Saturday, December 19, 2015

LBK Commission Advocates
Tyranny by the Majority

If one was going to create a perfect example of a government creating Tyranny by the Majority, it would be the LBK commission's second underground power line non-ad valorem tax assessment methodology.

Only the commission knows why they chose to abandon the long established ad valorem taxing methodology used to fund both ongoing beach maintenance and canal dredging. Non-ad valorem taxes are regressive and inherently unfair to a large segment of the community. 

The illogical rationals being employed by the commission to support their two undergrounding projects, creates large economic disparities within the community, in some cases by over 1000%. 

For the GMD undergrounding project, the commission reasoned, incorrectly, that since everyone eventually drives on GMD, depending on when they return to the island and how long they stay on island, so everyone should have to pay equally for the privilege of not seeing above ground power lines on GMD. The commission's undergrounding initiative does not improve safety or quality of service, compared to what the community would have received for free from the FPL's scheduled improvements to the power grid along GMD.

For the "neighborhoods" undergrounding project, the commission employs a totally different set of rationals to justify setting up a perfect instance to Tyranny by the Majority. 

The long standing taxing scheme for the two beach maintenance districts, divides the community into those properties directly benefiting from renourishing the beach immediately in front of their property, and a separate voting group who receive indirect benefit from having adequate beaches along the entire island. Unfortunately the commission has been remiss for the past six years and our beaches have been allowed to deteriorate in many places. The tax liability for the two groups is 80/20.

This separation of both benefits and tax liability, into two voting groups, allows those most financially affected by a referendum (80% of the tax liability), to have protection from the large majority of property owners (voters) with only a small tax exposure (20% of the tax liability). This is both logical and fair.

For some strange reason, this commission has decided to lump the majority group of property owners, with a $500 tax liability (7000 properties), together with the 3000 property owners with overhead power lines and a maximum tax liability of $11,000. Obviously the voters with only a small tax liability can exercise their majority power over the minority group of voters with a very large tax liability. This is called Tyranny by the Majority. It is not fair and has no place in a constitutional republic such as we have in America.

In good conscience, every LBK voter should vote against the political excesses of this commission, to demonstrate that we still stand for fairness and a truly democratic society.

Please ask yourself, if you are one of the majority, is the somewhat improved aesthetics of underground power lines in the "neighborhoods" worth straddling them with a $10,500 tax liability? Remember your vote affects thousands of property owners, many of whom have small homes and fixed incomes. For hundreds, perhaps thousands, of homeowners, the second referendum will increase their yearly property taxes from 30% to 60%. Do you really want to be part of the commission's unbalanced zeal to have virtual mandatory undergrounding throughout the island?

Monday, October 5, 2015

Unequal Taxation?

Unequal Taxation?

Below is a Florida Public Service Commission paper on the deficiencies of burying power lines. It's worth a read to get a better understanding of what the Longboat commission is proposing. The commission is asking voters to agree to tax themselves 25 million dollars to bury power lines on just Gulf of Mexico Drive.

My two major complaints concern unfair and inequitable tax apportionment and the economic inefficiencies of the commission plan. 

The commission's special tax assessment for undergrounding power lines along GMD, has the great majority of taxpayers paying an identical amount, no matter where your property is located.

The town's two special beach maintenance taxing districts acknowledges that those properties lying west of GMD receive greater benefit, from maintaining beaches, than those properties located east of GMD. This includes financial benefits in the form of property values. 

Under the current commission special assessment referendum, the commission ignores their own beach taxing rational and asserts that all properties on the island will enjoy identical benefits from undergrounding GMD. I do not believe that anyone, besides the commissioners, thinks that properties on GMD will not experience increased property values as a result of burying power lines in front of their homes.

Likewise, I do not believe that many residents believe that the various neighborhoods will be able to facilitate undergrounding projects in individual areas where there are existing overhead power lines, after GMD is undergrounded. The commission's GMD or nothing plan will have negative impacts on future efforts to underground the entire island. Is is a bad plan!

Florida (2007-2008)
In 2006, the Florida Public Service Commission directed each investor-owned electric utility in the state to investigate the implications of converting their overhead electric distribution systems to underground. The primary focus of the project was the impact of undergrounding on the performance of the electric infrastructure during
hurricanes, i.e., the ability of the electric system to withstand high winds, storm surges, and other damage from hurricanes and to minimize the number and duration of customer interruptions
The project was divided into three phases. Phase 1, published in 2007, reviewed existing research, reports, methodologies, and case studies. The literature review identified a range of benefits and costs of undergrounding. The benefits include increased reliability, improved aesthetics, and decreased costs for vegetation management. On the other hand, the review found an average cost of $1 million per mile, although it noted that actual costs could vary widely depending on customer density, terrain, and other factors. The review found that the costs of undergrounding are “… far in excess of the quantifiable benefits presented in existing studies, except in rare cases where the facilities provide particularly high reliability gains or otherwise have a higher than average impact on community goals.” The literature indicated that the wholesale conversion of overhead distribution systems to underground would require electricity rates to approximately double. This phase of the report is available at
Phase 2, also published in 2007, examined four undergrounding projects in Florida, two of which were done in conjunction with road widening. In two, the underground lines were substantially longer than the overhead lines they replaced (by 100% in one case and by 143% in the other). The increased length in these cases was due to an underground loop that was built to provide flexibility in responding to outages. Preliminary data indicated that undergrounding did not significantly affect the reliability of the affected circuit outside of storms. It found that the high initial costs of undergrounding were not fully justified by such things as reduced hurricane damage and reduced operations and management costs. The phase 2 report is available at
Phase 3 was published in 2008. It developed and tested a methodology for analyzing the costs and benefits of specific undergrounding proposals. The methodology has two components: a normal weather assessment and a hurricane assessment. The model used in the normal weather assessment includes the basic cost of utility capital and operations. It also includes reliability information that allows for the calculation of customer interruption rates and interruption-related costs. The hurricane model determines infrastructure damage and related costs associated with tropical storms of hurricane strength that make landfall in Florida.
The report notes that the methodology is specific to Florida, but the general approach is valid wherever extreme weather events have the potential to wreak havoc on electricity infrastructure. It also states that the model requires specification of many parameters and makes many assumptions. For many of these parameters and assumptions, there is little basis in historical data. The tool should be viewed as a “calculator” and the user must make appropriate decisions about the parameters and assumptions.
The report notes that there are several intangible benefits and costs to undergrounding. These include aesthetic benefits such as elimination of overhead facilities, improved landscaping, and the potential positive impact on property values. The intangible costs include reduced flexibility for both utility operations and system expansion. Undergrounding can have an adverse environmental impact including erosion and disruption of ecologically sensitive habitats.
The report notes that underground equipment is prone to damage by storm surges in hurricanes and by excavations near the lines. The time needed to repair underground lines is often longer than for overhead lines and the specialized crews needed for underground repairs are often scarce during restoration. The report concludes that “it is quite possible that undergrounding an existing overhead system in a coastal area may result in more hurricane damage and longerrestoration times for customers” (emphasis in original). The phase 3 report is available at 

Saturday, October 3, 2015

A Better Buried Power Lines Plan

Come November, Longboat Key voters will be asked to approve a referendum ballot, championed by the town commission, to approve a $25,000,000 bond to bury power lines the length of Gulf of Mexico Drive. The referendum does not contain provisions to underground power lines in the "neighborhoods" presently with above ground power lines.

At the beginning of the commission's efforts to underground GMD, and only GMD, while taxing every property owner, I asked that the town spend $5,000 to contact every property owner / real estate taxpayer to measure the sentiments of those who will end up paying the bill to have properties along GMD receive a major property value increase as a result of placing their overhead power lines underground.

Unfortunately the commission was not interested in what the bill-payers wanted. The commission forged ahead with what has become a divisive internecine struggle between those who want everyone to pay for their personal property improvements, while excluding the rest of the island, and those of us who seek an optimal solution, with maximum benefits for the entire community, not just those along GMD and those who already live in developments with underground utilities.

Commissioner Zunz, among others, has proposed an alternative funding scheme that has the entire island undergrounded, for not much more than the commission's limited underground deployment just on GMD.

The Zunz plan has every property owner pay $4,000 to underground the entire island, instead of $2,500 to underground only GMD.  With proper 10 year bond management, the bond + interest total is almost the same amount as the town's proposed 30 year bond for undergrounding just GMD. The voters are voting based in great part on special assessment information appearing on the town's web site. It would be questionable if the commission attempted to alter published property tax liabilities after the election.

The commission has effectively resisted having those who already have underground power lines from paying a penny more than what it costs to do just GMD. Sadly , their unwillingness to listen to alternative views, such as that of Ms. Zunz, most likely will doom further deployment of underground power lines into the neighborhoods, due to inefficient project scale, the volunteer resources required to form a local neighborhood taxing district and sell a small scale bond into an already skittish bond market.

The commissioner's strong opposition to community-wide funding of an island-wide underground project, ignores the current way we fund both beach and canal maintenance.

The really unfortunate aspect of what the commission has been doing is to stifle meaningful community discussion and to limit the voter's choices to their single proposal. The illegal removal of vital taxing information from the town web site is another example of the commission's attempts to control the voting process and prevent the taxpayers from having a complete understanding of the commission's referendum proposal.

That the commission is preventing Longboat taxpayers the right to choose between several plans flies in the face of fair and open government. All the taxpayers have already spent tens of thousands of dollars to have consultants study various funding models for just GMD and/or the entire island. Now that the commission has withdrawn any consideration for an island-wide project, voters are left with an all or nothing choice for only GMD. It is my opinion that we can to a lot better as a community, just as we do when it comes to beach and canal improvements. Voters can reject the current offering by the commission. That will trigger a more comprehensive plan that includes underground power lines for the entire island at a slightly higher cost to taxpayers than the current flawed commission plan.

To Underground or Not Underground

I believe almost every property owner on Longboat Key is in favor of under-grounding our power lines. That unanimity begins to break down over who pays for what. 

Under the town commission's project, everyone pays for GMD, no matter what cost/benefit is actually enjoyed by different property owners, in various parts of the island. For instance, how far away a land parcel lies from GMD. It seems logical that those properties directly on GMD will increase in property value from under-grounding the power lines.

One problem with the town's assessment formulation is that the Key Club Islandside only pays the same $2,476 that most every other property owner will pay. The Islandside property has 1.3 miles of frontage on GMD. I believe the approximate per mile cost for burying the power lines on GMD is $2,000,000. We all have to pay for the 1.3 miles of the Islandside property. I believe residents have a bonafide concern surrounding the taxing model published by the commission.

That the town commission refused to allow the residents to vote to pay to either bury power lines on just Gulf of Mexico Drive or throughout the entire community, has now divided the community and may well be the primary reason that voters reject the commission's funding plan.

At this point the commissioners have completely withdrawn any consideration of an island-wide under-grounding project. The commission has acknowledged that their assessment model for the neighborhoods is so faulty and unpopular that they chose to no longer consider an island-wide project. There is no assurance that the commission will reinstate an island-wide project even if their current referendum passes. Certainly there will be far fewer residents who are affected by overhead power lines once GMD is under-grounded, making further under-grounding efforts less likely.

If the commission's GMD referendum is approved, I cannot see an effective resident-based initiative to underground other neighborhoods being likely. The legal and political challenges are daunting and the cost of doing the island peace-meal can only translate into higher costs compared to a large island-wide project that will attract more contractors with more competitive bids.

I believe the voters would be better off rejecting the commission's GMD project and have the town formulate a better, more encompassing and cost effective under-grounding plan. 

Commissioner Zunz has presented an alternative funding initiative that might be accepted by the voters for the same reasons that voters approved both the beach and canal management taxing formulas.

Finally, here is a link to a study on undergrounding siting advantages and disadvantages.

Power Poles in Paradise

I just finished counting, on Google maps, the number of streets on LBK, intersecting with GMD that are gateways to neighborhoods with overhead power lines.

I counted 75 intersections that will require a power pole on or very close to GMD. This count could be off by a few streets where there are no houses with overhead power lines and thus not requiring a power pole on GMD.

In addition to the larger power poles at most intersections on GMD, the town's plan calls for the addition of between 300 to 600 new street light poles at a height of 30 feet. Currently street lights are mounted on existing power poles. 

Residents should not be lead to believe that undergrounding GMD will eradicate the visual blight of utility poles on GMD. 

Friday, October 3, 2014

Times they are a-changing

Come senators, congressmen

Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside
And it is ragin'
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls

For the times they are a-changin'.
Bob Dylan

Wow! What a week. Loeb Partners, who own the Key Club, are leaving town, along with the general manager. On top of that, the president of the Chamber of Commerce is leaving at the same time. Is this a coincidence? Perhaps it is best if the new owners of the Key Club are able to work with the surrounding affected property owners and find a common-sense design for a new and reasonable Key Club expansion. 

The town is still facing a court decision towards the end of November that will decide if land use on Longboat Key will remain under the purview of our Comprehensive Plan and town ordinances, or become a political weapon totally in the hands of a commission that is presently mostly appointed. 

I hope that the prospective owners of the KC  and IPOC can reach an understanding. But I also hope that IPOC allows the courts to rule on the legality of two recently passed town ordinances, passed by the town commission - 2012-6 and 2012-8. I believe both ordinances will discourage people from investing in residential properties on Longboat. No one wants to invest in a community where anything is possible depending on who is on the town commission at the time. Both these ordinances destabilize our community and undermine trust that land use will be managed in a steady and predictable fashion. 

This commission fails to understand that "highest and best use" of commercial property extends well beyond the confines of the commercial development and impacts surrounding property owners and to a lesser degree the entire community.

The Servant of Two Masters

"No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other"...Matthew 6:24
Several people have asked me to explain the perhaps unusual relationship between the town lawyer representing Loeb Partners, while at the same time getting paid by Longboat Key taxpayers. My explanation that this three-way relationship does in fact exist has been greeted with laughter and dismay. So far, and the sample size is arguably small, everyone I have talked to has had difficulty understanding exactly what is happening. How can the town lawyer be the town's legal adviser and also be employed by a developer at the same time?  When I tell them that it's legal, that does not seem to alter how they feel about the town lawyer being the servant of two masters.

What does "being legal" have to do with what is right? It is legal to ride on a motorcycle without wearing a protective helmet. It is also legal to have a minor on the motorcycle equally unprotected. In many cases, the uninsured cost of treating serious motorcycle accident injuries are paid by the Florida taxpayer. "Special interests" have always influenced our laws. The motorcycle lobby has been able to control the motorcycle safety issue for many years. However, every taxpayer in Florida is subsidizing the motorcycle industry to some degree, through higher public sector medical costs.  From my perspective the motorcycle law is not a just law.

Longboat Key has become a community mired in special interests.