Do Pinecrest residents wish to tax themselves to gift water lines to the County?
On March 6th, ballots will be mailed to Pinecrest voters asking whether they wish to spend $15 million on bonds to extend water lines and fire hydrants to the 742 single-family homes lacking them. The ballots must be returned by March 26th.
A “for” vote would result in an ad valorem assessment on every property tax bill annually for the next 20 years. The Village has estimated that the owner of a median-assessed home of $687,200 would pay $158 per year, or $3,160 over the next two decades.
While this issue has been simmering for years, it bubbled forth again last summer and fall at the Inspire Pinecrest community meetings.
You’d be correct if you feel that the vote is being rushed. Mayor Joe Corradino scheduled a special Council meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 22, on only two days’ notice to discuss the issue. Those who wanted water lines extended had been in contact with each other and came out in force. Council voted 4-1 to schedule a vote, with only Jim McDonald dissenting.
Corradino rushed the Council decision, and the vote, because the County was revamping its elections system and could not accommodate processing a mail vote any time this year after March 26th.
In alerting the public about the special meeting, our village clerk’s email notice headed “Upcoming Village Council Meetings” unfortunately required recipients to click four times to learn of the meeting subject. There was no newspaper notice.
While the benefits are obvious for the 742 Pinecrest single-family homeowners presently lacking access to county water, at least some would likely prefer to continue using their wells. A good-sized minority said so when polled more than a decade ago.
Another 580 homes presently have county water access and for one reason or another, have elected not to connect. This group has benefitted from the County granting a 10-year moratorium that has allowed them to stay on their wells, but the moratorium expires in March. Soon, the County will start sending notices requiring owners to connect within 90 days at their own expense, which may amount to $2,500 to $5,000 or more. So this group will bear their cost of hooking up now and pay 20 years into the future for other homeowners’ water line access.
Current and earlier homeowners, builders or the County previously paid to install county water at 4,372 Pinecrest single family homes, plus duplexes and apartment complexes. It will be a tough sell for advocates to persuade these folks to vote for bonds that will produce no direct benefit. And there will be no refunds for anyone who recently extended water lines at their own expense.
The vote will establish whether or not Pinecrest voters are comfortable donating funds to the County to finish out the water line and hydrant system. Be advised that the County will own the system and pocket water bill payments in perpetuity. This would be extremely generous considering that the County, the entity responsible for providing water and fire hydrants, has repeatedly refused to meet its obligation.
I say no to gifting water lines to the County .A low voter turnout – such as the 17 percent who returned mail ballots in Cutler Bay last year on a proposed $40 million community improvement bond – favors supporters of our referendum. So be sure to vote.
Bob Ross is a Pinecrest Village Councilmember.