ACTION ALERT: BCC’s chance to fix flawed septic amendment

From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: The Martin County Commission has an opportunity on Tuesday to fix serious problems with the septic/sewer amendment to the Comprehensive Plan that was previously transmitted to state reviewers with changes that were not reviewed or approved by the Board.  The amendment should not be approved without further discussion and consideration of the consequences. And as has become standard procedure, the Consent Agenda for Tuesday’s meeting contains more than $5 million in spending requests that the Commission is being asked to approve without public discussion.
  • The most anticipated item on Tuesday’s agenda is Item 6C, a proposal to adopt Comprehensive Plan Amendment 17-10, which would allow installation of more and much larger septic systems than are currently allowed in Martin County.  
  • The amendment to the Sanitary Sewer element of the Comp Plan would authorize 5,000-gallon-per-day (more than double the current limit) septic systems at the same time the Commission is asking taxpayers to approve a 1% sales tax hike to generate revenue to be used in part to convert existing septic systems to sewer, ostensibly to protect water resources. 
  • CPA 17-10 allows extension of water and sewer lines outside the Urban Services District on a “case by case basis” but does not provide rules or guidelines for determining how to evaluate the need for extending lines to a particular parcel.  This will render the urban services boundaries meaningless, as any parcel outside the boundaries can be furnished with public utilities if three commissioners vote to do so for whatever reason they choose.  Many residents have e-mailed Commissioners asking them not to adopt CPA 17-10.  At the very least, the amendment should be tabled for further discussion and a public workshop to explain changes that were previously approved by the Commission majority as well as changes made by staff when the amendment was transmitted to the state for review.
  • Agenda Item 6D features another proposed Comp Plan Amendment, CPA 17-11, which revises Chapter 1 of the Comp Plan by relaxing previously approved requirements that applicants for Plan amendments disclose the identity of the owners of property which is the subject of an application.  After extensive public comment, the Local Planning Agency made some good suggestions that improved the initial draft, which the BCC subsequently approved.
  • Agenda Item 8A2 seeks approval of a three-year contract with the Martin County firefighters’ union which the County has been negotiating for several months.  The current contract expires September 30.  The new contract would be effective October 1, 2017, and would expire September 30, 2020.  The contract provides for a new pay scale as well as changes in the process for promotions and assignments.
  • The Consent Agenda, which contains items that are automatically approved by the Commission without public discussion or vote, includes big-money items that should be discussed in public before being approved by Commissioners.  Item 4B1 includes a change order that adds $741,800.00 to the cost of Bathtub Beach renourishment because the contractor could not finish the project on time due to “a combination of weather and mechanical issues.”  A 21-day delay in project completion allowed further erosion to occur, resulting in a 28% increase in the cost of the project.  It is not clear from the agenda summary whether the contractor bears any responsibility for the excess cost caused by the delay in completing the project, which was originally budgeted at $2.64 million but will now cost at least $3.38 million. Agenda Item 4B1 seeks approval of a $4 million continuing contract for nuisance vegetation management over a 5-year period and a $750,000.00 environmental consulting contract for water and air quality monitoring, hydrological modeling, environmental site assessments, gopher tortoise permitting and relocation and other environmental services.
  • Another Consent Agenda item seeks approval of changes to the Parks and Recreation Department’s “Revenue Enhancement Program” (Translation: ways to raise money from the use of public parks and recreation facilities).   One recommended change in Item 4F that should be reviewed in a public discussion is a proposal that County employees receive free or discounted parks and recreation facility admission and services to promote “wellness and a healthier lifestyle.”  Promotion of wellness and a healthier lifestyle is certainly a laudable goal, but why should this benefit be limited to County employees, whose salaries are paid by taxpayers who also pay for the Parks & Rec services and facilities?  Why should a financially struggling family who lives and pays taxes in Martin County be unable to afford a day at Sailfish Splash Water Park while employees who reside outside the County get free or reduced admission?

In other items on Tuesday’s agenda:

  • – Appointments to the Board of Appeals and Adjustments to the Fire Code will be approved on the Consent Agenda as Item 4B4.  There have been no members sitting on the Board for many years, but an appeal was recently filed by a resident who challenged a permit issued pursuant to the Fire Code. In order to have the appeal heard, the County must make appointments to the long-neglected Fire Code appeals board.
  • – Consent Agenda Item 4C is a Resolution supporting a Treasure Coast Council of Local Governments effort to promote and defend home rule against legislative changes that erode local government authority, and Item 4B8 is a Resolution recognizing Kevin Powers for eight years of service as a member of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board. 
  • – Item 6A is a public hearing to adopt the final solid waste assessment resolution for Fiscal Year 2018.  The proposed annual assessment for garbage and trash collection includes an increase of $4.96 for a single-family household, which will pay $309.10 ($192.60 for collection, $96.84 for disposal, and $19.66 for administrative costs) next year for services provided under the County’s contract with Waste Management.

Download or view agenda items at: www.martin.fl.us/agendas/

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