MC Commission’s annual reorganization Tuesday: New chair, vice chair should be designated

From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: The Martin County Commission will hold its annual reorganization meeting on Tuesday, at which a new chair and vice chair should be designated and various committee appointments will be made.  A schedule of meetings for 2018 and revised rules of procedure will be adopted.
Proposed revisions to the rules of procedure will be considered as Item 8A2.  The revisions consist primarily of moving words around from one page to another in the policy manual and are of little import since the rules are routinely ignored by the Commission.   Public comment is pre-set at 9:05 a.m. under both the existing rules and the revised rules, for instance.  But the Commission chair usually calls up proclamations before public comment, which pushes public comment to a later time despite the requirement in the rules for the 9:05 a.m. pre-set.  Rules, clearly, are made to be broken by the Board of County Commissioners. 
When the dust settles from the reorganization, the Commission will consider four ordinances to amend existing regulations and a presentation to adopt a County-wide special assessment to fund fire protection services and capital improvement projects.
One of the proposed ordinances was crafted as part of a settlement agreement with the Lake Point rockpit operators to allow excavation and mining, rock crushing facilities and “ready mix concrete plants” within the A-2 Agricultural zoning district. (Item 6D)  The amendment was tailored to meet Lake Point demands in settlement of the litigation filed nearly five years ago against the County, the South Florida Water Management District, and Maggy Hurchalla.  
In addition to revising the ordinance to allow Lake Point to continue or to intensify uses that are not currently permitted on land zoned for agricultural use, the amendment also would allow solar energy facilities within the A-2 district.  The proposal would require a solar facility to be set back 600 feet from the nearest roadway, unlike rock crushing facilities or concrete plants, for which no setback is required.  In a  supplemental memorandum, staff suggests that the setback requirement for solar facilities has been “reconsidered” and the 50-foot setback from the property line required for kennels, packing houses, sawmills and other uses (except rock crushing facilities and concrete plants) is adequate for solar energy facilities.
Another proposed amendment would revise Chapter 9, the Animal Care and Control Ordinance, to provide a permanent Trap-Neuter-Vaccinate-Return to Field (TNVR) program that would allow feral and abandoned cats to be trapped, sterilized, vaccinated and returned to the area where they were found.  The goal of the program, which was put forward by Caring Fields Felines, Inc., a no-kill feline sanctuary in Palm City, is to reduce the number of free-roaming cats in the community through sterilization rather than euthanasia.  TNVR programs have been adopted in many counties and municipalities throughout the state and the nation and have proven to be the only effective way of controlling free-roaming cat populations.
The ordinance, to be presented as Item 6E, was reviewed and recommended by the Animal Care and Control Oversight Board.  Although staff deleted proposed provisions that would have provided funding for free or low-cost sterilization from the proceeds of domestic animal license fees, placing the financial burden entirely on individual community cat care-givers and non-profit organizations like CFF, the ordinance is a step in the right direction.  (Full disclosure: I serve on the Board of Directors of Caring Fields Felines, Inc.)
Two other ordinances are proposed for revision in Item 6B and Item 6C which are changes to Port Salerno Community Redevelopment Area regulations and financing authority for capital projects, respectively.
Item 6B is presented as an “update of the Land Development Regulations” to “eliminate inconsistency and clarify applicability, while minimizing substantive changes” in Port Salerno CRA regulations.  The proposal appears in actuality to be a complete re-write of regulations that govern permitted uses, development and design standards within the Port Salerno CRA.  The Port Salerno Neighborhood Advisory Committee unanimously approved the regulations, which are far too extensive and complex for meaningful review in the 15-minute presentation scheduled by staff.
Item 6C proposes to amend Chapter 29 of the County Code by expanding the County’s authority to borrow money or issue revenue bonds for “working capital projects.”  Financing is currently authorized to pay for capital improvements, which are generally defined as projects with an expected life of at least five years such as buildings, bridges, and specialized equipment.  The proposed amendment adds “working capital projects” but does not define that term, making it unclear whether authority is being expanded to allow the County to borrow or issue revenue bonds to pay for operating expenses, since “working capital” generally refers to funds available for operations when the liabilities of an organization are subtracted from assets.  It would be fiscally prudent for the Commission to include a definition of “working capital projects” in Chapter 29 before extending authority to finance whatever projects may fall within that classification.
Yet another new ordinance may be on the horizon if the Commission directs staff to explore the “concept” of a non-ad valorem assessment to finance fire protection services and capital improvements.  Item 8C1 seeks permission to publish a Request for Proposals for a fire assessment study and report to be presented to the Board within 60 days to decide whether a County-wide assessment should be imposed to pay for fire protection.  The assessment would apply to all of unincorporated Martin County.  The City of Stuart imposes a similar assessment of $123.95 a year on every household in the City.  The assessment applies to all properties, including those that pay no property taxes due to homestead or other ad valorem tax exemptions.
Item 8A3 is a staff update on the upcoming Legislative session.
In other matters on Tuesday’s agenda:
– Commissioners are being asked to approve a $500,000.00 contract for roadside mowing based on a low bid from Toler Enterprises for $19,983.00.  And a $3,750,000.00 contract for sanitary sewer lining and repairs is presented for approval based on Lanzer Lining’s low bid of $935,600.00.  There is no explanation for the disparity between the low bids and the amounts of the contracts the Commission is asked to approve in Consent Agenda Item 4B1, which does not provide for public discussion.
– Item 4B5 on the Consent Agenda confirms the appointment of former County Property Manager Jeffrey Dougherty as General Services Department Director to replace Harold Markey, who recently retired and threw his hat in the ring to run for Commissioner Sarah Heard’s District 4 seat.
– An attorney-client shade session will be conducted at 1:30 p.m. regarding proposed settlement of a lawsuit involving an easement over conservation lands on the Delaplane peninsula (Item 8B1) followed by a public discussion of the proposed settlement, which has not yet been provided to the public (Item 8B2).
– Item 8D1 is a request for an amendment to the Fort Dawson PUD and a revised site plan for the 552-acre development east of Indiantown, expanding an existing lake, creating an additional habitat area, and reducing the number of residential lots from 109 to 94.
– Item 8E1 is a proposal to waive fees charged by Parks and Recreation for the use of public facilities for non-profit organizations.
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, to express your views on these or other issues.  You can also e-mail commissioners at, and, with copies to the County Administrator and the County Attorney at and

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