Fasten your seatbelts, taxpayers, Tuesday’s BOCC meeting is going to be a bumpy ride

Virginia Sherlock

Civic activist and renowned local attorney Virginia Sherlock details the Tuesday, August 20 Board of County Commissioners meeting.

The Agenda is packed with costly items.

 But not to worry, there’s a discretionary sales tax referendum designed to persuade you to agree to pay even more to fund still more costly items. A series of Comprehensive Plan Amendments faces approval for transmittal to state reviewing agencies as part of the continuing effort to restore Comp Plan protections that were eliminated by the Future Group re-write that was rammed through in 2009.
 
Revisions to Article 10 of the Land Development Regulations, which governs development review procedures, are up for approval, along with a plan to increase public access to the Delaplane Blueway Peninsula Preserve.
 
Pitchford’s Landing is back, and so is a proposal to designate property to be gifted by the City of Stuart as the location for new offices for Utilities Services and the Property Appraiser.
 
The Solid Waste division of the County Utilities Department is seeking approval of $34 million in contracts while grants for various projects that could cost the County another $3 million are on Tuesday’s Agenda.
 
 
So hold on to your seats – and your wallets – here’s the Agenda rundown for August 20, 2013.
 
The proposed Comprehensive Plan Amendments (CPA #13-6, 13-7, 13-8 and 13-9) are well-crafted and critical to the ultimate goal of restoring our pre-2009 award-winning Plan.
 
Agenda Item 6C, CPA #13-6, restores the level of service (LOS) for open space – .02 acres per resident – that was removed in 2009, revising the Capital Improvements Element (Chapter 14) to reassert the importance of maintaining a specified level of open space in Martin County.
 
Item 6D, CPA #13-8, revises Figure 5-9 in the Transportation Element (Chapter 5) to be consistent with the approved 2010 Airport Master plan.
 
Item 6E, CPA #13-9, revises text in Chapters 2, 4, 6, and 15 to delete references to the Business Development Board of Martin County, allowing other agencies to participate in economic development activities pursuant to the County Commission’s direction.  The Local Planning Agency made excellent observations in reviewing the proposed amendment that led staff to suggest additional revisions, including the removal of the Convention and Visitors Bureau from the Plan to allow tourism development activities to be accomplished by any private or public boards or agencies that may be designated in the future.  CPA #13-9 – carefully and thoughtfully prepared by staff – will give the County flexibility to assign various tasks and responsibilities to appropriately established agencies designated by the Commission in the future,  instead of limiting these responsibilities to the CVB and the BDB.
 
Item 6G, CPA #13-7, revises Chapters 8 (Coastal Management) and 9 (Conservation and Open Space) to restore wetlands and shoreline protections that were eroded (yes, I seriously said that) in the prior re-write.   Once again, the LPA played a role in providing excellent review and recommendations, which staff has incorporated, to recognize the need for exemptions to some of the provisions to allow existing marinas to renovate and re-build.  This amendment also resolves concerns about consistency with provisions of amendments to Chapters 1, 2 and 4 that were adopted last week.   Staff deserves kudos for an excellent job on revisions that will go a long way toward protecting and preserving our critical shoreline and wetlands resources. This item is pre-set for 2:00 p.m.
 
Item 6F is an ordinance revising Article 10 of the Land Development Regulations, establishing development review procedures.  Once again, staff has done an outstanding job making revisions that are both technical and conceptual, providing increased notice to surrounding property owners for new development applications and providing new definitions and thresholds for approval of “major” and “minor” development projects.  
 
NOTE TO BOCC: This might be a good opportunity to consider changing Section 10.7.A.3.b., which currently allows applicants two postponements or continuances of a public meeting or public hearing upon request.  Given the manner in which the Pitchford’s Landing applicant invoked this section to cause staff, the public, and the Commission so much wasted time and effort reviewing and preparing for final site plan approval only to face two last-minute demands for continuance (see Item 8C below), perhaps this section should be revised to require that a continuance shall be granted only if  the request is made at least five days before the scheduled hearing or only if good cause is shown as determined by the Growth Management Director (with specific criteria established to make that determination).
 
Item 6I is a proposed ordinance requiring a referendum on whether to levy a one-cent local sales tax for 10 years to pay for a backlog of road, bridge, and other infrastructure repairs and replacement.  This item is pre-set for 9:30 a.m.  The proposal would raise more than $23 million a year for the County, more than $2 million annually for the City of Stuart, just under $300,000 a year for Sewall’s Point, nearly $21,000 for Jupiter Island, and about $47,500 for Ocean Breeze.  For taxpayers who are still miffed at being “tricked” into voting for a half-cent sales tax to pay for parks and recreation facilities but got stuck with a water amusement park, put your waders on. Proposed titles for the ballot title range from “A Penny for Martin Makes Sense” to “One Cent Sales Surtax to Maintain Martin County’s Unique Quality of Life.”  And the proposed ballot language is: “Shall Martin County preserve and maintain its unique quality of life by levying a one percent sales tax for ten years to provide funding to protect natural resources, implement a road improvement plan to extend the life and safety of County roads, implement a water quality improvement plan, a capital improvement plan subject to all revenue expenditures being approved after a public hearing and fund the City’s and Towns’ infrastructure projects?” 
 
NOTE TO BOCC: Would it kill you to be honest with taxpayers about what you intend to do with our money?  If you think voters will be fooled by push-poll ballot language, think again.  Some taxpayers might be willing to give you a chance to restore trust in the discretionary sales tax process if you clearly spell out what you intend to do with the money and limit your request to a half-cent sales tax for three years. If that effort is successful (and does not produce more roads to nowhere or garish amusement parks), voters can renew or extend the surtax.  The likelihood of winning taxpayer approval for a one-cent sales tax – higher than surrounding counties and likely to discourage out-of-county residents from shopping in Martin County – for a full decade is about the same as the likelihood of getting residents to replace Marty Baum with Bubba (U.S. Sugar) Wade as our Indian Riverkeeper. 
 
Item 8A1 seeks approval of grant applications and grant funds. While it is hard to argue that any individual item (there are 10 this week with a price tag in excess of $3 million for Martin County taxpayers, compared to 13 last week totaling more than $2.5 million) is not worthy of financing, why aren’t commissioners requiring staff to prioritize projects to determine whether, for instance, a new stormwater management system for the golf course and more trailer parking and picnic shelters for a local park are as deserving of immediate funding as water quality monitoring for Manatee Creek and repairs for collapsed culverts and Bathtub Beach restoration.  Apparently, any project for which grant funds are available, regardless of how much the County must pay to “match” the grant, is a “priority” project while those for which grants are not readily available are relegated to “non-priority” status.
 
Item 8A2 is a generally excellent presentation of 2014 federal and state legislative priorities to be communicated to Congressional and Legislative Delegations on behalf of the County.  Intergovernmental coordinator Kate Parmelee has put together an informative, well-written, and compelling draft setting out priorities based on strategic goals of the BOCC.  One section deserves a closer look, however.  The draft says that the BOCC supports the 2013 legislative priorities of a long list of organizations without any indication of what those priorities are.  In some cases, there may well be conflicts between what is good for Martin County and what an organization such as the Florida Economic Development Council may be advocating.  Why is Martin County adopting legislative priorities of certain private organizations and who decides which organizations the County is supporting?
 
Item 8C1 is a proposal to improve public access to the Delaplane Blueway Peninsula Preserve.  The land was acquired with funds from the Florida Communities Trust.  The County is responsible for maintaining and managing it.  Thanks to Commissioner Ed Fielding for offering to provide $190,000 from his district funds to install a parking lot, hiking trail, canoe/kayak launch and picnic tables to allow the public to enjoy this beautiful property.
 
Item 8C2 is a continuation of last week’s item seeking approval of a plan to accept property from the City of Stuart for construction of offices for the Property Appraiser and Utilities Service Department.  The County is now paying sky-high rent for the Property Appraiser’s quarters – far above fair market value – and the Utilities Department lease expires soon.  The property offered by the City – at no cost to the County – is an excellent location across the street from the Supervisor of Elections building that was previously purchased by the County.  This matter has been studied, vetted and discussed at length for several years.  The County rejected a terrible proposal to buy the Wells Fargo bank building (thanks again to Commissioner Ed Fielding) a while back, prompting a search for a better location at a better price.  The proposal advanced by the City of Stuart seems to accomplish what needs to be done without further delay to stop the drain of taxpayer dollars for leased property at unreasonably high rates.
 
Item 8D2 is the return – again – of Pitchford’s Landing.  After twice demanding continuances in last-minute requests made after commencement of meetings which had the project on the agenda, the applicant now is seeking not only final site plan approval but revised master site plan approval and another amendment to the PUD Agreement that was approved in 2007.  Staff is still recommending denial.  The applicant failed to comply with the prior approved development order and County regulations regarding shoreline and wetlands protection, and no effort has been made to obtain approval from the Florida East Coast Railway for proposed rail crossing improvements that will be required to allow access to the 44 single-family home building lots east of the tracks as All Aboard Florida gears up, adding 30 or more trains a day to the rail schedule.  Pitchford’s Landing should be sent back to the drawing board for a new plan that reflects 2013 conditions and regulatory requirements.
 
Item 8F1 is a proposal by the Solid Waste Division to enter into a contract (not to exceed $20 million) for construction and demolition debris recycling, including adjustments in tipping fees that appear to be reasonable.  It’s a costly but necessary contract that was developed through the bid process. Less certain is the contract with Con Edison set out in Item 8F2 for $14 million in improvements to the Tropical Farms and North Wastewater Treatment Plants for “guaranteed” energy savings.  For those of you who have warmer feelings for Con Edison than I do (I survived the 1977 blackout in Manhattan) , this contract may not be problematic.  The County is currently soliciting proposals for financing a $4.2 million lease purchase contract to offset capital expenditures for another “guaranteed savings” project.  It’s not clear from the agenda item where the $14 million will come from to pay for the improvements, and there are a number of requirements that must be met to trigger the “guaranteed savings.” These items are pre-set at 3:30 and 4:00 p.m, respectively.
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