Taxpayers mocked, insulted, soaked by BCC

From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: The Martin County Commission will vote Tuesday to spend taxpayer dollars to try to persuade taxpayers to agree to increase taxes to allow Commissioners to spend still more tax dollars.
An item on the Consent Agenda (Item 4B2) authorizes staff to spend $10,000.00 in tax dollars to provide “educational” (translation: “promotional”) materials for the August 29 sales tax surcharge referendum.  
Consent Agenda items are approved at the outset of a Commission meeting without public discussion or vote by Commissioners.  County staff and the Commission Chair use the Consent Agenda to authorize millions of dollars in spending without letting the public in on the decision.
In addition to the $10,000.00 in sales tax hike promotional materials on Tuesday’s Consent Agenda, Commissioners will approve an additional $500,000 for engineering services for a Hutchinson Island shore protection program that has overspent its approved budget.  In 2014, the Commission authorized spending $1.5 million over a 5-year period for engineering services, but the County has already spent $1.3 million with two years still to go on the program.  Instead of making an effort to cut back spending, the Commission is being asked to throw more tax dollars into the program (Item 4B1). 
In more benign Consent Agenda items, the Commission will authorize participation in a joint meeting with the St. Lucie and Indian River County Commissions to discuss priorities for next year’s legislative session (Item 4D1)and a 90-day extension of an agreement between the City of Stuart and Martin County fire departments to provide fire and rescue services to residents of the City and unincorporated areas of the County (Item 4D2). 
Most of Tuesday’s BCC meeting will be devoted to hearings on Comprehensive Plan Amendments that were previously approved and transmitted to the state for review.  No objections were raised by reviewing state agencies to the amendments – including land use changes for the Bridgewater Preserve, Visiting Nurse Association, Circle K, Cove Royal and Fernlea projects – and the amendments will likely be adopted on Tuesday (Items 6E-6N).
A Comp Plan Amendment initiated by the Commission that affects septic and sewer services will not be brought forward for adoption until the August 22 meeting, when a number of interested residents will be away for special vacations to view the total solar eclipse on August 21.
Commissioners Smith, Ciampi and Jenkins gleefully rejected a request at last week’s meeting by Commissioners Heard and Fielding to delay the final vote on the septic/sewer amendment until the meeting after the eclipse, mocking the request and joking about the importance of public participation in local government, which they obviously do not find worthwhile.  Commissioner Smith was especially harsh on frequent public speakers, suggesting that the Commission shouldn’t pay attention to members of the public who repeatedly address the BCC because nobody really cares what they have to say.
NOTE TO COMMISSIONERS: This “the public be damned” attitude is a likely cause of a noticeable reduction in public comment at recent Commission meetings.  In the past few years, there was more public comment on more varied topics as voters and taxpayers were encouraged to participate in the process by sharing their views at BCC meetings.  Fewer public speakers in recent months reflects an understanding by the public that some Commissioners – especially those who set no limits on their own comments as they drone on and on from the dais – have little interest in listening to the public.  The recent trend of Commissioners mocking and insulting public speakers demonstrates a disrespect not only for voters and taxpayers but for your office as well.
In another matter related to the proposed sales tax surcharge, Commissioners will be asked to amend the franchise fee agreement with Florida Power and Light to reduce the fee to .5% of monthly electric bills (from the current level of 6%) if the sales tax surcharge is approved (Item 6C).  The amendment contains language that would prohibit any future commission from voting to raise the franchise fee during the 10-year period the sales tax hike is effective if approved. 
The proposed amendment is illegal and unenforceable.  A sitting commission cannot bind future commissions by prohibiting subsequent repeal, amendment or revision of legislation or a contract.  There are, in fact, at least three items on Tuesday’s agenda calling for amendments to contracts that were previously approved.
The proposed amendment to the FPL contract is especially dubious since the language prohibiting a change in the rate follows a lengthy paragraph that expressly provides that the County has the right to annually change the rate to any rate between .5% and 6%.  
This unlawful proposed revision to the FPL contract is a disingenuous attempt to persuade voters that if they approve the sales tax hike, the FPL franchise fee will be rolled back to its lowest allowable level.  Today’s Commissioners cannot make such a promise on behalf of future Commissioners.
Also on Tuesday’s agenda:
– Appointment of a County representative to the Business Development Board (Item 5A).  While the County continues to provide the lion’s share of funding to the BDB (increased County funding for the BDB was cited as one reason for a proposed increase in the ad valorem tax rate), the agency changed its by-laws last month to eliminate the ability of the County to appoint more than one director.  The County now will have only one representative on the BDB – with the Economic Council, the Board of Realtors, the Martin County Council of Chambers of Commerce, the Marine Industries Association and the Rural Indiantown Revitalization Advisory Board also each allowed to appoint a representative.  Only two candidates applied for the County appointment: Ed Weinberg, a long-time developer’s agent, and Chris Sommella, a professional marketing director with an impressive resume in business marketing and management activities.
– Approval of the 2017 Population Technical Bulletin (Item 8D2), which contains population projections for Martin County through 2045.  Based on the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economics and Business Research population studies, Martin County’s 2016 population is estimated at 150,870 and is expected to grow gradually and steadily to 181,312 over the next 30 years.  Just over 86% of the County’s population is within the eastern Urban Services District, with 5% in the Indiantown USD and the remaining 9% in rural areas.
– A re-zoning request for property currently zoned as a mobile home subdivision (Item 6O) will be considered for a 4.27-acre parcel in Hobe Sound, changing the zoning to medium density residential.  There is no discussion in the staff report of the “no net loss rule” that was adopted  years ago to prevent the loss of land zoned for mobile home use without a corresponding change to allow mobile home use on other property elsewhere in the County.
– Another private meeting between Commissioners and County attorneys in the Lake Point rockpit case (Item 8B1) is scheduled following continuation of mediation on Monday to discuss settlement prospects for the lawsuit filed against the County, South Florida Water Management District and Maggy Hurchalla by Lake Point, which is owned and operated in part by George Lindemann, Jr., who served time in federal prison for having his show horse Charisma killed to collect insurance proceeds.
Download or view all agenda items at:
Attend the BCC meeting at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday at the Administration Center, 2401 SE Monterey Road, Stuart, or let commissioners know how you feel about these and other issues by e-mailing, and, with copies to the County Administrator and the County Attorney at and

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