Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Mayor Pam Triolo's Message on the Lake Worth 2020 Bonds

Today there is an election. Along with primaries, it will feature the LW 2020 bond issue. The process of coming up with a plan is over 2 years in the making. It all started at a public visioning session with staff during the budget process in 2012. It was the commission’s time to discuss their priorities. During the course of the conversation I shared a PowerPoint presentation that highlighted areas of our city where pet’s ran wild, children played in the dirt or walked to and from school in the middle of poorly constructed streets or no streets. I unveiled that these third world conditions existed right here in our beloved Lake Worth. It was my belief that as your Mayor and commission, it was our job to provide basic infrastructure and public safety measures for the entire city - a responsibility that has been sorely neglected for decades.

This discussion prompted the commission to explore the roadway and infrastructure conditions for the entire city holistically, so we could start making plans for improvements. As you know, our streets and sidewalks are failing at a rapid pace and over the last year especially, you've called on me to step up and do something about it. We’ve called in professionals to take core samples of the road base, analyzed the entire city from below the ground up and rated it to decipher if and inevitably when it would fail. The results were not at all what I had hoped for.

Since then I have been knocking down the doors of every politician and organization that represents us from meeting with the White House Secretary of Transportation Anthony Fox, to Congressman and Senators from Washington to Tallahassee and have even met with the governor three times and hosted the Lt. Governor about a week ago and took him on a tour of our city and it’s many challenges. They believe that for the first time in our city’s history, we finally have professional plans that can help us get funding to supplement our needs. Each bit of assistance will reduce our financial obligation. That’s why we created 3 separate bond issuings. If we don't need them, we don't borrow! In addition, as our properties values rise and new investment continues, we have the ability to lower our millage rate and the taxes to offset the bond.

When staff first presented their ideas for 2020, they included a wish list of things the city needed and wanted to the tune of almost $200 million dollars. Yes it would be nice to have these things, but your commission asked them to scale this back to the real hardcore infrastructure necessities, including public safety, lighting, fire hydrants, pedestrian and traffic calming projects that are unique to each neighborhood. Many of which were promised for years but never realized. The result is LW 2020. City staff has done an incredible job of creating plans to not only bring us up to modern day standards, but prepare us for future growth. The most important aspect of the plan is that it coordinates all necessary water, sewer, and street projects at the same time together, so we only have he tear up the streets once to reduce redundancy and save the city millions. Do it once, do it right.

LW 2020 is not the be all and end all plan for what is wrong with our city. It's designed to remedy infrastructure neglect. 2020 is a part of an overall strategy your commission and staff have been creating and implementing over the last 2 years, that’s designed to help the city reach it’s full potential while removing the existing disincentives (including infrastructure). By encouraging new investment, both residential and commercial, the tax base widens, services can now be funded properly and the general fund gets weaned off the electric utilities.
Successes include:

1. A recently passed law to lower our electric rates until we reach rate parity with FPL. A 12% reduction to date!
2. Economic incentive rates for new companies that bring at least 10 new jobs to the city.
3. Over 40 code enforcement ordinances just took effect in January to help us clean up slum and blight and are starting to work. Demolition is almost underway on 18 of the 200 problem properties we can finally address because of these new ordinances.
4. Our new Land Development Regulations are already luring new investment to town including the revitalization of the Gulfstream Hotel and over $50 millions dollars of permitted projects with more on the way.
5. Crime task forces are working and contract negotiations led us to a $700,000 savings with PBSO. Lake Worth was the ONLY city to negotiate a rate reduction!

Despite these successes, the truth of our circumstances remain... While the rest of the county was growing and modernizing its systems and infrastructure, we weren't. When I moved to South Florida 24 years ago, Downtown West Palm Beach and Delray Beach were crime ridden, drug infested, pothole laden, downtrodden communities that needed investment to help them turn around. While our city is uniquely different, and we like it that way, we still have the same challenges. Nobody wants to pay more money. No one. Not Ever. Whether you vote for or against this bond issue, I am always on "our" side and will continue to do everything possible to get us into the black financially speaking, remove the disincentives to being a part of our beautiful city and fixing our infrastructure one pothole at a time if that’s what you decide. You asked the city to come up with a plan and we did. It’s the first time this city has ever had one.

The last thing I want to leave you with is this… There are political PACS arguing both sides of this issue and misinformation is rampant. One homeowner actually told me that they went to Zillow to get the market value of their house to figure out the payment they might be making for the bond and I had to stop them right there and tell them that market value has nothing to do with this at all. Nor does assessed value. It’s based on the Palm Beach County Tax Appraiser’s TAXABLE value and can be found on their website. Once you have the taxable value you can go to the city’s website, Lakeworth.org, click LW 2020 and look for the bond calculator. Type in your taxable value and it will show you the cost for the first borrowing, and any additional borrowings if necessary. Another neighbor was concerned when they received a neon flyer that stated the money may be used for something else if I’m not in office to keep an eye on things. False. The reason we use GO Bonds is because they are regulated so severely and can only be used for what is stated in the bond covenants, which is for roadway and infrastructure projects only! And finally one neighbor was told that the bonds can go on indefinitely. WRONG! The project work is to take place over the first few years but the borrowings are just like any mortgage with terms that last 30 years or less. While they can’t last any longer than 30 years, they can be paid off sooner as our local economy improves. Please note the General Fund is debt free with no other bond obligations and our rating is excellent. Before you vote this Tuesday, please make sure you have the real facts.

This is the first time the city of Lake Worth has had a comprehensive plan that coordinates streets, water, sewer and public safety issues like fire hydrants, lighting and traffic calming…ever! It’s plan A. Plan B is to continue doing what we have been, patching the roadways. If you still have questions, please call me on my cell phone - 518-8434. Whatever happens today, we have a lot of work to do and it always works better when we do it together!