The Community Development District 4 Board of Supervisors faced a tough situation this past Friday.
Knowing that their district is dealing with a litany of expensive issues – the sinkhole nightmare on McLawren Terrace in the Village of Calumet Grove high atop the list – the board approved a 20 percent increase in maintenance assessment rates.
The move followed the preliminary approval the board had given to the increase in June after hearing a sobering assessment of costs associated with repairs for the Calumet Grove sinkholes. That assured residents that 20 percent would be the maximum increase the board could vote for when it gave final approval to the budget Friday.
As one can imagine, Friday’s vote wasn’t a popular one among the 70-plus residents who showed up at the Savannah Center for the board meeting. Many were skeptical of the need for such an increase and voiced fears about the financial impacts they will face.
“When you talk about a 20 percent increase, you wave a red cape in front of a bull,” said Jim Zurak, a resident of Royal Oak in the Village of Springdale.
“In a retirement community, you’re talking about survival.”
When looking at the issues CDD 4 is facing in the coming year, the last part of Zurak’s statement rings quite true – the district clearly had to do something to survive. And while raising maintenance fees is never a popular decision, supervisors walked into that meeting knowing that CDD 4 was facing some nasty realities:
• Close to $190,000 already has been spent on the sinkholes on McLawren Terrace, with another $700,000 likely to be shelled out to cover a variety of issues relating to the problem, including the replacement of stormwater drain pipes and pavement in the tattered roadway. And there still could be plenty of unknowns once crews finally can begin repairing the pipe running between two damaged homes.
• A whopping $465,000 has been spent on Hurricane Irma expenses, with no reimbursement yet from the feet-dragging Federal Emergency Management Agency. When will that money come back to the district where it belongs? Let’s remember that we’re talking about the federal government here, so your guess really is as good as ours.
• There are road projects on the schedule that need to be done. And as always seems to be the case, oil prices are on the rise.
Supervisor Don Deakin – a man who clearly has demonstrated his commitment to CDD 4 through everything from hosting question-and-answer sessions with residents to being on scene after the sinkholes opened up in February and May – made a motion in support of the 20 percent increase. Supervisors Jim Murphy, Charles Kazlo and Vice Chair Jim Brockman agreed, with Chairman Paul Kelly casting the lone dissenting vote.
Before we go further, we think it’s important to note to the situation these supervisors were facing. When each of them ran for office, we’re sure they weren’t expecting to deal with the astronomical costs associated with a hurricane, followed by a plethora of highly suspicious sinkholes that have devastated a neighborhood – all in less than a year’s time.
A hurricane is a natural disaster, and living in Florida, one can only assume our number will be called every few years. But let’s remember that Hurricane Irma turned out to be a 150-year storm of epic proportions that brought 12-15 inches of rain. And let’s not forget the huge piles of debris that costs a lot of money to remove.
Then there’s the sinkhole debacle that struck Calumet Grove not once, but twice in a three-month time frame. It’s a known fact that heavy rains can lead to sinkholes. It’s also a fact that these sinkholes opened up along the path of a stormwater drain pipe that has raised suspicions among residents. And it’s a fact that Florida’s Friendliest Hometown has had many of these issues over the past several years – so much so that the scholarly online Smithsonian Magazine took a look at the situation in May and declared “The Villages is a hotbed of sinkholes.”
Sure, raising maintenance fees is an unpopular decision. But let’s be realistic here: the high-end increase of $167 for premier homeowners amounts to about three trips a year to an area restaurant for a Villages couple, or 46 cents a day. And at the low end of $47 for villa owners, we’re talking about giving up a round of golf at a championship course once a year, or roughly 13 cents a day.
That said, we applaud both the residents who attended the CDD 4 meeting and the supervisors who were forced to make a tough decision. It’s nice to see government working the way it’s supposed to work, where people have an opportunity to make their voices known. And it’s great to see a board of elected officials put a lot of thought into a decision and then do what they believe is right – without thinking about the consequences of being popular with their neighbors or being tossed out of office for it.
The CDD 4 supervisors deserve a round of applause for taking a necessary action to deal with past problems and those that could crop up in the future. We believe their action was necessary for the future sustainability of the district. And we thank them for taking their responsibilities seriously and making the decision they believed in – regardless of how it will be viewed in the court of public opinion.