What didn’t Longboat Key residents get for Christmas?

Guest Columnist

If you said a stand-alone referendum to bury the utilities on Gulf of Mexico Drive (GMD) for residents to vote on at the March 2015, Longboat Key elections, you were correct.

It’s not that LBK residents were naughty rather than nice this year.  Instead, it was the case of too many “bad Santas” on the Town Board.  The Commissioners waited until the last possible day to have the second reading of the GMD referendum and then voted it down 4 to 2, even though they had given it their unanimous support at its first reading.

Rejecting this referendum at the last minute had the effect of preventing LBK residents from pressuring the Town Commission to reconsider their decision to leave the GMD referendum off the March 2015 ballot.

At the same meeting, the Commissioners voted down a referendum to bury utilities in those LBK neighborhoods without them.  These neighborhoods account for somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the homes on LBK.  This particular vote was sensible because this “neighborhood” referendum lacked the support of a detailed study and was controversial.

Keeping the GMD and neighborhood referendums separate is critical.  Residents should not be forced to vote for a neighborhood plan they might not like in order to vote to bury the utilities on GMD!

Barring the calling of a special election, LBK residents will have to wait for more than a year to vote for burying the utilities on GMD. Special elections are generally a poor idea because: 1) they are an extra, often unnecessary, expense, 2) they tend to be held at times when many residents are absent, and 3) they typically result in a low and unrepresentative voter turnout.

Since almost all LBK residents travel some portion of GMD (LBK’s only through street) several times a week, virtually every resident would benefit from burying its utilities.  These benefits would come in the form of:  1) the added pleasure they would experience from the improved ambiance of GMD, 2) the increased value of their homes, and 3) the positive impact that this project would have on the future revitalization of the island.  Hence, it is reasonable to expect the cost of the GMD utility burial project to be shared by all residents.

The cost of burying the utility lines on GMD is quite reasonable.  FPL advised the Town Commission that if the Town buried these utilities before FPL replaced its current poles with new poles, which would be larger and more obtrusive, LBK would save 25% on the cost of burying these utilities.  (The same offer does not apply to burying utilities in LBK’s various neighborhoods (e.g., Emerald Harbor)).

At today’s interest rates, the increase in taxes for a $500,000 home would be less than $120 per year if the GMD project were funded by a 30-year bond.  This should be very doable for the vast majority of LBK residents.

The above leads us to the logical conclusion that this stand-alone GMD referendum would probably have passed by a large majority had the Commissioners allowed the residents to vote on it in the March 2015 elections.

It is unclear why the Commissioners decided to prevent residents from voting on this referendum in the March 2015 elections.  Certainly, no convincing arguments have been advanced for doing so!

However, it is obvious that we cannot rely on our Town Commission to do the right thing when it comes to burying the utilities on GMD.  It has mishandled this issue from the beginning (i.e., the day FPL first raised the prospect of LBK saving 25% on the cost of burying the utilities on GMD).  As such, LBK residents need to inform the Commissioners of their positions on this issue.

I would suggest that residents e-mail the Commissioners expressing the following views:

1) The Town Commission should pass (on both first and second readings) the original stand-alone referendum to bury the utilities on GMD.

This needs to be done as quickly as possible to reduce the possibility that the Commissioners will again find last minute approaches for keeping the referendum off the 2016 ballot.

Should the Commissioners drag their feet on doing so, we will need to periodically remind them of their failure to comply.  We may also find it necessary to remind them that they were elected to serve the public.

2) The Commissioners should contract with a highly reputable consultant to develop plans and cost estimates for burying the utilities in each of those neighborhoods that currently have above ground utilities.

The residents of each of these neighborhoods should pay for these costs because they are the only ones that are likely to derive substantial benefits (e.g., rises in their property values) from the burying their own utilities.

For example, residents of Emerald Harbor, where I live, should have to pay the full cost of having their own utilities buried.  However, they are free to avoid this expense by voting against burying their utilities.

3) For each neighborhood, a plan should be developed to finance the burial of its utilities.

Residents need to know the effect that the project is likely to have on their annual taxes.

Send your e-mails to our mayor, Jim Brown, at jbrown@longboatkey.org.  Your e-mail will become a matter of public record and will automatically be forwarded to the other Commissioners.  If we want our Commissioners to honor our views we must make our opinions known and demand timely action.

John O. Summers, Professor Emeritus of Marketing, Kelley School of Business, Indiana University, Bloomington, Indiana.


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