Town of Palm Beach News

Town of Palm Beach Undergrounding Project Update

The Town of Palm Beach’s town-wide utility undergrounding project continues to be a sore spot for Palm Beach officials due to financing and cost problems. Tough decisions may have to be made, but for now, Town of Palm Beach Town Council members are carefully considering their options.

As things stand right now, the $90 million project is over budget, and there are legal issues with lawsuits that are blocking bond money approved by voters.

When asked about what the best possible solution for this issue might be, Town Manager Tom Bradford replied: “It would be a combination of fine tuning the cost estimate downward and finding alternative revenue sources to pay the extra cost of the project, which is what we are currently working on.” The main goal, as he said, is to get the estimated cost down to something that everyone would feel comfortable with.

When it comes to lowering the cost, the town has talked with a few broadband companies who might be interested in participating in construction costs and serving island customers, namely Hotwire and FPL FiberNet. This is what is holding up the release of a master plan and final cost estimate. According to Bradford, the town will have a better idea on cost by April 1st, which is one month before the scheduled construction start.

Other than negotiations with broadband companies, there are two lawsuits causing another hold-up. As these lawsuits challenge the referendum (more specifically, the ballot language) that made it possible for the town to use bond money to pay for the project, this leaves the town unable to access general obligation bond financing. According to John Randolph, the town attorney, it’s unlikely for the lawsuits to be resolved before May, and there is also the potential for appeal.

Council President Michael Pucillo thinks the wisest course of action might be to delay the construction. As bond financing is currently unavailable, it might not be the best idea to start looking into other terms of financing just for the sake of starting the project on May 1st, as he explained. Councilwoman Maggie Zeidman agrees with the notion that town staff and consultants should be given more time to gather all the necessary information and do the calculations, rather than going ahead immediately.

Town of Palm Beach Undergrounding Project Update

However, this brings other concerns, voiced by Mayor Gail Coniglio, who worries that the project might then be held off indefinitely. It would be detrimental to the life in Palm Beach, as she believes, when the delay tactic of lawsuits is taken into consideration. She claims it is a possibility that the town will still be involved in a lawsuit several years from now, and that an alternative source of funding, even though expensive, should not be dismissed easily.

Councilman Richard Kleid agrees, especially with the possibility of there being more lawsuits in the future. He stated that short-term financing might be the town’s best option. As he said, it may not be convenient going back on the general obligation bonds, but it could be the right solution.

Bradford was asked by Mayor Coniglio to provide the council with monthly updates, including financial reports.

There will be a task force meeting on January 23rd, where they will discuss three alternative financing options, as well as on February 7th. After that, the Town council meets on February 14th next time. Coniglio has asked for more transparency, to convince the residents that the town is handling the issue as best they can.

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Evan S.

Evan S.

Carter is obsessed with breaking news and has written for several newspapers and blogs around the country.


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