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Top Story — September: Longboat navigates undergrounding crossroads

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  • | 5:40 a.m. December 30, 2016
  • Longboat Key
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The Longboat Key Town Commission was at a crossroads when it met for a special workshop Monday to address underground utilities funding.

Facing criticism from residents of communities like Club Longboat and Bayport Beach & Tennis Club that have power poles within 55 feet — and, therefore, will pay a higher share of project costs — town staff outlined three paths to commissioners.

The first option: Continue with no changes.

Town Attorney Maggie Mooney-Portale warned the commission against a second option: amending the 55-foot rule. Mooney-Portale said that would negate the referendum results and require a new vote, because it would substantially change a major component of the original referendum language.

For now, the commission is on the road toward the third option: making changes in the scope of what’s allowable under the voter-approved ordinance.

At Monday night’s meeting following the all-day workshop, commissioners started down that path by voting on first reading to reduce assessments, offsetting the cost by using $370,308 in non-ad valorem revenue.

If you didn’t know the vote was happening, that’s because the idea came from the workshop earlier that day.

Mayor Jack Duncan and commissioners Phil Younger and Armando Linde were outvoted 4-3 in the night meeting by commissioners Jack Daly, Ed Zunz and Irwin Pastor and Vice Mayor Terry Gans.

“I don’t think it’s proper to do this at this time,” Younger said at the night commission meeting, noting the topic had not been advertised, nor was it on the agenda.

Earlier at Monday’s workshop, resident Lenny Landau urged the commission to slow down. He spoke before the non-ad valorem funding was proposed. His comments were focused on the larger issue of how the town is assessing residents. 

Residents have the option to pay all costs in a lump sum and have received assessments, but Landau urged commissioners to hold off on assessing residents due to uncertainties about the project’s costs.

Power line work along Gulf of Mexico Drive is now estimated to cost $25.25 million, with another $23.85 million to handle the same job in Longboat Key neighborhoods. But at various points, their combined costs have been estimated to be as high as $80 million or as little as $40 million. Now, the lower figure looks more accurate.

Landau said the consultant-provided figures the town is relying on for these assessments miss the mark badly.

“In my opinion, they did an awful job. It is so far off the mark it is crazy. It’s just a joke,” Landau said. “It’s not real hard to figure out how much this should cost. We all got a bill saying they’re giving us an option of paying the whole amount upfront, or you can pay a certain amount of what they think the whole thing will cost at 6%. You’ve got to be crazy to pay this thing upfront.”

Pastor agreed that getting the funding question right is essential. But he said he wanted to show property owners that the commission is working to lessen their burden.

“Truth of the matter is, the (non-ad valorem) money isn’t going to be used for another year or year-and-a-half,” Pastor said. “The reason I supported that is I wanted there to be a clear message out there that we’re going to fix (assessment inequities). We want to do the right thing.”

Town Manager Dave Bullock said the town will hire a project manager for the underground utilities work because his staff lacks the resources to handle such a project. The project manager will be tasked with figuring out the cost of the neighborhood project some time within the next year to 18 months.

“The project costs will not be a mystery,” Bullock said. “They will be fixed.”

But Younger repeatedly assailed the assessment methodology and referendum results, which he said were skewed because taxpayers weren’t properly informed.

“If I were grading this in a math class, I’d give it an ‘F,’” he said.


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