Tuesday’s BCC: Fees, taxes, and rate hikes

From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: Tuesday’s Board of County Commissioners meeting will feature discussions on increased rates for County utility customers, allocation of funds generated by the recently adopted FPL franchise fee, and a proposed new fee schedule for development applications.
A significant number of agenda items are on the Consent Agenda, including several proclamations as well as a resolution to initiate an amendment to the Comprehensive Plan to update the future transportation map to comport with the 2040 Long Range Transportation Plan approved last year by the Metropolitan Planning Organization.
Consent Agenda Item 4D1 should be pulled for further discussion and assurance that taxpayers won’t be stuck with the cost of maintaining NE Ocean Boulevard for the developer of the Oceanside Resort on Hutchinson Island.  The old Holiday Inn Oceanside that was devastated by Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne in 2004 was acquired by Ocean Properties, Ltd., in 2009.  Final site plan approval requires the County to accept responsibility for maintaining State Road A1A adjacent to the hotel property from the Florida Department of Transportation. The County obtained an agreement from Jensen Beach, LLC, to assume maintenance responsibility for irrigation, landscaping, and traffic safety devices on the roadway adjacent to the property, but the maintenance agreement binds only Jensen Beach, LLC, not the owner of the property, Ocean Properties, Ltd.  What is the relationship between Jensen Beach, LLC, and the property owner, Ocean Properties, Ltd.?  What if Jensen Beach, LLC, defaults on its maintenance obligations or goes out of business or sells its interest in the property – if it has any interest in the property – to another entity? Will County taxpayers be stuck with costs that are now paid by the state?  Shouldn’t Ocean Properties, Ltd. accept maintenance responsibility for the right-of-way and shouldn’t that responsibility be passed on to any entity that may purchase the resort in the future?
These questions are not addressed in the Consent Agenda item summary.
Two utility department items are pre-set. Item 6A at 9:30 a.m. is a request for approval of “annual indexing” (translation: automatic annual increases) for County utility rates.  The proposal, which emanated from an outside consultant’s update of the 10-year financial forecast for the County’s water and wastewater utility systems operations, appears reasonable and appropriate.  But why do bureaucrats insist on coming up with new and incomprehensible phrases for tax or fee increases? Annual indexing means rate hikes.  Why not just call a rate hike a rate hike?
Item 8D1 at 9:45 a.m. is a presentation on the Septic to Sewer conversion program to present conversion schedules and projected costs. Conversions to public sewer systems have been prioritized for North River Shores, Golden Gate and Old Palm City.  The Commission will be asked to consider whether mandatory connection will be required and, if so, under what terms and at what costs to property owners.  Should deferral of mandatory hook-ups be allowed for certain property owners and, if so, under what conditions?  This is a presentation that should be of interest to virtually every property owner in the County who is currently relying on a septic system or considering replacing or repairing a failing system.
Agenda Item 8B2 is a carryover from last week’s agenda, with the Board asked to accept the Engineering Department’s priorities for projects comprising the $5.4 million Infrastructure Reinvestment Program.  After last week’s surprise presentation from proponents of an environmentally questionable biomass-fueled electrical generation plant on property off SW Farm Road in Indiantown, it may come as little surprise that Engineering’s No. 1 identified priority is complete restoration of 6.3 miles of SW Farm Road.  The other suggested priorities for roads, drainage and bridge repair or replacement projects are Mapp Road resurfacing and drainage improvements in Palm City (No. 2); neighborhood drainage structure replacement and pavement resurfacing in the St. Lucie Shores/Palm City Gardens area (the All American Ditch Stormwater Quality Retrofit Project) (No. 3); drainage structure replacement and completion of septic-to-sewer in North River Shores (No. 4); and replacement of drainage structures and regrading of swales, pavement resurfacing and sidewalk replacement in the Pinecrest Lakes and Town & Country Estates neighborhoods in Jensen Beach (No. 5).  Funding for priority projects is to come from new revenues generated by the FPL franchise fee – despite the fact that virtually every project on the priorities list has already received or is set to receive millions of dollars in grants or Community Redevelopment Area tax increment financing monies. Most residents who are paying the new FPL franchise fee will get little benefit from those fees if the funds are diverted to projects that already have significant funding in place.  Shouldn’t FPL franchise fee revenues be diverted to projects with no other funding sources?
And Item 8C1 is a proposed new fee schedule for development applications that provides higher fees for review of some applications to cover the cost, in some cases, of review by the County Attorney’s Office as well as special consultants that may be retained by the County – and paid for by the developer – for some types of development, such as cell tower siting, which require special review.
In what may be a first in recent memory, there are no requests on Tuesday’s agenda for grant approvals or applications, Capital Improvement Plan amendments, or budget transfers.
In other items on this week’s agenda:
– Items 5A, 5B, and 5C are requests for approval of appointees to the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, Public Art Advisory Board, and Golf Course Advisory Committee.
– Item 8A2 requests acceptance of the annual report of the Community Redevelopment Agency for Fiscal Year 2015.
– Item 8B1 seeks final approval for the County to acquire 80 lots in Poinciana Gardens from the state’s surplus property inventory, at a cost of $110,000 to be paid by district funds offered by Commissioner Sarah Heard to enhance the Atlantic Ridge ecosystem.
Feel free to let Commissioners know how you feel about these and other issues by attending the meeting beginning at 9:00 a.m. on Tuesday or by e-mailing them at sheard@martin.fl.us,efieldin@martin.fl.usascott@martin.fl.usjhaddox@martin.fl.us, and dsmith@martin.fl.us, with copies to the County Administrator and County Attorney at tkryzda@martin.fl.us andmdurham@martin.fl.us.

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