Town approves franchise fees to soften undergrounding impact

Editor & Publisher

Faced with opposition and grievances to the method the Longboat Key Town Commission had adopted to pay to underground the community neighborhoods, the town decided last week to try and ease the cost.

The commission spent hours at a special meeting last week trying to find a way to ease the disparity in cost for the project which is slated to bury every utility line in all of the neighborhoods on the key. Property owners have already approved using non ad valorem assessments to pay for the $23 million project.

But numerous residents and condominium owners felt the benefit they would receive was not worth the price tag of up to $8,000 or $9,000 . Other property owners complained they were placed in the highest assessment category due to the 55-foot rule the town used to calculate how much a particular parcel would pay.

At the end of the discussion, the commission reached a narrow 4-3 consensus to use up to $5 million in other town non ad valorem fees and revenue to help defray the cost by about $1,800 for those in the category to pay the most for the undergrounding project.


Seeking direction

Town Manager Dave Bullock opened the discussion by saying he really needed to know what direction the town wanted to go and if the commission wanted to reduce the cost to property owner in assessments, where the money would come from.

The commission immediately told Bullock and the audience that it needed a project manager to make sure the costs were reigned in and to follow the project. Bullock said that that was already part of the proposal and that a project manager would be part of the project going forward.

When the conversation turned to using other funds to “buy down” the cost to property owners to underground, Commissioner Phill Younger took immediate issue.

“It’s not a buy down, it is paying using another fund. I resent referring to it as a buy down,” said Younger.

Town Manager Dave Bullock replied to Younger, “Everyone gets to use their words.”

Younger shot back, “And my words are: B.S.”


Cost contentions

After the brief conversation about using other revenue sources, resident Lenny Landau gave a presentation about how many of the cost estimates were inflated and wrong and Younger reinforced the message in saying that he believed the town will have enough money for the project because the costs are inflated in the estimates.

Vice Mayor Terry Gans said he was in favor of the town manager’s option to use other non ad valorem funding sources to reduce the impact of the assessment for those paying the most.

“I want us to haggle over what kind of woman we are and not over the price,” said Gans as he sought the commission to focus on the philosophic question and the bigger question of undergrounding.

Commissioner Armando Linde suggested the town doesn’t have to worry about using other non ad valorem sources to underground the neighborhood and suggested the town will save enough when the numbers come in lower.

Gans found an ally in Commissioner Jack Daly as well as Commissioner Ed Zunz and Commissioner Irwin Pastor. Gans sought consensus to give Bullock the power to use Florida Power & Light franchise fees and other fees the town collects to offset some of the cost to property owners for the neighborhood project.

Younger said that what Gans was asking for, “Is totally against the grain and the tenor of the referendum.”

At the end, consensus was reached to use other non ad valorem revenue sources to reduce the cost of the neighborhood undergrounding by about $1,800 to those who have above ground lines and were going to pay the most in assessments.

Whether the actual cost is closer to the $15 million that Lenny Landau and others have suggested, or costs $23 million which the town has said is the high estimate with contingencies, will become clearer as the town moves closer to a bid proposal.


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