By Rich Pollack
Highland Beach wants some of its money back from the organization it contracted with for help with three major improvement proposals that failed to get voter approval.
Following the overwhelming defeat of an up to $45 million bond issue referendum in March, town commissioners have fired off a letter to the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council saying Highland Beach will not pay the remaining $44,000 owed and asking for the return of some of the close to $103,000 already paid.
In the April 10 letter, the town expressed concerns over the work done by the planning council, which was contracted to help create a conceptual plan for the three projects and help shepherd them through a state approval process.
The work, which included a stormwater improvement project, improvements to the Ocean Walk multiuse corridor and surrounding areas, and installation of underground utility wires, would have been done in conjunction with Florida Department of Transportation improvements to State Road A1A.
“Because the town did not get all that it bargained for and appears to have been misled, the town will not be making any further payments,” the letter said. “In fact, the town is hereby requesting the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council refund a portion of the fees already paid.”
Town officials made it clear they were not satisfied with the services the organization provided.
“The town put a great deal of faith in the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, primarily because of purported expertise in this area,” said the letter, signed by Mayor Rhoda Zelniker. “The town is very disappointed in how the project was handled.”
Highland Beach also contended that it was misled regarding a very tight deadline imposed by the state in which to do improvements.
For months town officials had been told they needed to have the conceptual plans to FDOT by late March, but they later learned that the project could be postponed for a year.
Thomas Lanahan, the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council’s executive director, defended his team, saying it did its best to meet the town’s requirements under a tight timeline. He also disputed that the town was misled regarding the deadline.
“The Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council staff and our consultants worked very hard to explore and develop the concepts that the town engaged us to pursue on the very tight deadline established by the FDOT and the town’s need to hold a referendum,” he said. “Contrary to the assertion in the town’s letter, we notified the town immediately when we learned of FDOT’s decision to change the deadline late in the process.”
Commissioner Peggy Gossett-Seidman, who favored asking for money back, was an opponent of spending money on the three projects and has been outspoken in her concerns about the performance of the regional council.
“We contracted with the Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council for a service and instead they provided a disservice,” she said. “They perpetuated proven false and misleading information which cost the town dearly in time, money and credibility.”
Highland Beach did not specify how much money it would like to get back from Treasure Coast but offered to meet to hammer that out.
“In the spirit of cooperation, the town would suggest a meeting with the appropriate representatives in an effort to amicably resolve this matter,” the letter said.
Lanahan said he too would like to see the issues settled.
“We look forward to a constructive dialogue with the town manager on a wrap-up to the project,” he said.