Lakewood Ranch supervisors consider privatization of roads

A difficult task, yet three development districts explore the possibility

kmoschella@bradenton.comMay 21, 2014 

The vehicle gate at Balmoral Woods Boulevard just off Lakewood Ranch Blvd.PAUL VIDELA/Bradenton Herald

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LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Spurred by what he considers an unusual amount of control by Manatee County, Richard Williams, outgoing chairman of Community Development District 6 in Lakewood Ranch, has proposed homeowner associations privatizing community roads.

Williams, who submitted a series of reforms for the future after his term expires in November, has suggested districts 2, 5 and 6 seek a legislative amendment to the 1980 law that created CDDs in Florida. The amendment would ask Manatee County to relinquish control of district roads. Williams said privatization is possible under a transportation bill passed by the Florida Legislature in 2002.

He said privatization would result in gated communities having better security, less noise and less road wear from outside traffic.

According to Williams, Manatee County reaps the financial subsidies from the state, such as the gas tax, but Lakewood Ranch is left out even though the roads are public.

"We are at the bottom of the state food chain. If Manatee County wants to control us, then give us our share of the gas tax," Williams told a joint workshop of the CDDs meeting this month. "They said no, so here's an alternative. Privatize the roads

and give them to the HOAs. Agreements could be put in place moving funding, operations and maintenance from 'Peter to Paul.'"

Williams said even if a legislative amendment is passed, a major issue remains. Tax-exempt public purpose bonds built the roads for the CDDs so the tax exempt status of the bonds would have to be negotiated. This legislative change, he said, is only one step in a long process.

If a private, gated community is the CDD goal rather than a community with gates, this legislative amendment would be a significant start as laws do not now permit privatization of publicly dedicated roads, he said.

"We need help and legal counsel to prepare ourselves for proposing this change," Williams told the group. "Will the benefits of private roads increase our real estate values, reduce noise and traffic use or will the negatives be residents will pay a little more? There's a long road to get there, and the difficulty is the bond. We need to have a bond financial adviser take a look a look at this."

Richard Moran, District 2 assistant secretary, said he is glad the issue is on the table and he believes district residents want to privatize the roads.

"Richard's done a super job pulling this together. It's good to get people talking about it. It's the right thing to do. But I don't know where it will end up," said Moran, who volunteered to be part of an exploratory road privatization group, along with District 5 Supervisors Alan Silverglat and Martin Cohn. Their first meeting date might occur around their regularly scheduled board meetings in June.

Peter Bokach, chairman of District 2, called it an idea with broad brush strokes.

"We need to recognize that this is a long road with a lot of work to get it before the state Legislature," Bokach said. "I think our residents would be interested in this, but they have to realize it's not a free ride."

Williams was asked to research CDDs that have privatized roads, then lay out the benefits and possible privatization consequences.

"We need to know what the pros and cons are. In part, we're a corporation again. Is this worth considering at any cost?" Silverglat asked the group.

Support from state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, and state Rep. Greg Steube, R-Bradenton, are paramount but their involvement is premature until the bond issue is settled, Williams said.

Steube said he is willing to meet with the exploratory group when they're ready. Attempting to incorporate again might be a good idea for Lakewood Ranch and would give the community more control over the roads, he said.

Kathryn Moschella, Lakewood Ranch reporter can be reached at 941-745-7010. Follow her on Twitter @MoschellaHerald.Com.

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