A special MEETING OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
january 21, 2014
The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in a special retreat session on Tuesday, January 21, 2014 at 10:00 a.m., at the Emergency Communications and Operations Center (ECOC), Tavares, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Jimmy Conner, Chairman; Sean Parks, Vice Chairman; Timothy I. Sullivan; Leslie Campione; and Welton G. Cadwell. Others present were: David Heath, County Manager; Sanford A. “Sandy” Minkoff, County Attorney; Wendy Taylor, Executive Office Manager, Barbara F. Lehman, Chief Deputy Clerk, County Finance; and Susan Boyajan, Deputy Clerk.
call to order and purpose of retreat
Commr. Conner called the meeting to order and stated that the mission of the retreat is for the Commissioners to listen to each other so that they could help each other achieve each Commissioner’s goals as well as their collective goals. He explained that each Commissioner will have a turn stating what they feel are most important to them for this year, and he mentioned that they will revisit whether they accomplished those goals at the end of the year.
commissioner sullivan – district 1
Commr. Sullivan related that one of the tasks he has been working on was the one-cent sales tax renewal, and he has had an opportunity as liaison to the League of Cities to talk to the municipalities, who indicated they were on-board and were trying to determine whether the League of Cities organization could expend money to help that cause. However, he noted that the members of the School Board he talked to all had different opinions about how they would like to proceed, although they indicated they would like the split to be different than it is currently, and he was working through those issues. He commented that the cost of the election will be a factor to consider for the timing of the one cent sales tax referendum and when they actually have to put the issue before the voters, and he opined that 2015 is the latest date that they should do it. He pointed out that the election in 2014 will probably have a good turnout because of the Governor’s race, although some Commissioners and School Board members will be up for election at that time. He also noted that the cost of holding the election for the sales tax in 2014 will be much less expensive, since it will be just another item on the general election whereas in 2015 it would be a general election in and of itself, which would generate more cost. He opined that they need to closely review what they would use those capital expenditures for in order to inform and convince the voters of its importance. He added that he is also working with the private sector to set up a committee that could possibly hire a consultant to go through the process. He assured the Board that he would update them as they move through the process.
Commr. Conner stated that they would comment on what each Commissioner stated during the next part of the workshop.
Commr. Sullivan commented that he is frustrated about expenses such as Medicaid which the Board has absolutely no control over, but he believes they are making progress such as in consolidating some of the ISBA’s. He mentioned that he sees their Economic Development staff already working very closely with the cities, and he suggested that they discuss with the cities which have Economic Development divisions the possibility of consolidating that department with the County’s in order to save both entities money and generate more revenues, since the cities and the County have similar outlooks about what they need to do to help Lake County grow in the manner they need it to grow by encouraging commercial and industrial development and expanding their tax base. He opined that he did not see any future sources of revenues coming which are palatable to the Commissioners or the taxpayers.
commissioner parks – district 2
Commr. Parks commented that he liked the idea of following up with these goals at the end of the year, and he believed that the Board has accomplished a lot and has made a difference in a lot of different areas in Lake County in the last couple of years. He related that the completion of the Sector Plan was important to him, and he appreciated everyone’s support on that. He noted that there were some changes that he would like to make in the Sector Plan, which would be specified in an agenda item next week. He opined that water will be one of the main issues for this year and the coming years, and the Board had an opportunity to lead their 14 municipalities regarding this issue in order to protect their natural resources which would impact the economic development supporting their slogan of “Real Florida, Real Close.” He expressed his goal of gaining support from the Board for the South Lake Water Initiative this coming year as they go through and execute an interlocal agreement with the cities which will spell out their actual project for water resources and alternative water supply which will be required for their consumptive use permitting, especially in the South Lake region, and he hopes that they will also support the Groundwater Foundation Community designation. He stated that he intended to try to organize another Water Summit as a follow up to the one they had in November.
Regarding public safety, Commr. Parks related that he wanted to see the Fire Station 90 situation taken care of as quickly as possible, and he believed they should move as aggressively as they could on the sidewalk plan out of the penny sales tax, understanding that there would be budget constraints. He commented that he would like to see the County move forward on the South Lake Regional Park despite budget constraints, and he believed that some type of separate nonprofit parks foundation would help support the need for parks and fill in the gap for the needs that the County could not meet. He asked for an update on the status of the County’s website as well as the status of its online permitting, noting that he wanted Lake County to continue to be a leader in that. He related that he had been thinking of changing the name of the Economic Development Department to the Economic Prosperity Department, since he believed economic development was just one component of economic prosperity, which also includes talent, a skilled labor force, infrastructure, business climate, income growth, and quality of life; whereas, economic development pertained strictly to job growth and organic growth. He opined that that name change would reinforce what staff was already doing and be a reminder years down the road that there is a holistic approach to economic development.
commissioner campione, district 4
Commr. Campione commented that she wanted to prevent tax increases and unreasonable fees for their residents, promote a healthy local economy and diversified tax base, and assure good governance in order to protect against wasteful spending, eliminate duplication of services, provide for common sense and user-friendly regulations, protect individual rights and liberties, and provide quality service with a friendly attitude. She related that she also came up with specific goals that they could take action on to immediately see some measure of progress, such as the sales tax renewal strategy, which would help keep the other taxes and fees down. She elaborated that this strategy would include a focus on the uses for the sales tax such as sidewalks, speeding up neighborhood street maintenance that is needed and requested often by residents, and purchase of EMS trucks. She also mentioned a need for Information Technology infrastructure upgrades in order to be a leader in online permitting and an upgraded Animal Services facility to house animals in a safe, inviting, and healthy environment to encourage adoption. She opined that the County could make a difference in partnership with Lake Tech by connecting local businesses with Lake Tech to get the programs in place that could take care of the needs of their businesses and help them grow and expand, and she noted that they were making tremendous progress in that regard, such as online classes for advanced manufacturing, machining, and welding. However, she believed they could do a better job connecting the school district’s academy and certification program to the private sector by becoming a direct link or portal between employers and interns, which would be a good way to achieve economic development goals.
Commr. Campione stated that she believes that the relocation of the Renaissance Faire site should be a high priority if the volleyball courts go in at Hickory Point Park, and she suggested that they work that into a first phase of a new fairground site near Lake Idamere which could be used initially with portables, and then look at a business plan for having a Lake County convention and conference center which would attract shows, fill up their hotels, and bring people to that location. She commented that funding the trust fund for the Sorrento CRA was another thing that was important to her, and even a one or two percent increase will give them something to work with. She added that the redevelopment plan for the CRA is almost ready to be brought before the Board and contains good, solid redevelopment-type goals that would help that area, and she pointed out that they had an opportunity to work with FDOT as State Road 46 transitions to become County Road 46 by utilizing the CRA to get FDOT to get the improvements in place such as streetscapes and sidewalks. She indicated that she believes that the parks foundation mentioned by Commr. Parks would be a good way for individuals to raise money for things they want to see happen in their particular park sooner than the County could do it. She also requested that the Board set a target date in April for the completion of the Sector Plan.
Commr. Campione pointed out that Kurt Street, which leads to Lake Tech, is in very bad condition and makes traveling on it difficult, since the City of Eustis and the County are in disagreement about who is responsible for doing the work required. She noted that Kurt Street is a connector and collector road which is traveled by many motorists, and she commented that they could get the work done if the two entities could find a way to work together. She also noted that many residents have been contacting her about a specific issue regarding the heavy semi-truck traffic on CR 44A, which is present at all times of the day and night and creates a dangerous situation for residents who live on that road, and she pointed out that the trucks creating that problem should be using SR 44 or the Bypass instead of CR 44A. She added that the weight of those trucks is putting a lot of wear and tear on the road, and the noise and vibrations of the trucks are creating a problem for local residents. She suggested that they find some way to reroute that truck traffic and inform those drivers that that road is not a truck route, and she mentioned that the Sheriff has indicated that his office would help the County with enforcement. She also mentioned that the residents in that neighborhood are starting a petition requesting that the speed limit be reduced to 45 mph, which she believes would be a deterrent to the trucks using that road as a cut-through. She also suggested that they hold a countywide event in partnership with other organizations to collect trash around Lake County, which could be in combination with the solid waste informational presentations.
commissioner cadwell – district 5
Commr. Cadwell expressed an interest in researching a way that the County could be more of a partner with Lake Tech so that the County could put it into their economic development package, which he believes would be possible since Lake Tech is a charter school. He also indicated that he believes that parks, libraries, and the quality of life issues affect economic development. He commented that his main goal this year is to have every city sign the closest unit responder’s agreement, which he felt would eliminate a lot of duplication of services. He mentioned that he believes renewing the penny sales tax will be extremely important, and he will be discussing that and asking questions about that issue later in the meeting. He added that he wanted the Board to look at their ability to expand the MSTU for parks and libraries countywide, understanding that the cities would have to be in agreement with that, and he noted that Eustis was the only library that is not currently in the system. He also commented that the County’s human infrastructure will suffer and that they would continue to lose trained, viable, and good employees that the County needs to service their citizens if they cannot compete in the marketplace regarding salaries. He commented that the Board needs to have a real discussion about how they are going to help their employees fiscally, and the only way to do that is to find some additional revenues. He opined that they need to look at the long-established CRA’s in the cities and have an update on when they are up for renewal and how much additional money it would generate if the CRA’s did not exist from this year forward over the next five to ten years for those CRA’s that have already done all they can to promote their downtown.
Commr. Sullivan stated that he was in agreement with what Commr. Cadwell mentioned about the CRA’s and mentioned that Leesburg has an overabundance of CRA’s, two or three of which have a reserve of $3 to $4 million.
Commr. Cadwell emphasized that he is a proponent of downtowns and wanted to continue to promote their downtowns, but there comes a point where they were wasting money.
Commr. Campione cautioned about hurting their relationship with the cities, especially concerning economic development, by giving the appearance of unilaterally making those decisions. She added that evaluating the CRA’s could be a positive exercise if it forces them to take a hard look at how much money the cities have, what they have done with it, and what they could be doing with it that would benefit the rest of the tax base.
Commr. Cadwell commented that this is related to the question posed previously about whether there is a duplication of services, especially concerning economic development, since some of the CRA money is going toward things that could be done in partnership with the County.
Mr. Sandy Minkoff, County Attorney, pointed out that the new process gives the County a say in the CRA process.
commissioner conner, chairman and district 3
Commr. Conner stated that one of his goals is to get through the year without having to raise property taxes, and he opined that voter approval of the sales tax is the most important issue that they were facing in the next two or three years and one which should influence every decision that the Board makes going forward. He also opined that public safety is the most important thing for this community and suggested that they put an emphasis on safety for the sales tax referendum to be used for things such as patrol cars and ambulances. He commented that he believed they should emphasize that the Board has not raised property taxes in the last five or six years even with close to 40 percent loss of revenue, and he did not have any concern about the credibility of the County when it comes to promoting the sales tax. He also related that he wanted to make sure that they get their garbage pickup and disposal operation implemented successfully this year. He noted that the Board had discussed a public safety MSTU in the past, and he related that the Sheriff is currently gathering some information, would be relaying some of his needs to them, and has indicated that he might support that kind of MSTU. He pointed out that a public safety MSTU would also clearly show documentation regarding spending for public safety.
Commr. Sullivan asked whether the Sheriff mentioned anything about a new jail, and he expressed a concern about the capacity of the jail.
Commr. Conner responded that the Sheriff indicated that there is a decrease in the number of inmates right now.
discussion of commission goals
Commr. Conner asked the Board for ten top priorities that the Board could agree on.
Commr. Cadwell asked what a campaign would cost to renew the sales tax and whether the Education Foundation could legally spend money to do that.
Commr. Sullivan answered that a campaign would cost about $125,000 to $150,000, but he did not know whether the Education Foundation could spend money for that, although he could find out.
Commr. Cadwell opined that they had to find some business people that will help them with that effort. He also pointed out that Eustis Heights is currently going through a needed extensive renovation that will put the new entrance to the school on the curve on Kurt Street, which will make the traffic on that road worse than it is now, and the County needed to clarify whether the construction needed on that road is the County’s responsibility. He expressed his opinion that focusing on the Renaissance Faire issue would cloud the main issue of getting the volleyball foundation to locate their new facility at Hickory Point, and he related that staff is in the process of meeting and talking to representatives of the foundation about that.
Commr. Campione suggested that they could make that Phase I and then make relocation of the fairgrounds Phase II.
Commr. Cadwell responded that he was in favor of the Lake Idamere property for the Renaissance Faire for a somewhat extended period of time of about five years, since he believed that would not prohibit them from using that as a landfill if they needed to at some point.
Commr. Campione suggested that they keep the development of a business plan for a new fairground at Lake Idamere on their priority list and then talk to the fair board about using that site for the fair for ten days out of the year, which she believes would be agreeable to them. She asked for the Board to find a site that works for the County’s needs and what they have planned for the site and also takes care of the fair board’s needs, and she pointed out that they could decide while putting together their business plan that the site would not make sense as a location for a conference center. She opined that they needed to let staff work to find out whether this could be an economic catalyst. She also commented that she never wanted to see the landfill expanded at the Lake Idamere location.
Commr. Cadwell replied that he doubts that they would ever have to site a new landfill in his lifetime, but they need to have a discussion from a business point of view about how much sense it would make to continue to hold that property as a safety measure. He related that he wanted something that would give the Educational Foundation enough of a range that they would feel comfortable but not take away any of their other options, and he reiterated that he did not want to cloud the issue regarding the volleyball courts. However, he pointed out that they cannot do anything they have discussed without additional revenue, but they were down to the bone and not able to do much at this point. He commented that he agreed with Commr. Conner about emphasizing public safety issues as a way to convince the public about the need for the penny sales tax, and they also need to point out that roads and sidewalks also need to be funded.
Commr. Conner related that he has not seen any impact from having the sales tax referendum in November on any County Commission races.
Commr. Campione commented that they should research whether there is a better likelihood of getting the sales tax renewed on an off year election.
Commr. Conner commented that he was on the School Board when they had worked on reinstating the sales tax the last time, and he noted that Mr. Steve Richey put their campaign together for them. He added that they had hired a consultant at that time who did a great job, mailed information to residents stating that tourists would pay a large portion of the tax, and convinced the public that there would be a good return for the amount of money spent. He asked Mr. Minkoff whether they did a special election the last time they renewed the sales tax.
Mr. Minkoff responded that he believed it was in an off year, and he pointed out that 2015 was an election year, since many of the cities schedule elections in November, but it was not countywide.
Commr. Conner stated that a consultant can give them expert advice and answer the question of when the best time to have the election for this issue would be, but he believed that a general election in a presidential year would be the best way to get it approved; however, a governor’s race would also probably have a good turnout.
Commr. Campione opined that she does not think they would want it when there were numerous constitutional amendments on the ballot as well.
Commr. Cadwell opined that there will be a different electorate turnout for the race coming up this year, and he believed that having it on an off year is better in order to attract voters who would be concerned specifically about this issue.
Commr. Conner added that since there is a lot of work to do to get prepared for this referendum, 2014 might be too soon to be well prepared for it, but he expressed concern about how much it would cost to hold the election on an off year. He suggested that they immediately have the private sector start raising money and get a consultant on board.
recess and reassembly
The Chairman announced at 11:10 a.m. that there would be a ten-minute recess.
discussion of commission goals (cont’d)
Commr. Conner suggested that the Board have several retreats throughout the year in order to come up with an action plan with timelines to carry out their goals.
Commr. Cadwell asked for Mr. David Heath, County Manager, to make two separate lists of things brought up at this meeting that both would and would not cost the County anything.
Commr. Campione asked what kind of revenues the County could expect if they were to institute the MSTU’s mentioned earlier and whether all the cities would have to agree in order to institute those MSTU’s.
Mr. Minkoff answered that it could be done on a city-by-city basis.
Mr. Heath commented that a lot of the issues that were brought up lend themselves to a work session rather than answering questions, such as looking at the CRA’s for all of the different cities, noting that a discussion of the Sorrento CRA is already scheduled.
Commr. Cadwell commented that Mr. Heath and the staff have always been proactive in talking about issues that they think are important to maintain a good government and what they know is important to the Board. He also opined that they need to be realistic regarding their goals and what they can afford to do if they continue to have the same mindset about revenue.
Commr. Conner remarked that although he does not want to raise taxes, the companies that are successful are the ones that treat their employees well, and he agreed with the comment Commr. Cadwell made previously in the meeting about rewarding their employees financially for their good work in the form of raises and decent salaries.
Commr. Parks opined that Clermont would support an MSTU for parks and recreation.
Commr. Cadwell added that they would have to come up with figures of how much that would generate, and the idea of doing that would be to save the core backbone of libraries and parks, which he believes are important reasons why people want to live in this county, as well as to take some pressure off of the general fund.
Mr. Heath commented that the County will have worse financial problems this year than last year, since they will not have the reserves going into it.
Commr. Conner opined that there is so much anti-government feeling out there right now, especially over federal health care, that it would probably not be a good idea to have the sales tax referendum this year; however, he believed that the Board could show the residents that there is a compelling reason to pass the referendum. He reiterated that the most important issue facing the Board is the renewal of the sales tax.
Commr. Parks commented that the challenge for the Board will be to communicate to the residents that the Board is different than the federal government and that there are clear needs in order to pay for services that enhance their quality of life.
Commr. Campione asked whether a private group could do some research that would provide the Board with some basic information that they could use when discussing those issues with the public, such as who would be paying the sales tax and the distribution. She also pointed out that they could show property owners how they are trying to keep the property taxes down as well as how the sales tax would be paid by a variety of people, including tourists and visitors.
Commr. Sullivan related that when the sales tax was reinstated in 2001, the County put on a 60-day campaign beforehand, including mailings that were short and to the point.
Commr. Conner noted that Mr. Bruce Barcelo, the consultant that helped them with the sales tax at that time, specialized in special elections and had a very successful track record.
Commr. Campione opined that the consultant who helped with the anti-Amendment 4 campaign in 2010 was phenomenal. She then asked about a parking area for the dispatchers in front of the ECOC building using impervious pavers, since those employees work odd hours.
Commr. Parks suggested that they let residents know that the gas tax is also used for resurfacing neighborhood streets. He asked Commr. Campione about a spay and neuter program.
Commr. Campione explained that she was going to mention a catch, spay and release program for feral cats as a way to get the cat population down and to decrease the amount of cats that are euthanized, which will also result in a cost savings to the County in manpower and time. She noted that this program has been used in other places, and she believed that they needed to look at doing this.
Commr. Parks added that there are some counties with good data about how effective those programs are and how much money would be saved long-term.
Commr. Conner related that he wanted to encourage camaraderie and to make issues that are important to another Commissioner important to him as well, and he indicated that he would go to the Animal Services building to see whether he comes to the same conclusions mentioned by Commr. Campione about whether that building is in need of upgrade. He stated that they needed to continue this discussion regarding goals at another workshop, although the budget presentation on January 28 will address some of those issues, and he requested to continue this retreat sometime in February. He commented that everyone was listening to each other’s priorities and were in agreement on a lot of those issues, such as the sales tax, the MSTU for public safety, and the timing on the Sector Plan.
Commr. Cadwell pointed out that the Lake EMS revenues were down as well, and the Board needed to have a discussion about that with their Lake EMS Board, including the cities that were their partners in that organization, to discuss the level of service that they could provide with the ambulances.
Commr. Conner cautioned against cutting that type of service, which is especially important for senior citizens.
Commr. Sullivan added that this was one reason why the first responder program was so important.
Commr. Conner summarized that they have an agreement with Groveland, but now they have to work at getting a similar agreement with all the other cities. He asked Mr. Heath to schedule another retreat in February on a separate day from the regular Board meeting from about 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 11:50 a.m.
jimmy conner, chairman
NEIL KELLY, CLERK