By Steve Plunkett

       It’s official now—property owners in town will pay non-ad valorem special assessments to put electric, phone and cable TV lines underground, out of the view and away from wind and salty air.

Sitting June 30 as the Board of Equalization, town commissioners voted unanimously that the 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 $11,907 vs. $7,057.

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.

Town commissioners also voted unanimously to borrow up to $5.5 million to finance the project.

With a 25 percent credit available from Florida Power & Light Co., interest rates low and contractors hungry, ‘’this is the best time to do it,’’ said Dan Comerford, mayor of Jupiter Inlet Colony, which just began construction on its underground project.

Danny Brannon, the town’s consulting engineer, said surveyors would start work in Gulf Stream the first week of July. Shovels won’t hit the ground until next spring, he said.

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