More spending, taxes, secrecy on BCC agenda

From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: Tuesday’s Board of County Commissioners agenda is more manageable than the last meeting docket, which was so overloaded that the public broadcast of the meeting was cut off half an hour before the meeting ended to accommodate pre-scheduled MTV programming.  But while a shorter agenda is on tap for this week, there are some hefty items for the BCC to consider.
 
A one-cent sales tax that real estate industry and Chamber of Commerce representatives pitched during public comment on March 28 has been placed on Tuesday’sschedule for discussion, but there is no agenda summary available.  A memorandum setting out discussion points prepared by staff with limited dissemination at the last-minute is promised for Agenda Item 8D1 but may be unavailable for public review until after the meeting.  The more residents know about the proposal and the sooner they know it, the more likely they are to oppose it. Proponents correctly point out that without new revenue, the County can’t afford all the costly projects and programs that some Commissioners are promoting. Proponents incorrectly suggest that an increased sales tax would impact out-of-county shoppers more than local residents.  So far, proponents have failed to include plans for cutting back spending rather than simply raising more tax dollars to pay for more expensive projects.
 
Speaking of costly projects and programs, Agenda Item 8A6 is a review of the tentative Capital Improvements Plan for Fiscal Year 2018. The agenda item is inaccessible for review on the County website. The 479-page draft CIP is to be the subject of a “straw vote”, with final approval not scheduled until budget hearings in September.  Since the draft plan is not reviewable, it is unknown what projects and programs are included and impossible to determine the total cost to taxpayers and the sources of funding that are identified.
 
The cost of another item on Tuesday’s agenda is available for public review – the purchase of property at Willoughby Commons with a price tag of $3.3 million (Agenda Item 8B1).  The building will provide County-owned space for the Property Appraiser and Utilities Department, which now occupy rental space at an annual cost of more than $400,000.00.
 
Agenda Item 8A4 is an amendment to the employment contract for County Administrator Taryn Kryzda, who has lost two assistant administrators, three department heads, and the County Public Information Officer in the last few months.  The proposed amendment includes a pay raise to $155,000.00-a-year and extends the contract for five years beyond the current July 20, 2017, expiration date.
 
A review of disclosure requirements for applicants for land use changes and other requests will be presented as Agenda Item 8C1. Martin County adopted disclosure requirements in January 2016 after years of studying ordinances in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade, Pinellas, Sarasota, Indian River and more than half-a-dozen other counties.  Disclosure requirements allow identification of actual owners of property that may be the subject of Comprehensive Plan changes, development applications, and purchase or sale to the County.  In many cases, the true owner is hidden behind a corporate name or a limited liability company that shields the identity of those who benefit from transactions with the County.  It is hard to understand why any Martin County Commissioner would be opposed to disclosure requirements like those adopted by other communities with significant development activity.
 
A couple of carry-over items are worth noting:
 
Although the agenda does not include a legislative update, the County’s legislative coordinator may present a status report on pending legislation, including the Negron plan to reduce or eliminate toxic discharges into our river and estuary. Major developments have occurred in the Legislature with respect to that plan and other bills of special interest to Martin County residents, such as the high-speed rail safety bill.  A legislative status report is overdue.
 
Proposed changes to Commission rules and procedures which would allow for “special meetings” to be scheduled with only 24 hours notice to allow non-emergency proposals to be presented to the Commission and voted on with minimal public participation was pulled from the March 28 agenda but does not appear on Tuesday’sschedule.
 
And while the Commission voted at the March 28 meeting to appoint four representatives to the new Animal Care and Control Oversight Board, no meeting has been scheduled for the Board to review a proposed TNVR (trap-neuter/spay-vaccinate-return to field) ordinance to replace a pilot program that expires June 30.  The Humane Society of the Treasure Coast had not designed its representative by the end of last week, and the County Administrator said she was waiting to hear from the Sheriff regarding his appointee (although the Sheriff advised the Commission months ago that he declined to participate in the activities of the Oversight Board).  Commissioners were promised that the Board would be in place to have its first meeting by mid-April to review the TNVR ordinance for presentation to the Commission by early May.  Hopefully, Commissioners will not allow further delay in getting the Oversight Board up and running and considering the TNVR ordinance, which will reduce the number of feral, abandoned and stray cats and kittens that are put to death in Martin County each year.
 
In other matters on Tuesday’s BCC agenda:
 
– Former County Growth Management Director Joe Banfi has been appointed to the Local Planning Agency by Commissioner Ed Fielding.  (Agenda Item 4B6) This is an excellent appointment that should provide balance to the LPA, which has one member (appointed by Commissioner Ed Ciampi) who opposes all land use regulations that interfere with unbridled “property rights” for owners to do whatever they want with their property, regardless of the impact on neighboring property owners or the community.
 
– A staff presentation on the status of the County’s new Public Records Act compliance program (Agenda Item 8A2) will explain the process used to fulfill Public Records Act requests in a program that replaced an informal, haphazard system that often failed to meet the requirements of Florida’s Public Records Act.
 
– A periodic update to the Purchasing Manual is painstakingly and appropriately detailed to establish purchasing policies approved by the Commission and implemented by County Staff (Agenda Item 8A3).  Some thresholds have been increased to allow administrative approval of contracts or purchases below the established level, which is necessary to allow for efficient operation of County business as prices rise for many frequently purchased goods and services.
 
– Approval is sought for a resolution to allow landowners to satisfy on-site parking requirements by paying a proportionate share of the cost of providing off-site public parking within the Jensen Beach Community Redevelopment Area (Agenda Item 8B4).
 
– Two proposed ordinances have been withdrawn from the agenda because of an advertising error.  The Commission will not consider ordinances establishing Roadway Design standards for traditional neighborhood streets (Agenda Item 6C) and amending the Parking and Loading Ordinance to allow back-out parking on traditional neighborhood streets with a posted speed limit of 30 mph or less (Agenda Item 6D).  A proposed ordinance to establish a method for measuring building height is being continued to May 9 at the request of County staff (Agenda Item 6B).
 
Please let commissioners know how you feel about these and other issues by attending the meeting at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday in Commission Chambers or by e-mailing commissioners at 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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