Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Guidance Comes on Sewers Legal Opinion Helps Set Course

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Guidance Comes on Sewers Legal Opinion Helps Set Course

Article excerpt

If Ponte Vedra Beach had incorporated last year, it could pay for a Municipal Service District sewer project by levying special assessments. But a legal opinion issued Tuesday said the district does not have the authority to assess residents to pay for the sewers because it is not a municipality.

In January, Trustee Mack McCuller raised the issue of whether there was a legal basis for the district to proceed with the $6.3 million project, and Pablo Road resident John Curington suggested asking the state attorney general for an opinion.

Then McCuller and Greg West, an attorney retained by the board to help with sewer financing, wrote to the attorney general asking if the district has the authority to levy special assessments to fund construction of a sewer system or to issue revenue bonds to fund the sewers.

"The very first comment I ever made to that board was that they did not have the authority to levy a special assessment," McCuller said. "There are a lot of decisions made by this board without proper foresight and forethought. We need to listen to our residents and experts and . . . go cautiously forward on a lot of these major decisions."

The Attorney General's response, addressed to district Chairwoman Marcy Silkebaken, can be found at Internet site http://legal.firn.edu/ (legal opinions -- 1999). Butterworth's letter points out that Florida statutes authorize municipalities to levy assessments to pay for improvements such as sewers, but "the fact that the district is created by special act of the legislature does not make it a municipality."

As a quasi-governmental unit with the authority to tax residents for some supplemental county services, the district provides extra trash pickup, additional police protection, lighting and beautification. It serves an area that generally runs from the Duval County line south along Florida A1A to Corona Road and east to the ocean, then south along Ponte Vedra Boulevard to the Guana Preserve.

The district has the right to construct a sewer collection system, but "it is not a municipality authorized to levy special assessments," Butterworth said. …

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