Town to tap taxpayers $34.5 million for beach

Editor & Publisher

It’s a perfect storm when it comes to maintaining beaches on Longboat Key.

Erosion and sea level rise are omnipresent concerns. The cost of sand has never been higher. Additionally, and compounding both the cost and the effort, is the fact that acceptable beach-grade sand lies farther and farther away as the near-shore repositories have been scooped up.

These factors are leading to the Town Commission considering an ordinance that will authorize putting to a public vote on Longboat Key the expenditure of up to $34.5 million to help pay for the next wave of island beach projects.

Last October, Town Staff and beach engineer Dr. Al Browder of Olsen & Associates, presented what is referred to as the Town’s Comprehensive Beach Management Plan that includes construction and beach renourishment scenarios.

The Commission approved that plan and the next step was staff determining the cost and funding scenarios.

The Town Commission was presented with an estimated necessity of borrowing through bonds $25 million or up to $28.5 million, which would provide an additional 100,000 cubic yards of sand.

The actual cost of the project to taxpayers cannot be completely determined because an indeterminate amount of state funding is anticipated to help pay for the initiative.

Town Manager Tom Harmer said because state grants are not guaranteed that the Commission should ask voters to be allowed to issue up to $34.5 million in bonds. That would allow the Town to complete the project with the higher amount of sand even if the state grants do not manifest.

The beach bonds are paid back, if approved, by the two beach districts referred to as District A, comprised of properties west of Gulf of Mexico Drive, and District B, properties east of Gulf of Mexico Drive.

District B voters are asked if they will pay for up to 20 percent of the total bonds issued. If a majority of District B voters are supportive, and if District A votes in support, then District A will pay 80 percent and District B, 20 percent. If District A votes in support and District B does not, then District A is bound to pay 100 percent of the project.

The districts were set up and have been used for decades to pay for beach projects and are meant to recognize the proportional value of the beach in relation to the location of the assessed property.

Historically, both districts have overwhelmingly supported every beach project the town has presented.

The projects that will be paid for by the coming bond vote, if approved, include rebuilding the beach to the adopted standard held by the town, renourishing numerous hot spots and adding structural groins to the north end of the key where severe erosion is experienced.

Town Manager Tom Harmer says that all of the cost estimates do not factor in any funding from Manatee County for the north-end groins. Last November, the town sent a formal letter requesting funding from Manatee County in the amount of $2.89 million to cover the cost of two groins as well as 77,000 cubic yards of sand. The request was made at the behest of the Town Commission because two of the groins and the associated sand will be placed directly on property owned by Manatee County on the northern tip of the island.

The Town is on a timeline because ballot language that would appear for voters on March 17 must be sent in finalized adopted form to the County Supervisor of Elections by Dec. 16, 2019.

The idea is for the bonds to be issued next summer and property owners would see the corresponding beach tax in their August 2020 TRIM notice.

The Town hopes to begin actual construction of the new beach in early 2021, after the sea turtle nesting season has finished.

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