Photo: NPPD FB page


City Commission advances referendum to allow borrowing for emergencies, public safety

Francesco Abbruzzino, The Uncensored Report, LLC


CITY OF NORTH PORT, FL – 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 some safety and public health projects.


The first reading of an ordinance to place the referendum on the ballot was approved in a unanimous vote 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 out of 411 in the state of Florida whose charter prohibits the borrowing of money or incurring 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 their community going. In North Port, these projects could 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 paid back by dedicated revenue funds, not property taxes. Any borrowing or incurrence of debt would need to be approved by a majority of the City Commission in at least two public hearings.


General obligation bonds – those paid back using property taxes – would still need to be approved by voter referendum in a general election on an individual basis. General obligation bonds are typically used to pay for large-scale infrastructure projects, such as a police headquarters or water and sewer treatment plants.


Commissioners have also directed staff to develop a robust debt management policy that will ensure responsible and affordable use of debt financing for the City’s capital needs. The debt management policy is tentatively scheduled for discussion during the Sept. 9, 2024, Commission Workshop.


The City Commission also heard an update Tuesday from staff about an informational webpage the City has created for the referendum: The site includes impartial information about the City Charter, the City’s unfunded infrastructure needs, as well as a list of Frequently Asked Questions.


The site also includes a downloadable Education Toolkit that features a PowerPoint slide deck, flyers, fact sheets, graphics and imagery; a Request for Speakers online form for community members to inquire about hosting a presentation from City officials and learn more about the referendum at a public forum; and supporting documents and videos from City Commission meeting items on this topic.