Tuesday’s BOCC: Stop spending our money on stupid stuff

 

 

Renowned local attorney and civic activist Ginny Sherlock details Tuesday’s County Commission meeting agenda that features a couple of requests to spend taxpayer dollars now and study the wisdom of those expenditures later. Other decisions are being made to spend still more taxpayer dollars on what can only be characterized as stupid stuff.

 

Item 8A3 on the July 7 BOCC agenda is a 9:30 a.m. pre-set discussion of a long-planned study of County facilities. The highly respected commercial real estate firm CBRE is getting ready to embark on a $655,000 evaluation of County-owned property, management policies and procedures. What is the useful life of facilities like the Administration Center? Is it better to buy or construct a new building and consolidate local government offices or should we continue to pay rent to private landlords in different locations for various agencies? Why are County properties leased to some private entities for just $1 a year? Should the County sell unused or under-used properties and let private owners take over maintenance costs?

 

The scope of services to be provided in the CBRE study will be outlined during Tuesday’s presentation.

 

But before CBRE takes the first step in the long overdue effort to figure out how to maximize use and revenues for County properties while minimizing losses and maintenance costs, the BOCC is being asked to approve a proposal to spend $400,000 to renovate a County-owned building and hand it over to a private organization to use and manage under a long-term no-cost or low-cost lease. Item 8B2 is pre-set at 10:30 a.m. seeking approval for a public-private partnership to convert the long-vacant Golden Gate Building into a community learning center.

 

NOTE TO BOCC: Public-private partnership means the public pays for the project and private entities control it.

 

The Agenda summary contains no details, contracts or commitments. A purported anonymous donor is supposedly willing to contribute $120,000 toward the project, conditioned on the County paying three times as much and then allowing a private non-profit to occupy and manage the building. It’s not clear whether the proposal is for renovation or restoration – two entirely different construction concepts. In either case, the projected cost seems woefully underestimated, and there are no proposals to support the projections.

 

Staff acknowledges the CBRE study is just getting underway, but argues that this project is so important to the Golden Gate community that taxpayers should be willing to foot the bill to get the project going, even though the CBRE study might find the plan to be fiscally unwise.

 

Another pre-set presentation is Item 8B4, approval of the audit of the Business Development Board for the fiscal year which ended September 30, 2014. The audit is long overdue, apparently having taken longer than anticipated because it was the first time the BDB has had a full audit, despite the fact that millions of public dollars have been poured into the BDB over the last few years. The amount of public money dumped into the BDB has been significantly reduced but is still a questionable expenditure. Taxpayers have only another year left to finance the BDB, which spends a lot of money on stupid stuff like a weekly full-page ad in the Stuart News that is more a PR vehicle for the BDB and the Chambers of Commerce than an economic development tool.

 

On the heels of a Community Redevelopment Agency workshop to be held at the Blake Library beginning at 5:00 p.m. on Monday, the BOCC is scheduled to consider spending more than $10,000 on an LED changing-message sign in front of the Rio Civic Center (which will presumably be considered by CBRE in recommending whether to keep or dispose of various County-owned properties). A cursory reading of state law authorizing creation of CRAs confirms that this is not the type of expenditure contemplated by a statute aimed at eliminating neighborhood blight.

 

CRAs are no strangers to spending public money on stupid stuff. A project may be desirable to neighborhood residents or business owners who benefit directly from publicly financed amenities. But taxpayers who travel over crumbling infrastructure, who can’t find affordable housing or who live outside a CRA and can’t get their roads paved may not agree that it’s smart to spend public dollars on a lighted sign or expensive landscaping of a road that nobody uses.

 

An All Aboard Florida status update is on the agenda as Item 8A4. The BOCC previously committed the County to spend public money to fight AAF in court and to pay for studies like those that determine how many boats actually pass through the St. Lucie River railroad bridge and to quantify the loss in value of real estate near the tracks. Now the County is planning to use money set aside to fight AAF to hire a private PR consultant to convince taxpayers that their money is being well spent.

 

NOTE TO BOCC: It may be hard to convince taxpayers that their money is being well spent on a flack to convince them that their money is being well spent (especially when taxpayers already pay for a full-time, in-house public relations officer).

 

The Pitchford’s Landing update, Item 8A2, should include a report on a staff meeting last month with promoter Bill Reily, who sued Jensen Beach residents for objecting to the project in a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation. (The victims of the Reily SLAPP suit played a significant role in adoption of a state anti-SLAPP law that went into effect last week.) Reily’s environmental consultant and land planner refuse to acknowledge any wetlands on the Pitchford’s property, despite the fact that wetlands were delineated by the state after residents successfully challenged Reily’s plan to build a concrete seawall along the Indian River Lagoon.

 

Speaking of SLAPP suits, this week would be a good time for an update on the lawsuit filed against the County by operators of the Lake Point rock pit in western Martin County, including George Lindemann, Jr., who went to federal prison for having his show horse electrocuted to collect insurance proceeds. The litigation against the County and South Florida Water Management District includes a SLAPP suit against Maggy Hurchalla for objecting to the rock pit and communicating her opinions to her elected representatives. A Special Magistrate, who is conducting hearings to try to move the two-and-a-half-year-old case along, ruled last week that the rock pit operators should be sanctioned for improperly terminating the deposition of their designated company representative. The County stands to recover some attorneys’ fees and costs from the rock pit operators for the improper conduct.

 

The BOCC has scheduled a workshop to discuss fertilizer and water quality ordinance enforcement issues as Agenda Item 8C2 in the workshop meeting room that discourages public participation by making sure residents can’t follow the proceedings live on MCTV or view them later because the workshop meeting room is not equipped with cameras.

 

Finally, Item 8C3 is a discussion of potential long-term funding options for maintenance of the St. Lucie Inlet. Options include a one-cent or half-cent local infrastructure sales tax (like the one that voters rejected last year); Florida Power & Light franchise fee which adds a small amount to local utility bills (already paid by residents of the City of Stuart and the Town of Jupiter Island) which is turned over to local government; special assessment for waterfront property owners; and creation of a special inlet taxing district. The local sales tax option has been favored by staff and the BOCC, but voters may remain unwilling to approve new taxes as they continue to watch their own budgets but don’t see much fiscal restraint on the part of those who are spending our tax dollars.

 

Instead of spending our money on stupid stuff like widening Kanner Highway or buying lighted message-changing signs or hiring PR consultants to persuade us that our money is being wisely spent, the BOCC should move forward with a transparency ordinance, insist that environmental consultants recognize state-delineated wetlands and revise CRA boundaries and financing so that infrastructure and critical needs are met in the CRAs and throughout the county.

 

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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