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City Commission Advances Referendum to Authorize Emergency, Public Safety Loans

NORTH PORT, Fla. (WWSB) – The City Commission on Tuesday moved forward with placing a referendum on the Nov. 5 ballot, asking voters to amend the city charter to allow the commission to issue debt to respond to emergencies or pay for certain safety and public health projects.

The first reading of an ordinance to place the referendum on the ballot was unanimously approved during Tuesday’s meeting. A second reading will be held at the City Commission’s next regular meeting at 10 a.m. on July 23.

North Port is believed to be the only city of 411 in the state of Florida whose charter prohibits the borrowing of money or the assumption of any debt without voter approval. Every other Florida city and county routinely relies on borrowing – in the form of bonds, loans, leases or other borrowing instruments – to pay for growth and infrastructure needs and keep the community running. In North Port, these projects may include roads and bridges, water control structures, or water/wastewater services.

The charter amendment would allow the city to issue debt payable from funds other than property taxes without voter approval in response to declared emergencies or for safety and public health projects of $15 million or less per project.

The proposed charter change will only apply to revenue bonds that are repaid by dedicated revenue funds, not property taxes. Any borrowing or incurring of debt would have to be approved by a majority of the City Commission in at least two public hearings.

General obligations — those repaid with property taxes — would still have to be approved by popular vote in a general election on an individual basis. General obligations are typically used to pay for large-scale infrastructure projects, such as a police headquarters or water and sewage treatment plants.

Commissioners have also tasked staff with developing a robust debt management policy that will ensure the responsible and affordable use of debt financing for the city’s capital needs. The Debt Management Policy is tentatively scheduled for discussion during the Commission’s workshop on 9 September 2024.

The City Commission also heard an update Tuesday from staff about an informational webpage the city has created for the referendum:NorthPortFL.gov/Referendum. The website contains unbiased information about the City Charter, the city’s unfunded infrastructure needs, and a list of frequently asked questions.

The site also includes a downloadable educational tool that includes a PowerPoint slide show, flyers, fact sheets, graphics and images; a Online speaker request form for community members to ask about holding a presentation from city officials and learn more about the referendum in a public forum; and supporting documents and videos from City Commission meeting points on this topic.

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