By Steve Plunkett

    Surveyors began measuring the south part of Gulf Stream in mid-July after town commissioners voted unanimously to levy special assessments to put electric, phone and cable TV lines underground.
    Sitting June 30 as the Board of Equalization, town commissioners ruled the non-ad valorem assessment plan developed by consultant Willdan Financial Services was fair.
    “I think the proposal is reasonable and we should make the decision,’’ Mayor William Koch Jr. said.
    “It is difficult to divorce your opinion from your pocketbook,’’ Commissioner Chris Wheeler said. “The whole reason we relied on these experts is to provide that objectivity.’’
    Habib Isaac, senior project manager for Willdan, said the amounts his company proposed were based on actual observation of each parcel.
    “We went through all the streets in town,’’ Isaac said.
    He presented a chart showing, for instance, that parcel size was considered in calculating the added safety and aesthetics benefits, but not reliability, while having a guest quarters added to reliability benefits but not aesthetics or safety.
    That led to sizable differences between different types of dwellings, Isaac said.
    “On average a condo is being assessed roughly 60 percent of a single-family home,’’ he said, or $7,057 vs. $11,907.
    Resident John Caldwell of the Gulf View Club again asked why units in his condo building were being assessed $2,000 more than units in Gulfstream Shores.
    Isaac told him it was because Gulfstream Shores already has underground electric lines from the street to the building and that their meters are already updated.
    After other condo residents complained that they were paying almost as much as some multimillion-dollar estates, Isaac said his analysis did not use property values at all.
    “If you do that you’re really doing a tax in the clothing of an assessment,’’ he said.
    He also pointed out how impartial Willdan was in devising the assessment plan.
    “We’re not contingent on whether this moves forward or not from this point on,’’ he said. “Our involvement is in providing you the report that you have in front of you, and that’s the end of our services.’’
    Some homeowners wrote letters of support for the project, while other condo residents mailed objections.
    “Is there anything that you heard today in any of the comments that would cause you to want to reconsider your assessment methodology?’’ Town Attorney John Randolph asked Isaac.
    “My answer to that would be no,’’ Isaac said.
    “Today is not the first time you have heard the objections that have been raised today, particularly some of the objections that were made by [Gulfstream Shores condo president] Candy Gouwens and by Mr. Caldwell.
    “You’ve heard those before and you’ve given consideration to those kinds of comments in your methodology?’’ Randolph asked.
    “Yes, I have,’’ Isaac replied. “The only one I didn’t give consideration to was the value of the home in relation to the assessment amount.’’
    Town commissioners also voted unanimously to borrow up to $5.5 million to finance the project.
    The first phase of work is from roughly Golfview Road south to Pelican. Danny Brannon, the town’s consulting engineer, said shovels won’t hit the ground until next spring, following the survey phase and putting the project out to bid
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