BCC: Still no cuts in sight, just more spending

From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: Any hope that Martin County Commissioners will spend tax dollars wisely if a 1% sales surtax is approved at the end of the month is dashed in Tuesday’s meeting agenda.

Unless five big-spending items are pulled from the Consent Agenda, the Commission will approve more than $3 million in expenditures without public discussion, including additional spending for previously approved projects that can’t be completed for the amount originally budgeted.
Consent Agenda items are approved at the outset of a Commission meeting without public discussion or a vote by Commissioners.  County staff and the Commission Chair use the Consent Agenda to try to hide wasteful spending without public explanation.
For instance, there were only two bidders for a wellfield maintenance contract.  One bidder proposed to do the job for $261,435.00; the other bidder submitted a proposal for $732,650.00 to do the same job.  Commissioners are being asked to approve the low bid on the Consent Agenda (Item 4B1) without any discussion of the wide disparity between the two bids.  Does anyone think this contract expenditure will turn out well (no pun intended)? 
Two other Consent Agenda items seek approval of increased spending for projects that have gone over budget or are expected to go over budget.  
– The low bid for a storage building for evidence collected by the Sheriff came in higher than the amount budgeted in the Capital Improvements Plan.  Instead of trying to reduce the cost, Commissioners will simply revise the CIP to reflect the higher cost and transfer funds from reserves for the 3,000 square-foot, single-story storage structure, at a cost which increased from the approved $660,000 to a projected $968,000. 
– The Kanner Highway & I-95 Interchange improvements project was originally contracted for $816,030.00.  Two previous change orders added more than $220,000.00 for cost overruns, and Tuesday’s Consent Agenda seeks another $16,620.55 for a third change order bringing the total cost to taxpayers to more than $1.05 million.
NOTE TO COMMISSIONERS: Despite staff’s assurance at the last BCC meeting that there was nothing unusual about the brief 26-day response period that was given to potential bidders for a $750,000-a-year animal care services contract, each of the five contracts on Tuesday’s consent agenda were given bid response periods in excess of 30 days.  The smallest contract ($144,720 bid) was given a 34-day response period; the largest contract ($879,889 bid) had a 41-day bid period.  Potential bidders for the animal care services contract complained that the 26-day bid period, commencing on the Friday before a holiday weekend that further restricted the response time to about 10 business days, did not allow enough time for responsible proposals to be prepared and submitted.  Shortening the animal care services contract bid period to benefit the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast produced the anticipated result, with HSTC as the sole bidder, depriving Martin County residents of an opportunity to choose among multiple proposals for compassionate animal care services for their tax dollars.
Can we trust Commissioners to spend millions of additional sales tax dollars wisely and frugally when they can’t be bothered to find out why there are cost overruns on approved projects and whether belt-tightening is in order instead of a 40% increase in the cost of a small warehouse?
Commissioners’ promise to roll back the Florida Power & Light franchise fee (from 6% to .5% of customers’ monthly electric bills) has been reduced to a “wish” in a proposed ordinance on Tuesday’s agenda (Item 6B).  The commission cannot bind a future commission by adopting an ordinance that may not be subsequently amended.  Today’s commission can reduce the franchise fee for utility customers in unincorporated Martin County (franchise fees for City of Stuart, Jupiter Island and Sewall’s Point customers will not be reduced by the County ordinance) only until a new commission – or even the existing commission – decides to amend the ordinance to raise the fee back to a higher level.  The proposed ordinance reflects “the intent” of the Board that the rate not change so long as the sales surtax is in effect if voters approve the 10-year, 1 percent surtax.  In other words, the FPL franchise fee rollback is not legally enforceable.
Two other draft ordinances will be discussed during Tuesday’s meeting. 
One proposes an administrative process to approve small variances (approving a fence that is a few inches higher than the code allows or a shed that is a few inches inside a required setback, for instance) that will make it quicker and less costly for property owners to obtain relief from minor mistakes that make a structure in violation of County code requirements (8C2).  
The other draft ordinance changes disclosure requirements for applicants for development approvals (8C3).  Staff failed to include the minutes of the Local Planning Agency meeting in the agenda packet.  The LPA engaged in a lengthy and thoughtful discussion, heard a lot of public comment and concerns that led to revisions that are now being presented to Commissioners.  The draft ordinance contains an incomplete sentence in a section that was re-worked by the LPA, and there is a puzzling reference to disclosure language similar to that included in CPA 17-10, which is the septic/sewer Comprehensive Plan Amendment.
In other items on Tuesday’s agenda:
– Plat approval is sought for a 50-home residential community and 3-story assisted living facility on Seabranch Boulevard and US Highway #1 between Port Salerno and Hobe Sound (Item 8C1).  The project includes a “certificate of public facilities exemption” which is not explained in the staff report but appears to contain a determination that the new project will have no impact on traffic, utilities, or drainage, making it the responsibility of taxpayers, rather than the developer, to ensure that roads and other public facilities are adequate to serve the new community.
– A new Long Range Services Plan will be presented by the Martin County Library Director (Item 8D1) setting out the Library System’s vision for future services that will assist students, teenagers, and working adults in using library resources to the fullest extent.  The plan appears to be well thought out and should receive appreciative approval from the Commission.
– Commission approval is requested by the Martin County School Board for a proposal on the November 2018 ballot to decide whether the County School Superintendent’s position should continue to be an elected post or whether the position should be filled by School Board appointment (Item 4B4 on the Consent Agenda).  This is a highly contentious item that has been placed on numerous ballots in the past, with an elected, rather than appointed, School Superintendent repeatedly chosen by Martin County voters.  
– Appointments will be made to the Drug and Alcohol Abuse Awareness Committee, including appointment of a relative newcomer to Martin County, Chris Sommella, who has stepped up to the plate to serve the community by volunteering for a difficult job.  Chris and the incumbent citizen representative, Janet McCulloch, will join representatives from law enforcement and judicial agencies, elected officials, and treatment providers in advising the County Commission about issues related to alcohol and drug abuse and potential solutions to growing addiction problems as well as expenditure of grant and Drug Abuse Trust Fund dollars (Item 4B3).
– A non-public (shade) meeting will be held to discuss on-going labor negotiations between the County and the International Association of Firefighters (IAFF) Union (Item 8A2).
Download or view agenda items at:
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.usefieldin@martin.fl.ushjenkins@martin.fl.useciampi@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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