OMB is the new Consent Agenda

 

From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: Tuesday’s [September 22] Martin County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) meeting features another lengthy Office of Management and Budget (OMB) agenda item that appears to seek approval of increased spending without full public discussion. 

 

In other items, staff is asking to again postpone a controversial proposal to re-zone a tiny portion of a large marina property on St. Lucie Boulevard to allow installation of a cell phone tower, this time because the applicant has figured out a way to avoid a public hearing and keep neighboring residential property owners from participating in the process.  

 

A confusing item regarding revision of Community Redevelopment Area boundaries and project priorities also is on the agenda, which appears to devote almost as much time to private executive sessions as to public discussions.

 

The OMB item – Agenda Item 8A1 – consists of 145 pages of spending requests.  The  Commission frequently approves OMB items “in bulk” with minimal discussion. Although the Consent Agenda has been largely brought under control, stealth spending items have increasingly been shifted to the OMB packet that makes it difficult for the public to figure out how our tax dollars are being spent.  The item is almost never heard in the order it appears on the agenda, making it even more difficult for citizens to tune in to BCC spending decisions.  Tuesday’s OMB item seeks approval of more than $2 million in spending requests, with more than $900,000 to come from local funds, and transfer from reserves or allocation of an additional $395,000 in tax dollars.

 

The Executive Summary explains that the OMB item is “a placeholder on all Board meeting agendas in an effort to streamline the process for grant applications, awards, budget resolutions, budget transfers from reserves, and CIP amendments.”  The idea, apparently, is that if requests are buried in the OMB item, no one will notice that low priority or questionable projects costing hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars are being approved primarily because state or federal grant funds may be available to pay all or a portion of the costs.

 

In addition to grant applications and acceptance requests, Commissioners are often asked to approve transfers of funds from reserve accounts to pay for cost overruns or unanticipated expenses.  Capital Improvements Plan amendments are also being slipped into OMB packets.  A request to approve a budget amendment for the Business Development Board to spend an extra $10,000 of taxpayer dollars is buried in Tuesday’s agenda item, along with numerous CIP sheets – including the sheet related to a proposed expansion of Sailfish Splash waterpark that the Commission did not approve because it would have siphoned funds from other parks – when only the Phipps Park CIP sheet is supposedly being amended.  Why are all the Parks Department CIP sheets included in the OMB item? If the item is approved, will that allow the previously disapproved Sailfish Splash expansion to move forward as part of an amended Parks CIP?

 

And speaking of back-door attempts to alter the CIP, the CRA item – Agenda Item 8B2 – is not fully explained in the agenda packet.  It’s unclear whether staff is seeking approval of a list of proposed “priority projects” (including the previously rejected Hobe Sound Bridge Road and Palm City Mapp Road projects) and unspecified changes to CRA boundaries and TIF funding or whether staff is merely seeking “direction” from the BCC with respect to these issues.  The item seems premature at best in view of previous direction from the Commission to have a CRA consultant make a presentation on these same issues.

 

Agenda Items 6D and 6E seek further postponement of a vote on the the Sailfish Marina Cell Tower proposal which introduced the silly term “postage stamp zoning” to the BCC earlier this year.  These items were initially scheduled for BCC consideration last April but were delayed once at the request of the applicant and a second time at the request of staff.  The applicant is now considering replacing an existing marine communications tower on the property rather than installing a new tower – which seemed to have been the plan all along – and staff now believes there may be no need for any public hearings, since the “replacement” tower may need only a building permit or administrative review without the participation of neighboring property owners, including residents of Stuart Yacht and Country Club.

 

Three private executive sessions are on the agenda – Item 8C1 at 10:00 a.m. to discuss the Comp Plan Amendment of Chapters 1,2 and 4 that is headed to the Administration Commission after a challenge by the developer of Hobe Grove , Item 8C2 at 11:00 a.m. to discuss the on-going litigation between the County and All Aboard Florida, and Item 8A2 at 4:15 p.m. to discuss labor negotiations with the firefighters union.

 

In other matters on Tuesday’s agenda:

 

– The Airport Noise Advisory Committee’s 2014 Annual Report will be presented as Agenda Item 3A at 9:30 a.m.


– The BCC must appoint a single member from three candidates for an opening on the Value Adjustment Board (Agenda Item 5A).  It’s hard to imagine how retired Circuit Court Judge Bob Makemson would not be the 5-0 choice as most qualified appointee.

 

– The Aquarius Land Holdings Re-zoning for property on the north side of Cove Road near Willoughby Boulevard is back for final approval (Item 6C) as well as a request for final site plan approval for Phase 1 of Pennock Preserve (Item 8E1)

 

As always, let commissioners know how you feel about these and other issues by attending the meeting beginning at 9:00 a.m. Tuesday or by e-mailing them at sheard@martin.fl.us, efieldin@martin.fl.us, ascott@martin.fl.us, jhaddox@martin.fl.us, and dsmith@martin.fl.us, with copies to the County Administrator and County Attorney at tkryzda@martin.fl.us and mdurham@martin.fl.us.

 

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