This is no longer a town of two governments.
That was the message from the Loxahatchee Groves council Tuesday in a pair of special meetings after landowners voted 2,988 to 879 to fold the Loxahatchee Groves Water Control District into the town. It’s a move officials hope eventually will help the town to make much-needed repairs to its dirt roads and canal system.
The vote, which allowed landowners one vote per acre, had the water control district’s offices on D Road off Southern Boulevard packed Monday night, Mayor Dave Browning said. “It brought back a lot of memories of, I don’t want to say the good old days, but the old days,” he said.
The mood at Tuesday morning’s back-to-back meetings was optimistic as the council, first as itself and then as the newly formed water control district board, passed 23 resolutions establishing the new relationship between the town and district. Each resolution was passed unanimously.
A bill passed by state lawmakers during this year’s legislative session set the stage for Monday’s vote. House bill 1093 was sponsored by state Rep. Matt Willhite, whose district includes Loxahatchee Groves. It provided for the water control district to move from being independent to dependent on the town, but required the referendum of landowners to take effect.
Town officials on Tuesday thanked Willhite for his efforts. They also thanked the previous water control district board, which stepped down during Tuesday’s second meeting.
Vice Mayor Todd McLendon, the newly selected district treasurer, said former water control board Chair Anita Kane was instrumental in first promoting HB 1093 in Tallahassee and then working with town officials to prepare for a possible pro-dependency vote.
“I was amazed at how fast she made this happen,” he said. “A lot faster than I thought it would ever happen.”
While the transition takes place, Loxahatchee Groves officials will work with water control district employees to iron out any issues in the myriad operations that now must become part of the town, including the district’s budget and other finances. McLendon noted that until Tuesday morning, the town did not have employees. It has outsourced town operations to Underwood Management Services Group and various contractors. “You guys are officially the first employees of the town of Loxahatchee Groves,” he said.
Mayor Dave Browning, who before joining the council in 2007 at the town’s incorporation served on the water control board for 11 years, said he looks forward to a good relationship between the town and district. “The responsibility comes on us so let’s do what we can, let’s work together and make this community the best that it can be,” he said.
Councilwoman Phillis Maniglia gave town manager Bill Underwood — now in charge of the district — what she called a “honey-do list” of tasks she would like to see accomplished soon, including culvert clean-out and canal berm reinforcement and rebuilding. She repeated a position she took during her recent campaign that she would like to see the water district become the town’s public works department.
Two members of the town’s first council, Bill Louda and Marge Herzog, spoke in favor of the dependency. “It’s about time we got to this point,” Louda said.
Herzog agreed. “This is a fantastic thing,” she said, adding that the town seems well-prepared for the transition. “You were just Johnny on the spot, ready to go.”