By Dan Moffett

    A surge of fresh optimism is running through the Gulf Stream underground power project, after town officials have claimed a series of hard-fought gains in recent weeks.
    Mayor Scott Morgan says Comcast and AT&T are completing the finishing touches on the project’s first phase, and the town has hired a special counsel to negotiate with Florida Power & Light and the other utilities for the second phase.
    Morgan said it took “a number of emails and letters with demands and/or veiled threats” to prod Comcast and AT&T into action, as the town reaches the sixth anniversary of the project’s inception.
    Commissioners have signed off on a contract with Wilco Electric that will cut the projected cost overrun by about half going forward, and Town Manager William Thrasher says there’s enough money in the town’s coffers to cover the roughly $510,000 in extra spending.
    “No additional assessments will be asked for,” Thrasher said.
    Danny Brannon, the town’s engineering consultant, was able to squeeze some $440,000 in savings out of the second phase, largely from redesigning conduit and connections. Morgan says that Comcast plans to install fiber optic cable in the second phase instead of coaxial, a change that should lower costs and improve performance.
    At the town’s May 13 meeting, commissioners unanimously approved a basket of measures and agreements for the second phase:
    • A change order that reduces the Wilco contract from about $2.9 million to $2.4 million.
    • A separate $460,000 contract with Wilco for new, energy-efficient street lighting.
    • A change order for Comcast to make the switch from coaxial cable to fiber optic. And a $25,000 payment to AT&T for engineering and design work.
    • An endorsement of Morgan’s role in leading the negotiations and also the hiring of Gary Resnick as special counsel for the project.
    Resnick, an attorney with Gray Robinson law firm in Fort Lauderdale, has served as mayor of Wilton Manors since 2008. Besides experience in utility negotiations, Resnick also has served on the Federal Communication Commission’s intergovernmental advisory committee, a group of local officials that advises the government on communications policy. He also has held a seat on the National League of Cities’ information technology steering committee.
    “Mr. Resnick is an expert in public utilities law,” Morgan said. “He has quite a bit of experience.”
    In other business, the Florida League of Cities honored Commissioner Joan Orthwein for her 21 years as an elected official and Vice Mayor Robert Ganger and Thrasher with “Home Rule Hero” awards.
    Orthwein won election to the commission in 1995 and served as mayor from 2012 to 2014. She is the second-longest serving elected official in Palm Beach County, behind Cloud Lake Mayor Patrick Slatery, who has held his seat for 38 years.
    Ganger and Thrasher were honored for their efforts in trying to persuade the Legislature to do more to protect small communities from abuses of the state’s public records laws.
    In April, the Government Finance Officers Association recognized the commission and accountant Rebecca Tew for their budget  work.

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  • I hope Mr. Resnick has a strong stomach so he can tolerate the sly way Gulf Stream leaders operate.

    The Town had many many meetings where Town leaders and the Gulf Stream Civic Association "sold" us on the idea that this project did not benefit the entire Town but rather had only "special benefits" for some residents and not others. The Town levied a non-ad valorem tax assessment against those residents instead of spreading the cost over ALL residents with an ad valorem tax based on property values. The Town figured this was the only way it could win the straw ballot and get the project approved by the voters.

    Condo owners realized they were being disproportionately taxed for this project; some paying almost as much as nearby estates worth 10 to 20 times more than their tiny condominium apartment was worth. The condo owners complained. The Town hired expensive consultants who concocted a Special Assessment Methodology “proving condo owners should pay more. In true character the Town told these owners, “This project has special benefits, not general benefits so screw you – your paying.”  

    Now, miracle of miracles, the Town has decided the project has general benefits after all. So now ALL residents will be stuck with the bill for the Town’s mismanagement and the project’s overruns. And that “special benefits” rational used to bully the condo owners into paying too much? That has now morphed into a “general benefits” rational being used to bully the residents of Place Au Soleil into paying at all.

    Why shouldn’t Place Au Soleil residents pay anyway?  In order to “sell” the non-ad valorem tax Town leaders, Town consultants, Town attorneys and the Gulf Stream Civic Association all claimed correctly Place Au Soleil already has buried utilities paid for by the residents – they were not benefiting by this work being done only on the rich side of the waterway.

    Is this the next giant lawsuit for Gulf Stream? Town leaders should reconsider their actions. Either abolish the special assessment, return the non-ad valorem money to residents and pay for the project from General Funds OR go back to all those residents who the Town claims received “special benefits”, tax them again for the shortfall and leave Place Au Soleil out of it.

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