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Commission seeks island-wide neighborhood funding plan

A plan to bury power lines and utility poles in neighborhoods and side streets will be decided by the voters March 15. A decision on how to fund it still needs finalized.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. November 11, 2015
Florida Power & Light Co. crew members work to repair a power line in the 6700 block of Gulf of Mexico Drive Monday in an area that Commissioner Pat Zunz says has frequent power outages that aren’t documented. (Kurt Schultheis)
Florida Power & Light Co. crew members work to repair a power line in the 6700 block of Gulf of Mexico Drive Monday in an area that Commissioner Pat Zunz says has frequent power outages that aren’t documented. (Kurt Schultheis)
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Will residents who bought homes with underground utilities in communities like Bay Isles approve a project that will require them to pay to bury their neighbors’ above-ground utilities?

We’ll find out in March.

The Longboat Key Town Commission is flipping the switch — again — on a second undergrounding referendum question that will ask voters to pay for a Key neighborhood and side streets project.

With the town’s electorate backing a project not to exceed $25.25 million to bury Gulf of Mexico Drive power lines and utilities last week, commissioners are ready to craft a second referendum question that will have town staff scrambling to make deadlines to get it on the March 15 ballot.

Commissioners asked town staff at their regular workshop Monday to devise funding mechanisms for a referendum question that supports a non-ad valorem funding method for the remaining above-ground utilities in neighborhoods and Key side streets.

All seven commissioners unanimously supported a plan for the neighborhood project that distributes funding islandwide.

A possible referendum commissioners discussed previously that would have put the financial burden solely on residents who have above-ground utilities was met with criticism earlier this year.

Mayor Jack Duncan suggested the town look at ways to distribute some of the cost of a neighborhood project to all residents, noting that the town’s beach funding formula or a similar model might work for the neighborhood project.

In the beach funding formula, which voters approved in 1992, property owners west of Gulf of Mexico Drive pay for 80% of beach project costs, while property owners east of the road pay the remaining 20%.

“I believe there’s a way the community can share in this cost for the neighborhoods,” Duncan said. “We’d like to see that option explored.”

Vice Mayor Terry Gans suggested town staff come back with funding options that include 80/20, 50/50 and 75/25 funding splits.

“I don’t know if everyone should pay the same thing,” Gans said. “I would like to see a list of scenarios before we make a decision.”

Commissioner Pat Zunz and others supported that concept.

“If we look at it as a positive for the whole island, that’s the way to think about it,” Zunz said.

Commissioner Jack Daly agreed.

“There’s a lot of value and a lot of benefit to fashion an ordinance that allows voters to decide if complete undergrounding should happen,” Daly said. “It seems to me there are communitywide benefits.”

Approximately 15 residents spoke in support of an ad valorem funding option.

“It’s a tragedy if we don’t underground the entire island,” said Country Club Shores resident and Planning and Zoning Board member Stephen Madva.

A previous neighborhood ad valorem funding option for neighborhoods and side streets was estimated at $18.8 million.

But some commissioners have concerns about the referendum.

Commissioner Lynn Larson supports the concept but worries residents who bought homes with underground utilities won’t agree to pay for some of it.

Town Manager Dave Bullock received unanimous consensus to bring back non-ad valorem funding options spread out over all of the town’s more than 10,000 parcels for the commission to review next month at a future meeting.

Bullock and Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale are also looking into the possibility of adding a second referendum to the ballot that would allow communities such as Country Club Shores to create special districts to bury power lines while the Gulf of Mexico Drive project is underway to save on contractor costs if the islandwide neighborhood referendum fails.

“We would appreciate a second question on our ballots as a backup if possible,” Country Club Shores resident Bob Gault wrote to Duncan in an email Monday.


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