Tuesday’s BCC: It’s the money, stupid

 

From Ginny Sherlock, renowned local attorney, civic activist, and former Associated Press editor: The BCC Agenda for Tuesday’s meeting is mostly about money – taxpayers’ money that the County hands out to civic and charitable organizations, taxpayers’ money allocated for capital improvement projects, taxpayers’ money used to purchase property for more than twice its fair market value.

Item 8A3 is the return of the Grants and Aids Program Policy that was previously considered by the Commission but was sent back for additional work by staff. The policy is designed to set out criteria for government handouts to civic and charitable organizations, many of which already receive highly discounted or virtually rent-free use of County property. While many residents question why local government should make gifts of tax dollars to favored charities, rather than allowing citizens to give to their preferred charities on their own, the County has been distributing funds to non-profits for years without a policy establishing a process that ensures transparency and fairness. The proposed policy is critically important if the Commission believes some local charities provide such a valuable service to the community that tax dollars may actually be saved when it comes to cultivating the arts or helping the poor, children, veterans, the elderly and others in need. Staff has done an excellent job of setting out criteria and an equitable process for determining which charities should receive public funds.

 

Agenda Item 9A is a workshop to discuss how projects in the Capital Improvements Plan (CIP) will be prioritized and presented for approval. The CIP is a long-range spending plan has been used for years to justify questionable expenditures and to allow costly projects to be constructed based on availability of grant funding and factors rather than need. Past practice has largely ignored criteria set out in our Comprehensive Plan that rank capital projects by need (projects that eliminate public hazards and those that involve repair or replacement of obsolete or non-functioning facilities are top-ranked while new facilities or expansion of existing facilities that are not poorly functioning are lower-ranked). As staff and Commissioners begin drafting a budget for the 2016-2017 Fiscal Year, Tuesday’s CIP workshop should give the Commission and the public an opportunity to understand and revise the way in which capital spending proposals are presented and approved.

 

Another spending item is Agenda Item 8B2 seeking approval to purchase land from a private seller for more than twice the fair market value. The County Utilities Department wants to acquire land in the North River Shores subdivision to install a sewer pump building. This item was previously presented to the Commission, which instructed staff to explore other alternatives after residents complained about the cost and pointed out that the County already owns several parcels that could be used for the project. Staff has come back with exactly the same proposal, drumming up incredible excuses about why County-owned property can’t be used and giving up on negotiating a lower price for the privately owned property because the owner who stands to receive double the fair market value refuses to agree to lower the price or to sell only the portion of the property that’s needed for the project. The assessed fair market value of the property is $95,000; County appraisals set the value at $114,750. Staff is proposing that taxpayers cough up $195,000 for the property (plus thousands more in closing costs and costs required to make the property suitable for the project as well as the loss of annual property tax collections). This is a spectacularly bad deal for taxpayers.

 

 

Commissioners will also be asked on Tuesday to authorize more money to continue to fight the lawsuit filed by owners of the Lake Point rockpit, who have run up astronomical legal fees in litigation in which multi-millionaires who made a bad investment have placed a moving target on the backs of County taxpayers. Items 8D1 and 8D2 are requested by the County Attorney – the only pre-set items on Tuesday’s Agenda (at 2:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m.). The Lake Point project, owned in part by George Lindemann, Jr., who went to federal prison for having his show horse Charisma electrocuted to collect insurance proceeds in an effort to recover from another bad investment, started out as a residential equestrian subdivision that morphed into a rock mining operation that the owners now claim was supposed to be a water supply business (to suck water out of Lake Okeechobee and ship it to West Palm Beach and beyond to be used as drinking water). In 2013, Lindemann and his partners sued the County and the South Florida Water Management District over agreements related to the Lake Point property and they tossed a SLAPP suit against Maggy Hurchalla into the mix, claiming that Maggy wrongfully interfered with the agreements by persuading the government entities to shut down the project. Never mind that the project has never been shut down, Lake Point is spending millions of dollars on attorneys who are pursuing the case with a vengeance. The County Attorney will seek authorization from the Commission on Tuesday to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to continue to defend the County from the Lake Point assault. For more information on the litigation, check out www.slappmaggy.com.

 

In other items on Tuesday’s Agenda:

 

– Item 6A is a final assessment resolution to provide public water to 20 properties on SE Buttonwood Circle in the Fern Creek subdivision at a charge of $7,225 for each residence, payable over 15 years at $663.24 on property owners’ annual tax bill.

 

– Item 6C identifies, pursuant to state statute, County-owned properties that may be suitable for affordable housing. Remarkably, of 522 County-owned parcels comprising 3,725 acres, staff found only 4 parcels suitable for this critical need (including a vacant lot acquired by the County last year to settle a dispute over a trailer that was set up in the Zeus Park subdivision).

 

– Item 8C1 seeks approval of a plat for Phase I of the re-constituted Pennock Preserve community just north of the Palm Beach County line.

 

– Item 8B2 requests a road frontage variance as part of a settlement agreement reached between Trailside subdivision residents and an adjacent property owner in a dispute that erupted after Engineering Department staff unilaterally reversed a County Commission decision to deny an open road permit to the property owner.

 

As always, 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.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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