.25 million Gulf of Mexico Drive power pole and utilities undergrounding project.

The Longboat Key Town Commission voted 5-1 on second reading and public hearing Monday at a special meeting on referendum language that will come before Key voters Nov. 11. Commissioner Jack Daly was absent from the meeting, and Commissioner Pat Zunz voted against it.

It will be the only question on the ballot for Longboaters to consider.

The majority of the commission stuck to its original plan, which calls for voters to approve a pair of non-ad valorem funding options.

If the Gulf of Mexico Drive project is approved in November, any property owner who doesn’t currently have underground power lines will vote in a mail-only ballot on whether they want to pay $20.5 million in addition to the Gulf of Mexico Drive costs to have the rest of the island’s utilities buried in neighborhoods and side streets.

The second question, though, is what four residents in attendance at Monday’s meeting fear will doom the undergrounding project altogether.

They fear the disparity in costs will cause voters to nix the Gulf of Mexico Drive proposal so the second question is never brought forth.

For example example, the owners of a $564,000 home on Ranger Lane that has overhead wires would pay $208.22 annually over 30 years for the Gulf of Mexico project and $589.59 annually for 30 years to pay for its portion of burying the overhead wires remaining on the island — a combined annual cost of $797.81.

However, owners of a $510,000 home in Bayou Gate in Bay Isles that already has buried wires would pay $127.88 annually over 30 years to pay for the Gulf of Mexico Drive project and nothing for the other project because the neighborhood already has underground utilities.

Emerald Harbor resident John Summers and others Monday urged the commission to consider recrafting the question to one that would have all residents paying to bury utilities islandwide using ad valorem funds.

“All residents support this,” Summers said. “But the real issue is how costs should be shared among residents and businesses.”

Longbeach Village resident Gene Jaleski and St. Judes Drive resident Larry Grossman also urged the commission to reconsider.

“In the Village, where we have retired residents with limited income, they can’t afford it,” Jaleski said. “This will divide your community. The second referendum won’t pass.”

The only south-end resident to object to the referenda question concept Monday was Islander Club resident and former vice mayor David Brenner.

“I’m in full support of undergrounding throughout the Key,” Brenner said. “But this is doomed to go down.”

The majority of the commission disagreed and Mayor Jack Duncan, and Vice Mayor Terry Gans noted there’s still plenty of time to discuss at public meetings how the second referendum question should be crafted.

“There is not a person on this commission who has not devoted extensive study on both the fairest method to accomplish this improvement,” Gans said. “If the commission believes that modifications for the second referendum are appropriate, we are free to discuss that and hear from the public about that in the months ahead. The other part, in reality, is kicked down the road.”

After the meeting, Country Club Shores resident Bob Gault said the commission made the right decision.

“The priority is Gulf of Mexico Drive because it’s the spine of the Key that needs buried,” Gault said. “If you do it all at once in one question, we risk not getting anything buried.”



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