BCC spending frenzy on tap for Tuesday, June 13

 

From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: The Martin County Commission is being asked on Tuesday to turn taxpayers upside down and shake them until their pockets are totally empty.

 

Commissioners will review a proposed ordinance implementing a 1% local sales tax increase to raise millions of dollars to be spent on whatever pet projects Commissioners choose to fund while the backlog of needed infrastructure repairs continues to grow.

 

In another agenda item, staff is recommending that the Commission approve a new animal care contract with the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast that would increase taxpayer costs by 30% while allowing continued inhumane treatment of animals confined to the County’s care.

 

The local sales tax ordinance, Agenda Item 8A3, would be implemented if voters approve a referendum in August authorizing an additional one percent (one penny on each dollar spent) sales tax.  Voters will be asked if they want to “protect the environment and safeguard Martin County’s quality of life” by agreeing to pay the increased sales tax.

 

The ballot language is designed to make voters think that if they approve the tax increase, the funds will be used for environmental protection and projects to improve our quality of life.

 

The ordinance is supposed to provide voters with assurance that proceeds of the new tax will be spent as promised.

 

The language of the ordinance is far from reassuring, however.

 

In fact, the ordinance gives Commissioners authority to spend the sales tax proceeds for projects ranging from an indoor sports complex to a Sheriff’s training obstacle course and new storage facilities.

 

There is no language in the ordinance that restricts expenditure of sales tax proceeds to reduce the $232 million backlog to repair or replace crumbling roads, bridges, culverts and drainage systems.

 

The ordinance doesn’t even require proceeds to be spent on septic-to-sewer projects to off-set the environmental impacts of large capacity septic systems that commissioners voted to approve last month.

 

There is no language that requires the Commission to keep promises to reduce the Florida Power and Light franchise fee that was approved to raise money for infrastructure projects after the last sales tax increase referendum failed.

 

There is, however, language that restricts expenditures for projects to “safeguard Martin County’s quality of life” to no more than 25% of sales tax proceeds collected.  And the ordinance authorizes the remaining 75% of sales tax proceeds to be spent to construct new facilities that will create new maintenance burdens, such as a local training facility for the Fire Rescue Department (to relieve trainees from having to drive all the way to Fort Pierce to use the existing facility).

 

The ordinance includes confusing language regarding approval of expenditures.  The ballot says projects will be “subject to annual review and approval at a public hearing,” which suggests once-a-year consideration of proposed expenditures.  But the ordinance says projects funded by the sales tax “shall be voted on and approved by a majority of the Martin County Board of County Commissioners at an advertised public hearing” and the County Administrator will “provide monthly reports to the Board of County Commissioners concerning the collection and expenditures of the funds derived from the surtax.”

 

It is not clear whether projects can be funded with sales tax proceeds prior to a vote by the Commission, so long as the Administrator provides a monthly report of how the funds have been spent.

 

No single project can be funded with more than $10 million in sales tax proceeds.  This is the same provision that allowed the County to spend $10 million on Sailfish Splash Waterpark from proceeds of a local sales tax that voters approved for beaches, parks, and conservation lands.  The “wish list” for proceeds from the new sales tax proposal includes another $9.4 million to expand Sailfish Splash.

 

The bottom line is that there is no requirement in the ordinance that funds be used for specific projects or even for specific types of projects.

 

The proposed sales tax increase is a spending free-for-all.

 

Another spending frenzy is recommended by staff in Agenda Item 8A2, with a proposed new HSTC animal care contract that

 

– increases costs to taxpayers from $46,670.60 a month to $61,020.28 a month to be paid to HSTC until October 1, 2017, when the cost would rise to $61,939.76 a month

 

– allows HSTC to continue to kill animals using the horrific and cruel heart-stick method

 

–   allows HSTC to continue to refuse to provide basic flea and tick control and heartworm prevention to animals impounded at the Palm City shelter unless a particular animal is infected

 

– fails to implement requirements that were developed by the Domestic Animal Control Task Force and approved by the County Commission

 

Although experts have reported that taxpayer costs for animal care pursuant to the previous HSTC contract were far in excess of costs incurred by larger communities with higher numbers of animals cared for, staff has spent more than eight months negotiating a contract that requires Martin County taxpayers to pay still more with no change in how HSTC treats – and kills – animals.

 

The DAC Task Force recommended that the County include eight items approved by the County Commission for inclusion in any new HSTC contract negotiated by staff, including a ban on the use of heart-stick to euthanize animals, installation of cameras in areas where euthanasia is performed, the hiring of a full-time veterinarian for the shelter, hiring an outside consultant to develop shelter management protocols, and providing flea and tick control and heartworm prevention for all animals.

 

HSTC insists on continuing to use heart-stick to euthanize animals and refusing to provide flea and tick control or heartworm prevention unless an animal is already infected.

 

The contract proposed and recommended by staff does not include recommendations of the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine evaluation team, such as a trap-neuter/spay-vaccinate-return to field program to reduce the number of cats and kittens sheltered or killed at the HSTC facility.

 

The proposed contract makes the HSTC shelter the exclusive facility for public animal care services in Martin County, ignoring the availability and willingness of other animal welfare organizations to partner with the County and with HSTC to provide humane animal services at a reasonable cost.

 

A vote for the HSTC proposal is a vote for heart-stick and a vote for fiscal irresponsibility.

 

Agenda Item 8C1 is a presentation by staff of a report on a public workshop that was held earlier this year to gather community input on the proposed Capital Improvement Program for the Martin County Golf Course.

 

Staff is asking the Board to approve recommendations of the Golf Course Advisory Committee to maintain a course of 36 holes, build a new clubhouse, improve greens, fairways, tees and overall golf course conditions, and authorize $11.25 million in design and construction expenses, including $268,000.00 in sales tax proceeds that remain unspent from the last approved sales tax increase.

 

In other matters on Tuesday’s agenda:

 

– A recap of the 2017 legislative session will be presented by the County’s legislative liaison in Agenda Item 2B

 

– Commissioners will make appointments to the Tourist Development Council and Value Adjustment Board in Agenda Items 5A and 5B

 

– Another private meeting between Commissioners and County attorneys in the Lake Point rockpit case is scheduled as Agenda Item 8D1 following a mediation session on Monday to discuss settlement prospects for the lawsuit filed against the County, the South Florida Water Management District and Maggy Hurchalla by Lake Point, which is owned and operated in part by George Lindemann, Jr., who served time in federal prison for having his show horse Charisma killed to collect insurance proceeds.

 

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

 

Please attend the BCC meeting at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday at the Administration Center, 2401 SE Monterey Road, Stuart, or let commissioners know how you feel about these and other issues by e-mailing sheard@martin.fl.us, efieldin@martin.fl.us, hjenkins@martin.fl.us, eciampi@martin.fl.us, and dsmith@martin.fl.us, with copies to the County Administrator and the County Attorney at tkryzda@martin.fl.us and swoods@martin.fl.us.

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