Aug. 12--For months, Lake Worth has been riveted by a raucous debate about whether to let the city borrow $63 million to fix up roads, street lights and sewers. Residents will vote on the matter Aug. 26, and it's hard to overstate the stakes for the city, which badly needs to invest in fixing its crumbling infrastructure. To pull Lake Worth from its underperforming past, The Post recommends a vote For Bonds.
Despite the popularity of its downtown strip and public beach, Lake Worth struggles to support basic city services. This city of 36,000 has the second-highest poverty rate in Palm Beach County, and many roads and sidewalks are crumbling and collapsing throughout it. Some of the city's poorest neighborhoods have been so neglected that streets there have never been paved.
The city is so strapped for cash that it relies on revenue from its city-owned utility to balance its budget, yet it still has to plug budget holes with emergency funds. Its current road repair projects amount to little more than covering the potholes that emerge daily through the city. In short, it has no way to pay for the massive repairs it has neglected doing for decades.
Raising $63 million by issuing bonds would give the city the money needed to carry out its Lake Worth 2020 plan, a massive infrastructure overhaul of much of the city. Under this plan, the city would repave or rebuild 70 percent of its roads, repair sidewalks, and add needed fire hydrants, sewers and street lighting. The current plan is to borrow the money in three separate bond issues between next year and 2019, and complete most of the major work by the end of the decade.
No one denies the city's need to repairs its infrastructure. But the proposal has been remarkably divisive, and for legitimate reasons. The $63 million loan would be more than twice the city's annual operating budget, and repaying it would require huge property tax increases on its residents.
Under the plan, property tax rates could rise by 35 percent, making Lake Worth's rate by far the county's highest. The resulting jolt to the city's economy will likely drive up rents for businesses and renters, which could lead to some businesses closing or looking elsewhere to open up. We hope the negative effects will be minimal, but no one should pretend there will be none.
But to prosper, the city needs to fix itself, and the cost of doing so will only grow if repairs are further delayed. The price tag for bringing Lake Worth into the 21st century is staggering, but this is a testament to just how long previous commissions have ignored the city's basic needs. No one should expect road and sidewalk repairs alone to usher in a renaissance, but it is difficult to imagine one happening without them.
In addition to neighborhood repairs, the city plans to make important sewer and road upgrades along Boutwell Road in the city's Park of Commerce. These are vital to attracting new businesses to the under-utilized stretch of commercial land, which has been neglected for decades and, consequently, has attracted virtually no private investment.
In a way, it's a microcosm of a city that possesses so many attractive assets -- a charming downtown, a public beach, waterfront parks, historic neighborhoods brimming with Old Florida charm -- and yet has failed to improve its residents' lives by fumbling or ignoring the hard decisions. This vote is a chance for the city to turn that disappointing history on its head.
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