The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in special session on Monday, September 12, 1994, at 6:30 p.m., in the Board of County Commissioner's Meeting Room, Lake County Administration Building, Tavares, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Catherine C. Hanson, Chairman; Welton G. Cadwell, Vice Chairman; G. Richard Swartz, Jr.; Rhonda H. Gerber; and Don Bailey. Others present were: Frank Gaylord, County Attorney; Pete Wahl, County Manager; Ava Kronz, BCC Office Manager; Barbara Lehman, Chief Deputy, Finance & Audit Department; and Toni M. Riggs, Deputy Clerk.
Commr. Hanson called to order the first public hearing for the budget and millage rate.
Commr. Bailey gave the Invocation and led the Pledge of Allegiance.
Commr. Hanson reviewed the statutory timetable regarding the public hearings that are required to be held for the budget and millage rate. She explained that the first public hearing is for the purpose of amending and adopting the tentative budget, re-computing the proposed millage rate, if necessary, and publicly announcing the percent by which the proposed millage rate exceeds the rolled-back rate. At this time, Commr. Hanson stated the following:
Proposed: 5.135 Rolled-Back: 4.892 Percent Increase: 5%
Lake County Ambulance District
Proposed: .222 Rolled-Back: .212 Percent Increase: 5%
Greater Hills Municipal Service Taxing Unit (MSTU)
Proposed: 4.00 Rolled-Back: 3.49 Percent Increase: 15%
Commr. Hanson opened the public hearing portion of the meeting and called for public comment.
Mr. Leonard Phillips, President of Green Thumb Garden Corporation, Mount Dora, appeared before the Board and presented copies of three tax notices that he had received on property in Mt. Plymouth. Mr. Phillips explained that he owns approximately 45 home sites in this area, and that he owns 22 new homes that have been built in the last two years. He addressed the tax notice for property that is an old garbage dump in Mount Plymouth, and the action he had to take, through the State of Florida, to address the garbage problems that have existed for years at this site. Mr. Phillips directed the Board's attention to the tax notice for this property, which reflected a 1,000 percent increase in the assessed value. Mr. Phillips then addressed the $12,000.00 tax increase on the property on Noblick Street, which has a house that is one year old. The third item addressed by Mr. Phillips was a deed that he had from the Lake County and State of Florida government on ten acres of land east of the landfill in Lady Lake. He referred to the tax notice and discussed the garbage that extends 16-18 feet in the air on his land. Mr. Phillips explained that, for almost eight years, he has tried to resolve this issue with the County, and in April, or May of this year, the County, once again, offered to buy his land. He stated that the land has been available to the County for approximately eight years, but no definite offer of price has every been made. He requested that the County government look into this problem.
Commr. Hanson questioned whether Mr. Phillips would be appealing any of his assessments before the Value Adjustment Board (VAB). He indicated that he would be obtaining the forms tomorrow to follow through with the process.
Mr. Ron Phillips, Executive Vice President, Green Thumb Garden Center Corporation, appeared before the Board and stated that what had been expressed by his father was the great frustration among many landowners in Lake County. Mr. Phillips stated that the taxing authorities in the County are growing, and cited as an example, the Lake County Water Authority, which is a taxing authority that is assessing property taxes and millages, which is another burden upon the landowners and taxpayers of the County. Many people are concerned with the fact that property is being purchased by government agencies, such as the Lake County Water Authority, and as the properties are purchased by the government, they are taken off of the tax rolls. Mr. Phillips stated that the County needs to find some way to voluntarily conserve the environment without removing land off of the tax rolls, which places the burden on the landowners. He requested that the Board work with the other taxing agencies to find ways not to increase the millage. He stated that the people do appreciate the services of the County, but they are concerned about the agencies that are appointed by the Governor and have the power to tax the people without the people being able to respectfully respond in trying to reduce those taxes. Mr. Phillips explained that, even though the people have these concerns, they do understand that there are taxing authorities beyond the Board's control.
Commr. Hanson explained that the Board does recognize the dilemma that the County is in, when it comes to the properties being taken off of the tax roll, and the Board does need to continue to look at other means to increase the tax base.
Mr. Hubert Hartman appeared before the Board to discuss figures that he obtained from many sources including the Property Appraiser's Office and Health and Rehabilitative Services (HRS). He used a graph, which he prepared, to explain the figures he used in his comparisons. Mr. Hartman presented a comparison between the number of households receiving food stamps in 1989, and the number of households receiving them in 1994, which indicated that 20 percent of the County population is receiving food stamps. This would be 200 percent increase in five years. He explained that this is taking place, because taxes have increased more than the earning power of the taxpayers and more than the social security checks being received by the retirees in the County. Mr. Hartman presented information on the millage rates over the years. In 1982, the millage rate for the general County taxes was 2.732 mills, and by 1994, the millage rate was 5.135 mills, which is a 182 percent increase. Mr. Hartman addressed the issue of net taxable value of new construction in Lake County over the last 12 years, and stated that the taxable value of new construction in Lake County during the past twelve years totals $1,406,542,000. Mr. Hartman stated that, if proper impact fees had been levied during those years, the County could have had ample funds for fire equipment, schools, roads and other infrastructure without excessive taxing of residents at this time.
Mr. Dan Eastwood, Tavares, appeared before the Board and questioned whether the budget total of 147 million dollars takes into consideration the revenue from the proposed impact fees of $3,500.00 recommended by the County consultants, Reynolds, Smith and Hill (RS&H). He also questioned whether the Board expected the existing 78,000 taxpayer households to finance the expanded infrastructure needed to support the proposed growth of over 50,000 homes in Lake County over the next years. He stated that, at a $3,000 - $3,500 impact fee, this would represent over 150 million of infrastructure cost to be covered, or conversely on 50,000 homes, over 150 million of income to the County. Mr. Eastwood stated that impact fees have been financed by Florida Banks for years as a recognized soft cost in any construction. Therefore, the builder and the County pass this cost to the buyer, or persons benefiting from the new home construction, and not to the existing taxpayer in Lake County. Mr. Eastwood stated that five years ago the County had virtually no debt, and today it faces a debt load of somewhere between $120 and $150 million dollars. He requested that, on behalf of the existing Lake taxpayers, the Board enact the proposed impact fees before approving the budget.
Mr. Pete Wahl, County Manager, explained that the impact fees could only be used for infrastructure costs related to specific impact fee districts, and would have to be for new construction related to new growth.
Commr. Swartz discussed areas where impact fees could have been used to pay for certain costs, and stated that, if the County is wise enough to enact an impact fee for fire and emergency medical services, and any of the costs for those types of equipment, it might reduce the cost for the millage in the ambulance districts.
Commr. Hanson called for further public comment. There being none, the public hearing portion of the meeting was closed.
Mr. Wahl explained that there were two major changes in the Sheriff's budget. The budget, as presented in the budget booklet before the Board, included an increase in his health insurance line item of $53,500.00, which was not addressed at the time of the budget hearings. That increase was not received by the Sheriff's Office until after the advertised millage had been adopted by the Board. Mr. Wahl stated that there was a settlement of an ongoing legal dispute between the Sheriff's Office and the judiciary, in regards to the bailiffs. This has been addressed and resolved, and there will be additional costs that will be incorporated in the revised numbers that the Board will receive at the last budget meeting. Mr. Wahl stated that other numbers will be revised and incorporated into the numbers for the final budget hearing, and they will not affect the millage.
Commr. Cadwell made a motion, which was seconded by Commr. Bailey, to adopt the tentative millage rate of 5.135.
Commr. Swartz stated that, as he had indicated in the previous budget hearings, he had several concerns, one of which was the number of additional positions that were included in this budget. He stated that he indicated that, with the additions and the additional costs in the budget, when the Board got to this hearing, if those new positions continued to remain in the budget and resulted in an increase in the tax rate, he would vote against it. He stated that he would vote against the motion tonight, but hoped that, before the Board got to the second budget hearing, it would look again at the additional positions, which were reflected within this budget, and would look at the costs that continue to show up despite numerous attempts to reduce General Fund estimates of expenditures which are in excess of what it would cost to purchase some of the equipment. Commr. Swartz stated that he does not support all of the additional positions, and he did not support, at mid-year, the 13 additional positions that were in the Solid Waste budget. He stated that last year he and two additional members cast what was very a difficult vote to provide ten additional deputies to Sheriff Knupp, and to provide the necessary funding to operate a Corrections Facility. This year he feels the Board can adopt a budget that would be at the roll-back rate, but it would require that the Board reduce some of the new positions that are in this budget. At a time when the County is going into what is a new constitutional amendment that will cap property assessments, he feels it is prudent for this Board to try and trim the budget as it moves into what may be very unknown. He stated that the second reason why he believes, and why he did not support all of the additional positions, was that, just during the budget time a year ago, he recommended that the Board form a Citizens Committee to look at trying to find better ways for government to operate, which later became known as the Kitchen Cabinet. He stated that no where, in their recommendations, did they recommend additional positions. They recommended trying to find ways that County government could become more efficient, and more effective with the resources that it had. Between now and the second budget hearing, he hoped that the Board would direct staff to go back and look at the new positions, and the additional costs, and reduce the projected costs.
Commr. Cadwell stated that he still feels this is a responsible budget and that the County will be able to provide the level of service that the people in Lake County want, and the County will be doing it at the same rate as last year. He stated that the right thing to do now is to go with the proposed millage and budget.
Commr. Bailey stated that the millage rate is the same as it was last year. He stated that the Solid Waste program has changed and become a lot more complicated, but it will become more efficient in time. He further stated that he supported the additional positions, and again, if the Board wants to keep government spending down, it will have to quit passing rules and regulations. Commr. Bailey stated that he does not see this happening, so the budget can be balanced with the existing revenues, and he will support it.
Commr. Gerber stated that the budget is the County Manager's responsibility, and he brings the budget forward to the Board. She stated that the perception of the general public is that the Commissioners are responsible for every line item in the budget, which is not the case. She discussed the evaluation process established for the County Manager, and explained that, if a Commissioner is not satisfied with the budget the County Manager brings forward, this is one of the methods that a Commissioner can use to voice his/her disapproval. Commr. Gerber discussed her evaluation of Mr. Wahl last year, and stated that her evaluation reflected disapproval of having to vote for the raise in millage last year, because of having to pay the County bills. At this time, she reviewed the action taken by the other members of the Board, in terms of Mr. Wahl's evaluation, and their votes on the millage rate last year. Commr. Gerber stated that she was not going to vote to keep the millage rate at 5.135, and would recommend a roll-back as a protest vote.
Commr. Hanson stated that the Board cannot continue to implement regulations and expect the bureaucracy not to grow, and the cost of government not to grow. She stated that she does not believe in having a roll-back one year and an increase the next year and a roll-back the next year. Commr. Hanson stated that the Kitchen Cabinet did recommend eliminating the Budget Department, which has been done, and that this budget builds in a reserve, which is desperately needed, in order to keep the roller coaster from continuing. She stated that she wants to see the millage rate stabilized.
Commr. Cadwell stated his motion again, for the record, to approve the tentative millage rate of 5.135 countywide, with Commr. Bailey reiterating his second to the motion.
The Chairman called for a vote on the motion. The motion was carried by a 3-2 vote, with Commr. Swartz and Commr. Gerber voting "no".
On a motion by Commr. Bailey, seconded by Commr. Cadwell and carried, the Board approved the tentative millage rate of .222 for the Lake County Ambulance District.
The motion was carried by a 3-2 vote, with Commr. Swartz and Commr. Gerber voting "no".
Commr. Bailey made a motion, which was carried by Commr. Cadwell, to approve the tentative millage rate of 4.00 for the Greater Hills Municipal Service Taxing Unit (MSTU).
Under discussion, Commr. Swartz stated that, as Greater Hills builds out, the assessed valuation is increasing. He questioned whether the County has a proposed operating budget from the developer.
Ms. Eleanor Anderson, Director of Office of Budget, explained that the budget had been received, and because the developer has provided all of the up-front costs, and the 4.00 mills has not covered all of these costs, due to the development not being completely built out, the contract would pay back to the developer all of those up-front costs over a period of years.
Commr. Swartz explained that the developer owns all of the vacant lots during that period of time, and he is not to be paid back for the infrastructure costs, but only for the maintenance costs of the common areas, sidewalks, street lights, and recreation area.
Ms. Anderson explained that the developer has paid more than what he has received from the assessment.
Commr. Swartz encouraged Commr. Bailey, between now and the next public hearing, to meet with the homeowners group to make sure they have received the services, and they are satisfied with maintaining the millage at 4.00.
Commr. Bailey acknowledged that he would contact the homeowners group.
The Chairman called for the vote on the motion. The motion was carried by a 3-2 vote, with Commr. Swartz and Commr. Gerber voting "no".
On a motion by Commr. Cadwell, seconded by Commr. Bailey and carried, the Board approved the tentative budget for Fiscal Year 1994/95 in the amount of $147,652,259.
The motion was carried by a 3-2 vote, with Commr. Swartz and Commr. Gerber voting "no".
On a motion by Commr. Bailey, seconded by Commr. Cadwell and carried unanimously, the Board approved to continue the public hearing for final adoption until September 20, 1994, at 6:30 p.m., or as soon thereafter as possible.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting adjourned at 7:33 p.m..
CATHERINE C. HANSON, CHAIRMAN
JAMES C. WATKINS, CLERK