The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in special session on Tuesday, September 3, 1991, at 6:30 p.m., in the Board of County Commissioner's Meeting Room, Lake County Courthouse, Tavares, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Donald B. Bailey, Chairman; Richard Swartz; Catherine Hanson; and Michael J. Bakich. Commr. Gregg was unable to attend. Others present were: Annette Star Lustgarten, County Attorney; Alan A. Thelen, County Manager; Ava Kronz, Assistant to the County Manager; James C. Watkins, Clerk; Robert K. McKee, Chief Deputy Clerk; and Sandra Carter, Deputy Clerk.
Commr. Bailey opened the meeting by informing those present that this would be the first public hearing, out of two, for the purpose of discussing the 1991-92 budget, noting that the next one, which would be the final hearing to adopt the budget, would be held on September 17, 1991, at 6:30 p.m., at the courthouse.
Mr. Al Thelen, County Manager, recapped some things which have taken place, up to this point, concerning this budget, for the benefit of those present. He stated that the budget, as it now stands, which he noted has been adjusted a number of times by the Board, calls for an expenditure of $112,701,863.00 (a reduction of a little over $31 million from last year). He stated that the major reason for the reduction is due to the fact that the County is not doing as much construction, primarily as it relates to the Criminal Justice Facility, as it is nearing completion (due to be completed by March or April of 1992). He then discussed the General Fund, noting that it gets into the "meat" of the County's operating expenditures, which he noted is set at $37,000,587.55 (a 2% reduction from the budget that was adopted last year). He noted, also, that in mid-year last year, the County had to reduce
its budget by almost $2 million, due to a shortfall in revenues, but, that the majority of that came from State revenues.
Mr. Thelen briefly discussed the number of employees which the County has, which presently numbers 599 - an increase of 49. He stated that 51 employees were added to Corrections, but that there was a decrease of two employees in other departments, so the net increase in the number of employees is 49. He stated that the thing which has driven this budget is Corrections, noting that the major impact of Corrections and the operation of the new Criminal Justice Facility will hit the County next year. He stated that staff is projecting that a little over a half million dollars will be taken in by housing other prisoners and that, while the County's budget has increased by $1.4 million, its net increases are slightly under $1 million.
Mr. Sam Felicia, a local resident, appeared before the Board stating that the assessed value of his home had increased over last year, even though he had not made any improvements to it, and questioned why.
Commr. Swartz stated that a lot of people in Lake County, whose assessments went up, did nothing to their property. He stated that, apparently, the Property Appraiser assessed it on some type of value basis, and assessed it more than he did the previous year.
Ms. Annette Star Lustgarten, County Attorney, stated that the Property Appraiser sets the value of property in Lake County, which she noted he is required to do every three years (3), if at all possible, pursuant to the Constitution, as the Constitution requires 100% evaluation.
Mr. Richard Whitehurst, a local resident, appeared before the Board stating that his property taxes went up from $130.00 to $336.00, for vacant land. He was told, by the Board, that he could appeal his taxes before the Property Appraisal Adjustment Board, which he noted he would do.
Mr. Mike Henderson, a local resident, appeared before the Board stating that he questioned what formula was used by the Property Appraiser in assessing property in Lake County, and obtained no logical answer. He also complained about the $15.00 filing fee which is being charged for filing an appeal with the Property Appraisal Adjustment Board.
Mr. Bob Peterson, a resident of Mt. Dora, appeared before the Board and questioned why, if the County's proposed expenditures dropped to $112 million from $144 million, his taxes went up 10%. Commr. Swartz responded, stating that the drop in the overall budget this year is attributable to the fact that the majority of the New Jail and the Criminal Justice Facility is completed, and, as that is paid off and those funds expended, that portion of the budget comes down. He stated the money used to build those facilities came from sales tax revenues (the extra penney that the residents pay in Lake County), and as that money is used, it appears that the budget is coming down; however, the General Fund Budget has remained essentially level this year.
Mr. Peterson stated that the country is in trouble as a nation and that the County has got to hold the line - no more increases in taxes. He stated he understood that the Board does not control assessments, but that they better hold the line on the millage.
Commr. Hanson interjected that the Board has committed, during FY 1991-92, to go through all the County's programs and resources and make an analysis, at which time they will eliminate, streamline, and make County government more efficient. She stated it is going to take a little time to get straightened out, but feels that the taxpayers will be pleased overall. She noted that the millage rate is not going to increase.
Mr. Bob Newman, a local resident, appeared before the Board and questioned what kind of guarantee the residents of Lake County are going to have that the County is not going to end up with the dependents of prisoners being shipped into the County on its welfare rolls.
Mr. Tom Neumayer, Director of Corrections, appeared before the Board and responded to Mr. Newman's concerns, stating that the vast majority of the Federal prisoners which the County would take in, under contract, would be those who would only be staying in the County from approximately three weeks to 90 days; however, there will be those who will be staying for a longer period of time - six months or more. He stated that the chances of a family coming in and establishing a residence, or needing assistance, would be rather remote.
Mr. Newman then questioned whether it was true that 92 County vehicles are being driven back and forth to work by County employees, to which he was told by the County Manager that there are a number of vehicles being driven home, but was not sure of the exact figure - that he felt 92 was approximately the amount.
Commr. Bakich interjected that the Board is dealing with the matter and that it is going to be addressed in the near future.
Mr. Newman then questioned whether the expenditures for the County were going to remain the same as in past years, to which he was told by the County Manager that staff anticipates there will be an increase all the way from a low of $2 million to a high of $5 million, but that staff has budgeted it at $3 million.
Mr. Russell Long, a local resident, appeared before the Board stating that he was a new resident to Lake County, and that he had left the county he came from due to an outrageous increase in his taxes. He stated that his present taxes have gone up from $421.23 to $992.03, and that it has to come to a halt.
Mr. Robert McDonald, a resident of Mt. Dora, appeared before the Board to inform them that his property taxes had increased more than he felt they should have, noting that his property was assessed at $5,700.00 more than it was last year. He stated that those residents on fixed incomes cannot afford to pay these kinds of taxes. He questioned why the County does not assess the first $25,000.00, make the residents pay on that, and then give an exemption on the next $25,000.00.
Ms. Annette Star Lustgarten, County Attorney, stated that there has been an attempt to change the constitutional provision which covers the $25,000.00 exemption on homesteads, noting that it will require a constitutional amendment to do so.
Mr. James Glover, a local resident, appeared before the Board stating that his taxes went up from $140.00 to $265.00, yet there had been no improvements on his home. However, it was discovered upon questioning that Mr. Glover had built a home on a vacant piece of property (assessment went up from $5,500.00 to $16,000.00), thus, the reason for the increase.
Mr. William (Bill) Edwards, a local resident, appeared before the Board questioning when the County was going to get the Department of Corrections to operate like it should and rehabilitate prisoners, rather than function like a boyscout operation. He stated he has not seen a chain gang on the highways for years, and that people are committing minor crimes in order to get put in jail, so that they will be fed three meals a day and stay in what he called a "clubhouse".
Mr. Tom Neumayer, Director of Corrections, appeared before the Board and responded to Mr. Edwards' concerns, stating that the law states that non-sentenced inmates cannot be forced into a labor situation (chain gangs or road gangs), but what the County has done, is put into service (on a volunteer basis) quite a few of the pre-trial and sentenced inmates serving as trustees, to do various jobs around the courthouse. He stated that during the 1991-92 fiscal year, residents will see some roadside prisoner labor throughout Lake County, such as cutting the grass, picking up trash, etc., noting that the County wants the public to see some return on their investment for the dollar of incarceration. He stated that they cannot do it to the degree that they would like, because this County has such a high percentage of pre-trial inmates (nationally the percentage runs from 60% to 70%, however, in this county it runs better than 90%). He stated that, regarding work release, in the interest of holding the budget line for the upcoming year, they have deferred implementation of the work release program until later in the budget year.
Mr. Ed Scagliotti, a local resident, appeared before the Board stating that he came to Lake County from up north, noting that one of the reasons he left there was due to increasing taxes. He noted that his property assessment had increased from $12,000.00 last year to $68,000.00 this year; however, upon being questioned, it was discovered that last year he had been assessed for just vacant land, but was being assessed for a home, as well, this year.
Mr. T. J. Townsend, a resident of Yalaha, appeared before the Board stating that several people in the audience were feeling the same sense of frustration that he does, due to the different entities involved in the construction of a tax bill. He stated that when residents get an increase in their assessment and complain to the Property Appraiser's Office, they are told that the Property Appraiser does not establish taxes, he just evaluates property, and that their problem is with the Board of County Commissioners. However, when they complain to the Board of County Commissioners, they are told that the Board is holding the line on the millage. He questioned why, when the assessed valuation goes up and the budget remains constant, there is not an automatic rollback of the millage rate, to produce lower taxes.
Commr. Swartz responded, stating that he had acknowledged the fact that if anyone's assessment went up, they would experience a tax increase, which he noted is 8.7% overall. He stated that the total assessment went up 14%, but the County would have had to roll back taxes 8.7% to have gotten back to the same amount of revenue this year, as last year, at which time Mr. Townsend questioned why the Board did not do that.
Commr. Bailey interjected that he felt the Board should; however, until the Board and all the other governmental entities come to the table and decide how to work together, there is going to be a problem. He stated that, until the Board does that, the whole issue is a farce, because it is not a budget process that the people of Lake County can depend on, due to the fact that everyone is passing the buck. He stated that if things continue the way they presently are, it is going to get out of control.
Commr. Bakich interjected that there is the possibility of a charter government, which would eliminate all constitutional officers and allow the public to deal with one head, as opposed to several.
Commr. Bailey stated that, if the public wanted something like this, they would have to make sure that they support it, noting that he felt it was a good concept.
Mr. Townsend stated that the public does not care what the millage is, they care what the tax impact will be.
Mr. Tom LaMotte, a resident of Sorrento, appeared before the Board stating that he found his tax bill difficult to understand, and that he was concerned about the continual "feathering" of increases the public receives, noting that if the public does not approve (by vote) to increase taxes, the Board just raises appraisals and the public gets stuck anyway.
Mr. Bill Williams, a local resident, appeared before the Board stating that he has a neighbor that recently discussed his tax problem with the Property Appraiser's Office, noting that he was concerned about it, because it had increased 82% over the past two years. He was told that if he did not like it, they could go back and reassess his property for the past 10 years. He questioned the Board as to whether the Property Appraiser's Office could do that, and, if so, is that the way they should be doing it. He stated he was concerned about the fact that the Property Appraiser's Office could threaten a taxpayer, when he comes in to discuss his problem, that if he is not satisfied with his assessment, they might go back and reassess it for the past 10 years - that maybe it was underassessed to begin with. He stated that he has some of the same problems that his neighbor has, therefore, is concerned that they might do that.
Ms. Annette Star Lustgarten, County Attorney, stated that there is the ability, under certain circumstances, to look at the history of a particular piece of property, but the real remedy, if someone is not satisfied with an assessment, would be to appeal it to the Property Appraisal Adjustment Board (PAAB), which she noted is now called the Value Adjustment Board (VAB).
Commr. Swartz interjected that the PAAB has the ability to look at an assessment, but that did not mean they could go back and collect taxes on an assessment, if it was determined to be low beforehand. He noted that he has served on the PAAB and that, when there has been a good reason for granting a homestead exemption, they have done so, and when an assessment has been wrong, they have corrected it. He stated that every time the Board lowers one person's assessment, it has the effect of raising everybody else's in the County, so the PAAB has to be fair, and recognize the fact that, while there may be an audience of people who felt they had a complaint, there may be others who had the exact complaint and did not, or could not, appear. He felt that the PAAB has acted fairly and has not tried to intimidate anybody, and where an injustice was done, or a valid excuse given, they acted responsibly and fairly, without any penalty.
Ms. Jean Kaminski, Executive Director of the Homebuilders Association, appeared before the Board stating that her concern is with the Building Department, in that they are the only department that shows a surplus ($70,000.00), yet, once again, are losing counter people to serve the public. She stated that if the money collected is not needed, then maybe the County should lower the fees. She also stated that since there is surplus money in the department, the Board should increase the service people. She questioned whether it was true that fees collected in that department have to support the department, and cannot be used for anything else, to which the County Manager, Mr. Thelen, stated that it is a policy of this Board that that department should be self-sufficient.
Commr. Swartz responded to Ms. Kaminski's concerns, stating that some fees went down, however, some went up, resulting in the $70,000.00 in excess fees coming into the department, which he noted essentially goes toward administrative overhead.
Mr. Richard Whitehurst reappeared before the Board and questioned why taxes continue to rise each year, when the country is in a recession, noting that it does not make any sense. He stated that things are too complicated, but do not have to be, as it is confusing the public.
Commr. Bailey stated that this is the reason the Board needs to put together some kind of budget where all those involved in the process, such as the Property Appraiser, the School Board, the Water Authority, the St. Johns River Water Management District, etc. have to answer to the public at the same time, because until they can get everybody together, come up with a plan, and adjust it so that it is fair, the problem is going to continue.
Commr. Bakich stated that the Board is committed to prioritizing programs and trying to streamline the government, noting that they have seen a program they like in another county and are going to look at it and, hopefully, incorporate it into this county.
It was noted that a Task Force would probably be put together, made up of citizens, to implement this process.
Mr. Sam Felicia, a local resident, appeared before the Board stating that each time a board meets, from local government to the federal, the public loses a little bit of their freedom.
Ms. Linda Rozar, a local resident, appeared before the Board and questioned what it cost the County a day to house a prisoner, to which Mr. Tom Neumayer, Director of Corrections, replied that it currently runs from $48.00 to $50.00 per day, however, fluctuates from month to month, depending on expenditures.
Mr. Neumayer then briefly discussed the housing of juveniles and how they are handled, in response to a question by Ms. Rozar regarding same.
Mr. Tom Wetherington, a resident of Mt. Dora, appeared before the Board and complimented staff on the format in which the budget was presented this year, noting that it made it much easier for the public to understand what is going on in county government.
BUDGETS/BUDGET TRANSFERS/CLERK/TAX COLLECTOR
Mr. Al Thelen, County Manager, informed the Board that he had given them a memo indicating that the costs involved with the Citrus Sun Club Condominiums foreclosure had not been included in any specific budget, noting that, basically, there are costs coming from the Clerk's budget and from the Tax Collector's budget, amounting to approximately $60,000.00. He stated that it is mandated by the State, noting that said constitutional officers will get this money back, once they get through with the process. He recommended that the County put $50,000.00, as a line item, in the Board's budget to handle the matter, and then take it out of Contingency later. He stated there is a good possibility that, due to legal issues involved, it might be another budget year before said money can be put back into the budget, but felt that this was an action that needed to be taken. He stated that it would be a new line item, to be used just for this purpose, and would be controlled by the Board, but handled by the Clerk's and the Tax Collector's offices.
On a motion by Commr. Bakich, seconded by Commr. Swartz and carried unanimously, the Board approved to create a new line item in the Board's budget, in the amount of $50,000.00, for purposes of addressing the Citrus Sun Club Condominiums issue, as alluded to above, which will mean a reduction in Contingency.
BUDGETS/BUDGET TRANSFERS/PUBLIC WORKS
Commr. Swartz brought to the attention of the Board the fact that there is a Parks Maintenance Supervisor position in the Public Works Department, which is funded from the gas tax, and aside from a question of need right now, there is a question of the ability to fund it through the gas tax funds. Therefore, he recommended that the Board eliminate the position, and the $34,019.00 that is represented in salary and benefits, and transfer those funds from the Personnel line items that are presently in place, into the Contingency fund of the Transportation Budget.
On a motion by Commr. Swartz, seconded by Commr. Bakich and carried unanimously, the Board approved the request to eliminate the Parks Maintenance Supervisor position from the Public Works Department and transfer $34,019.00, which represents salary and benefits, from the Personnel line items that are presently in place, into the Contingency fund of the Transportation Budget.
Ms. Eleanor Anderson, Director of Administrative Services-Budget, appeared before the Board, explained the following, and requested approval of same.
On a motion by Commr. Swartz, seconded by Commr. Bakich and carried unanimously, the Board approved a request to publicly announce the percent by which the proposed millage rate exceeds the rolled-back rate and adopt the tentative millage, which is an aggregate of 8.7% increase, as follows:
Northlake Ambulance District .223
Greater Hills MSTU 4.000
On a motion by Commr. Hanson, seconded by Commr. Bakich and carried unanimously, the Board approved a request to adopt the tentative budget, in the amount of $112,701,863.00.
On a motion by Commr. Bakich, seconded by Commr. Hanson and carried unanimously, the Board approved a request to continue the public hearing, for final adoption, until September 17, 1991, at 6:30 p.m., or as soon thereafter as possible.
A letter received by the Board from Mr. Hubert H. Hartman, a local resident, was submitted for the record.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting adjourned at 8:00 p.m.
DONALD B. BAILEY, CHAIRMAN
JAMES C. WATKINS, CLERK