Plan to bury neighborhood power lines up for debate

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The Longboat Key Town Commission will debate Monday a plan to underground power lines in the neighborhoods of the island that requires all property owners to share in the cost.

Last month, commissioners asked Town Manager Dave Bullock to create a proposal to fund the $20.5 million project in a way that asked those who already have their power lines buried to pay a portion of the cost for neighborhoods that still need to have the work done and currently have above ground lines.

Bullock, the undergrounding consultant and the Town Attorney developed a method where 18.5% of the $20.5 million cost will be paid by property owners who already have their lines buried. That cost breaks down to less than $40 per year over a 30-year bond. The properties that are currently not undergrounded will pay the remaining 81.5 % and that will cost each property owner between $250 and $700 per year for 30 years.


Share the cost

Bullock developed this proposal because a majority of the commissioners felt there would be some benefit to the entire community if all of Longboat Key is undergrounded and Bullock and the consultant found what they say is objective validation that such a benefit exists.

Bullock wrote in a memo this week that his team made an “extensive review and analysis” to come up with an option that can be legally justified in order to meet the requirements of non ad-valorem assessments.

The main benefit that was found by Bullock and the team is the neighborhood project will place all of the feeder lines emanating from Gulf of Mexico Drive underground and therefore all of the electric poles at the intersections of Gulf of Mexico Drives and side streets would be eliminated. Bullock wrote, “Therefore some general benefit is allocated to all parcels.”

On Nov. 3 of this year, Longboat Key voters passed a referendum that will allow the town to borrow money to bury all of the utility lines on Gulf of Mexico Drive. Included in the project will be the burial of dark fiber optic cable, which the town and its consultant say will offer a myriad of technological enhancements and possibilities including wi-fi connectivity, emergency responder enhancements, as well as the possibility of leasing.

It was in the wake of the successful vote that the commission told the town manager to come back with the cost sharing method for the neighborhoods. Currently, about two-thirds of the residences on Longboat Key are already undergrounded and the majority of those that are not are on the northern half of the Key and in Country Club Shores. Most of the south-end condominiums along Islandside and the entire Bay Isles community were undergrounded when developed.


Time equals savings…

The Commission is on a timeline and under pressure to arrive at referendum language in order to hold a vote and garner the economic advantage in piggybacking a neighborhood project with the already approved Gulf of Mexico Drive project.

The Commission had expressed a desire to hold a vote on the neighborhood proposal in March 2016 and the consultant said after August 2016 some of the cost advantages will begin to be lost if a decision is not made.


Dark fiber differential

One element that is not in Bullock’s proposal but will likely be discussed on Monday is whether the neighborhood proposal should be expanded to include installing dark fiber to all of the areas that are currently undergrounded such as Bay Isles and the Key Club communities. Even though those regions have underground electric lines, if they are not included in the dark fiber optic burial, they will not have all of the benefits and possibilities that will exist in the rest of the community. Bullock told Longboat Key News on Friday that adding dark fiber to those properties could easily become part of the proposal and the cost would be nowhere near as high as burying power lines.

If that approach is taken, then the final outcome would be that the entire key would have undergrounded electric lines as well as a state-of-the-art fiber optic backbone for future telecommunications.

Bullock’s proposal does include replacing existing streetlights in the neighborhoods and possible lighting enhancement.


The annual bond cost

The cost method used to determine what each property owner will pay is based on the benefit received and has no relationship to property value. In total, there are almost 10,000 properties that would pay into the project.

The town manager has presented numerous examples of what it will cost both single-family properties and condominiums. One example is 561 Ranger Lane in Country Club Shores. This property currently has overhead lines and under Bullock’s proposal would pay between $527 and $625 per year depending on the bond rate for a total of 30 years. The total assessment when added all together is just shy of $8,500 for that Ranger Lane single-family home.  On the other end of the spectrum is 3360 Bayou Gate in Bay Isles where the utility lines are already buried. That homeowner will pay between $31 and $38 per year for 30 years for a total cost of $513.

As for a condominium example, all of the residences at L’Ambiance would also pay between $31 and $38 per year or about $513 in total. An owner at Twin Shores, which currently has overhead lines, will pay far more: between $298 and $355 per year for 30 years for a total cost of slightly more than $4,800.

If on Monday the commission decides on language and what it wants to propose to voters, Bullock has proposed a special meeting following the Dec. 14 workshop to hold a first reading of the ordinance and then a special meeting on Jan. 4 for final ordinance adoption. The language would then go as a ballot question to both counties’ Supervisors of Elections for approval and the Longboat Key voters would make a decision on the issue at a March 15, 2016 election.

The meeting on Monday starts at 7 p.m. in Town Hall, 501 Bay Isles Road.

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4 Responses for “Plan to bury neighborhood power lines up for debate”

  1. ghostrider says:

    So the haves get to vote to force us to bury our power lines whether we want to or not
    at very little cost to them.

    That sounds about typical.

    The commission seems to be doing this because they know if it’s up to us, we would say no.

    How is this fair?

  2. Tax payer without a vote says:

    Three Questions to the commission and Steve/: (1) Where is the detailed logic of the funding calculation available for review? (2) I see that street lighting is on the existing telephone poles. So does this price include installing new street lighting since the existing lighting will be removed? If not, when will new lighting be installed and how will it be paid for? (3) Please specify exactly what communication service will be received from the wifi/Dark fiber and how the service will be funded and maintained? for instance) is this 911 service or will that still be unavailable in the north end that does not have cell coverage

  3. Jim Whitman says:

    It’s a good deal.
    It’s a no-brainer.
    I’m in!

  4. Carol says:

    So the haves get to vote to force us to bury our power lines whether we want to or not at very little cost to them. That sounds about typical. The commission seems to be doing this because they know if it’s up to us, we would say no. How is this fair?

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