From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: After a three-week hiatus, the Martin County Board of County Commissioners resumes meeting on Tuesday with a lot of old business that remains to be concluded. Commissioners will consider adopting 13 Comprehensive Plan Future Land Use Map Amendments and re-zonings along with a proposed policy for leasing County property and an agreement to extend taxpayer funding for the Business Development Board
The Consent Agenda contains the usual spate of requests for approval of code enforcement fine reductions and resolutions to increase or start the assessment process for utility services.
The FLUM amendments and re-zonings were continued from the July 26 BCC meeting. Agenda Items 6A through 6Y include County-owned parcels (such as Maggy’s Hammock Park) as well as privately owned properties in Palm City and near Cove Road in Stuart. All of the amendments were previously approved for transmittal to the state Department of Economic Opportunity for review and are now set for final adoption by the Commission.
Item 7A is workshop pre-set for 1:30 p.m. to discuss public health and safety concerns related to the siting of bio-diesel and other alternative fuel production facilities following the huge Viesel Fuel fire in Stuart in April 2015. The BCC approved an 18-month moratorium on new bio-fuel facilities and directed staff to examine Land Development Regulations to determine whether revisions should be made for zoning and siting potentially hazardous facilities. A fire protection engineering firm was retained to assist the review and has prepared an impressive report setting out safety concerns and potential remedies. Staff is asking the BCC to consider expanding the LDR review to include zoning and siting of all “extensive impact industries” (those with a high potential for negative impacts on the environment and surrounding uses), not just bio-diesel facilities. A proposed ordinance could be presented to the Local Planning Agency in September, with final hearings before the BCC in October and November if the BCC agrees. The moratorium expires December 23, 2016.
Another pre-set is Item 7B, the River Conditions Update, to be presented at 2:30 p.m.
Item 8A3 is a proposed County leasing policy that falls woefully short of meeting the stated goal of establishing a fair and equitable process for deciding who gets to use County property for little or no rent while others pay fair market rates. Martin County is the landlord for 54 leased properties and the County is the tenant in 89 leases. There are about 25 subleases at the County airport and half-a-dozen miscellaneous property agreements, Martin County has more free or low-rent leases with non-profit organizations than any other County surveyed by staff, with about three times the number of non-profit organization leases than a majority of Florida counties. The proposed lease policy covers NPO leases as well as airport leases, government agency leases, and fair market leases. The proposed policy needs a lot of work. Some parts are incomprehensible (Part III regarding Airport subleases makes little sense) and some parts are vague and uncertain. Part IV regarding Market Rate Landlord leases says an appraisal “may” be obtained to determine fair rent and a real estate agent “may” be retained and advertising media “may” be used; Part V regarding Market Rate Tenancy by the County says certain criteria “may” be considered. What’s the point of having a policy if the policy doesn’t contain required criteria or processes? Of more concern is delegation of decision-making to the airport manager and county administrator for airport subleases, to staff or a “selection committee” for County landlord or tenant leases, and to the county administrator for NPO leases for a term of five years or less. The proposed policy doesn’t come close to meeting the Commission’s stated purpose of making sure County properties are leased in a manner that ensures fairness and equity in the treatment of all citizens or organizations that would like to get a deal from the County for low or free rent.
Item 8A2 is a presentation on how County contracts with private vendors are monitored. As it turns out, at least three contracts – including a $560,000-a-year contract with the Humane Society of the Treasure Coast to provide animal care services – aren’t actually monitored or overseen at all by any designated County employee or department. Although reports must be submitted to the County, no one is assigned to review the reports and make sure that they are in compliance with contract requirements. Huge checks are cut to pay the vendor pursuant to the contract, but no one on the County staff is responsible for making sure the services are properly, timely, and fully performed. The same situation exists with respect to contracts between the County and the Treasure Coast Wildlife Hospital ($45,750.00 annually) and the Martin County Historical Society. There are numerous contracts with private vendors assigned to specific departments to monitor, but it is not clear how (or if) compliance is ensured. Multiple lobbying contracts, for instance, are financed by taxpayers at a rate of several hundred thousand dollars a year with only twice yearly or monthly “reports” produced by the lobbyists to confirm that the services are actually being rendered. The County Attorney’s Office, ITS and Engineering Departments manage scores of contracts with no apparent direction as to how the contracts are monitored to confirm satisfactory performance. Staff is asking the BCC to “provide direction” about how to better manage County contracts.
In other matters on Tuesday’s agenda:
– Commissioners are being asked to approve a contract on the Consent Agenda (Item 4D1) to require a property owner to maintain improvements (sidewalk, ramp) within the County Right-of-Way for a commercial property on Mapp Road and SW 32nd Street in Palm City without ensuring that the agreement will be honored by a new owner if the property is sold. This follows a pattern previously established to require private entities to accept maintenance obligations for ROW improvements without making sure that financial liability will not ultimately be dumped on County taxpayers.
– Item 6Z seeks approval of an increase in the annual assessment for solid waste and yard trash removal and recyclables, but the agenda summary is not clear. It appears that Martin County Utilities proposes an increase of $4.62 to an annual amount of $304.14 for each single-family dwelling, with the annual assessment included on ad valorem tax bills. But it’s unclear whether the increase is due to an increase in fees charged by the vendor, Waste Management, or some other reason. Several residents have submitted objections to the increase, which apparently is accompanied by a change in the level of service to be provided.
– Item 8B1 is an agreement to extend the Business Development Board’s questionable contract for six months beyond the current expiration date of September 30, 2016. The BCC previously voted to extend the contract to provide time to consider whether to renew the County’s arrangement with the BDB to provide economic development services. Taxpayers will pay $130,000 to the BDB during the extension period. Hopefully, County staff and the BDB will not wait until days before the extended expiration date to begin drafting a new proposal or coming up with alternatives, resulting in never-ending extensions that do not serve residents, businesses, or taxpayers well.
Please let your commissioners know how you feel about these and other issues by attending the BCC meeting beginning at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday in Commission Chambers or by e-mailing commissioners at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, and email@example.com, with copies to the County Administrator and County Attorney at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.