- June 17, 2015
To all who voted for the Longboat Key Neighborhood Underground Electric Referendum:
Unfortunately, our town commissioners are attempting to overrule the will of the people as expressed in the election process.
Asked prior to the election about the language of “payable solely from special assessments imposed against real property throughout the town and other non-ad valorem funds if necessary,” town management stated the language was there in case the project exceeded the bonded debt.
The town’s handout from c informational meetings made no mention of general revenue funds. But it says, “Property specific amount based on benefits received…” and “Collected through tax bill as an annual assessment…”
All proposed estimated property assessments were published prior to the election. It is important to note the commission voted, prior to the referendum, to reject using the same general revenue funds as a funding source and continue the issue with special assessments on properties.
Now, Vice Mayor Terry Gans and commissioners Irwin Pastor, Jack Daly and Ed Zunz voted Sept. 12 “to assign $370,308 of the current general fund non-ad valorem portion of the fund balance” for the project. These are general revenue funds that are used to reduce the amount property owners are required to pay, based on property value, to fund local government. This is not what was explained to voters who were asked to fund the neighborhood project.
With good intentions, the commission is trying to make concessions to unhappy property owners who wanted to pay to bury certain electric lines within 55 feet of their property. The consultant used “within 55 feet” to determine whether a property was overhead or underground for assessment purposes. Rather than addressing the right to self-pay to bury lines, commissioners are thwarting the will of voters.
Properties with buried electrical lines (4,964 parcels) were advertised to pay 18% of the total project. Many may have cast their ballot based on those numbers. But now, those same properties will also pay ad valorem taxes to make up any needed funds in the general revenue account.
People voted for this project based on facts presented stating the assessments would be paid by “property specific amount based on benefits received,” not a transfer of other town funds.
Some commissioners say they are not using ad valorem taxes to reduce the assessments for the underground project. They say they are voting to use funds from non-ad valorem revenues — utility franchise fees.
But what they don’t say is those franchise fees support the town’s general fund. Thus, if the town has fewer franchise fee revenues for the general fund, to balance the general fund budget it must either increase property taxes or make up the lost amount by taking funds from the town’s rainy-day account (which also comes from ad valorem taxes).
This is not what voters were told.
What’s more, as the Town Commission discussed last week, the cost could be as much as 50% overstated. Therefore, it is premature to make decisions about funding.
Gans, Zunz, Daly and Pastor say their use of non-ad valorem funds is legal. But we need LEADERS who will follow the will of the people and not mislead them.
I urge you to contact the commissioners and tell them to act in accordance with the will of the people and as stated in the referendum language.
In addition, I urge you to urge the commissioners to:
1. Let anyone who chooses to self-pay bury his lines and post bonds to complete the work by a specific time.
2. Borrow upfront costs from other town funds and pay them back when assessments are made.
3. Use no other non-ad valorem funds.
4. Make assessments on the advertised formula only after true estimates are established.
5. Be straightforward. Call for another referendum and tell voters if you plan to use general revenue funds.
Lynn Larson is a former town commissioner.