The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in special session on Monday, August 6, 2001, at 10:00 a.m., in the Training Room of the Lake County Administration Building, Tavares, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Catherine C. Hanson, Chairman; Robert A. Pool, Vice Chairman; Welton G. Cadwell; Jennifer Hill; and Debbie Stivender. Others present were: Sanford A. Minkoff, County Attorney/Interim County Manager; Wendy Taylor, Executive Office Manager, Board of County Commissioner's Office; Barbara Lehman, Chief Deputy Clerk, County Finance; and Kathryn A. Schwartz, Deputy Clerk.
Lake County School Board members present at the meeting were: Gerald Smith, Chairman; Jimmy Conner, Vice Chairman; Phyllis Patten; Scott Strong; and Kyleen Fischer. Also present were: Pam Saylor, Superintendent of Schools; Louise Parker, Administrative Assistant, Lake County School Board. It was noted that other members of the School Board were present in the audience.
League of Cities members present at the meeting were: Robert Moore, Mayor of Tavares; Lee Hokr, City Commissioner, Lady Lake; James Coleman, City Manager, Lady Lake; Jim Myers, City Clerk, Eustis; Keith Mullins, City Commissioner, Clermont; and Alta Trask, Secretary, League of Cities. It was noted that other members of the League of Cities were present in the audience.
JOINT MEETING - BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
LAKE COUNTY SCHOOL BOARD AND LEAGUE OF CITIES
ONE-CENT SALES-TAX EXTENSION
Commr. Hanson called the joint meeting to order and stated that the purpose of the meeting was to continue the conversation, concerning the one-cent sales-tax extension, from the previous meeting of July 23, 2001. She stated that the issue they were discussing was the actual date to bring the referendum before the voters, with the date of preference seeming to be November and the second date being the spring of 2002, with a consensus that the fall of 2002 would be too far off into the future. Another issue to be resolved is who will make up the leadership team from among the three groups present. Before opening the floor for discussion, Commr. Hanson inquired if there were any further comments from the Lake County Board of County Commissioners (Board), the Lake County School Board (School Board) or the League of Cities.
Mr. Smith inquired of Commr. Cadwell on what the status was of the support from the business community on the tax issue. He stated he was looking forward to hearing the report from Commr. Cadwell.
Commr. Cadwell explained that he has had difficulties getting a group of citizens together from the business community who would be promoting the tax, but they would be meeting on Thursday. He stated that he has about eight people, from different parts of the County, willing to sit down and talk about what they can do from their end. He stated that one of the issues that came up was they thought a date for the referendum needed to be decided upon fairly quickly. Commr. Cadwell suggested that they address that issue today, which, in turn, would set the pace at which they would work. One of the concerns of the group was the amount of money that would need to be raised in order to put some informational materials together to present to the public. Commr. Cadwell stated that a campaign to get the information out to the folks would cost approximately $50,000 to $60,000.
Commr. Hanson stated that she spoke to Mr. James Watkins, Clerk of the Circuit and County Court, who was instrumental in the original passage of the sales tax, and who stated that he felt it was doable, to move forward by this November with the referendum.
Commr. Cadwell addressed the issue of campaign moneys and noted that the group of interested businessmen felt that the money will be forthcoming. As far as raising money, he stated that he was not familiar with the restrictions imposed upon Political Action Committee (PAC) groups, and a PAC would need to be formed for this particular issue. It was noted that perhaps Ms. Emogene Stegall, Election Supervisor, would be able to provide them with this information.
Mr. Strong noted that they had discussed the issue of raising the funds from outside of the three organizations that were the direct benefactors. For consideration, he stated that he did not want to rule out completely that the three organizations could not contribute financially; that it may end up being a combination of both private moneys and additional funding from the three organizations. He stated, in the larger picture, that the beneficiaries need to be prepared to support it to some degree as well.
Commr. Cadwell pointed out that he was one of the people, at the first meeting, who spoke against doing that, being well aware of the downside to it. He stated that he was reconsidering the idea in terms of doing this strictly as an informational campaign, to let the citizens know how the money is to be spent. He stated he somewhat agreed with Mr. Strong; that he thought it might not be a bad idea for the three groups to contribute funds, at least just to get the information out.
Mr. Conner addressed those present, stating that, in all the years that he has been in this community, he has never seen the level of cooperation that is being exhibited right now. He explained that not only does he see the School Board as a leadership team like he has never seen it before, under the leadership of the superintendent, Ms. Saylor, but that he has also seen the cities and the County working together in the same manner. He suggested that they approach this either by, first, deciding on a date and then having all the discussions; or that they have all the discussions and then decide on a date.
Mr. Conner stated that one thing that has really impressed him is the City of Tavares cutting its budget by almost a half a million dollars, and showing fiscal responsibility. He stated that the City of Tavares has been a model as far as their informational campaign, having sent out flyers on how they have spent their sales-tax money. He stated that today's issue needs a strategy of its own on how they are going to convince the public to give their support. He stated that at the last meeting, contrary to what was written in the newspapers, he did not say to raise property taxes; that what he did say is that the sales tax would be an alternative to a property-tax increase. He hoped that the County Commissioners would give consideration to that when going through the budget process. He expressed the opinion that if the property taxes increase this year, across the board, that they are going to lose the message that the sales tax is an alternative to increased property taxes. Mr. Conner stated that, whatever the date is, a strategy needs to be developed and money raised in order for the one-cent tax to pass. He stated that of extreme importance was that the message be conveyed that the sales tax is a much better and broader-based tax than a property-tax increase.
Commr. Hanson pointed out that there are several situations where a tax has been successfully extended, citing the City of Jacksonville as an example; that the role models and pilot programs are out there. She explained that the first thing to be done now is to agree on a date to place the issue on the ballot. She asked for a motion from the group setting forth a date for the referendum.
Mr. Strong made a motion, which was seconded by Commr. Pool, to approve November 6, 2001, as the date in which to bring the referendum on the one-cent sales-tax issue before the voters.
Under discussion, Mr. Mullins stated that at the last meeting there was some discussion about an informal poll in order to get a feel for public opinion. It was noted that if it was determined by the leadership that this would be necessary, that it would be one of the details that would be looked into.
Under discussion, Ms. Saylor stated that she and Mr. Smith have had the opportunity to talk to several individuals in leadership-type positions who expressed their opinion that it would be best to move forward as quickly as possible.
There being no further discussion, Commr. Hanson called for a vote on the motion, which was carried unanimously by a 10-0 vote from the Board of County Commissioners and the School Board.
Commr. Hanson addressed those present and explained that financially, through their leadership roles in the community, it will certainly be a critical part of the success of the tax. She discussed the idea of forming a steering committee, with a representative from the League of Cities, the School Board, and the Board of County Commissioners. She noted that these three representatives would be a Sunshine committee, due to making recommendations back to each of the three organizations. She stated she was open to alternative suggestions. She stated that she has thought about other folks in the community that might take the leadership role, and that the ones that she thought would be extremely good have opted not to take that role at this time.
Commr. Hanson recommended Commr. Cadwell as the representative of the Board of County Commissioners; although, Commr. Cadwell felt that Commr. Stivender would be a better choice, having worked with this issue before. After some discussion, it was agreed that
Commr. Stivender would be appointed to the steering committee as the representative of the Board of County Commissioners.
Mr. Moore pointed out that a lot of folks have already put a considerable amount of work into this issue, and, with this being a Sunshine committee, more people could join in; that nobody should feel excluded from participating. He stated that one of the things that he considers to be a salient factor in educating the public is the fact that they, as a group, need to cooperate on school sites and on growth management; that this is a foundation from which to work. He discussed the importance of all three groups speaking to the public about this, pointing out that this level of cooperation has not happened in the past.
After some discussion, Mr. Mullins accepted the position of representative on behalf of the League of Cities, and Mr. Smith accepted on behalf of the School Board with the caveat that he do so jointly with the superintendent, Ms. Saylor.
At this time, discussion occurred regarding the money needed to inform the public of the tax. It was recommended to split the cost among the three groups as $20,000-$20,000-$20,000. Commr. Hanson thought that this was a fair way to go about it, since the money will ultimately be divided three ways.
After some discussion, it was agreed that, so as to preclude ambiguity in the voters' minds, the improvements resulting from the tax extension should be specifically designated, such as a new jail, a landfill, or transportation.
Mr. Conner agreed, and he pointed out that there is $237 million worth of needs that have been identified by an outside consultant. He brought up the issue that, due to the increased costs of construction, and particularly with interest rates being so low, this would be a good time for the School Board to do a bond issue and complete all of the projects that can be done with the revenue. He expressed his confidence that there will be a plan in place where every part of the County will benefit.
Mr. Smith stated that he felt the high schools would take a large part of the School Board's portion of the sales tax. Mr. Conner expanded on that issue, stating that of critical concern is the condition of the high schools in the area, many of them being the original facilities built in the 1920s and '30s; that if they did target the high schools it would be a rare opportunity to go in and make comprehensive, meaningful, multimillion-dollar improvements that would last for generations. He stated that he would enthusiastically support the extension of the tax if it is decided that all the high schools will get major renovations, and he agreed that the spirit of cooperation is unparalleled.
Mr. Smith addressed the issue of the School Board's ability to bond for renovations, stating that his understanding was that they could bond sales-tax money. After some discussion, it was agreed that this would be something good for the County and that no renovations could be done without the help of an alternative revenue source.
Ms. Fischer stated that she looked forward to a great future for this pursuit; that ultimately the Lake County School System will be able to offer more to its students and the community with more up-to-date facilities. She felt confident that citizens would come out in support of this referendum. Ms. Fischer stated that she looked forward to working with everyone.
Commr. Pool recognized, from the audience, Mr. Howard Stockton from the South Lake Chamber. He stated that looking to the various Chambers for leadership is an integral part of the process, whether they take an official stance of support or not. He asked Mr. Stockton to let them know how the Chambers are going to feel about this.
Mr. Stockton responded that when the Chamber executives met last month there was agreement among all of them that they would support the tax but that they would all have to go back to their individual Chambers to get that final decision.
Commr. Pool stated the opinion that it was vitally important for not only the business community but the community in general that the Chambers support this tax, and having an understanding of what the money will be spent on, such as the renovation of schools, transportation, infrastructure for cities; that as projects are completed, to continue spending the money on other needed projects. He stated that it was important to note that the older schools were being recycled into other uses for the communities; that it was important for the citizens to know that these schools will continue to be used for generations. It was noted that historical facilities across the United States have been used wisely and updated appropriately and that Lake County needs to follow in these footsteps.
On a motion by Commr. Pool, seconded by Mr. Strong and carried unanimously by a 10-0 vote, the Board of County Commissioners and the School Board approved the appointment of Mr. Keith Mullins, League of Cities; Ms. Debbie Stivender, Board of County Commissioners; and Mr. Gerald Smith, School Board, as steering committee representatives.
Commr. Hanson stated that the committee should be responsible for bringing back information to each of the respective groups. She stated that she has several speaking engagements set up to speak on behalf of the one-cent-tax issue. She emphasized that the success of the tax is going to depend on all of the leaders in each of the cities doing their parts, including everyone in the school system. She felt that this can be an exciting grassroots process that can happen in a short period of time as long as there was communication.
Commr. Pool stated that the press plays an integral part in how the process will go forward. He addressed staff from the press, stating that, as the information is disseminated, they can be a big help in providing an information service. He asked that if the press has any questions to contact anyone from the three groups so that the process can go forward with a factual background.
Mr. Moore stated that if the press has an editorial opinion that they would like to pursue, and would like to meet with a County, City, or School Board representative, that they will be made available. He asked that the initial charge of the steering committee be to try to gather the data in a concise fashion so that any information relayed to the public will be accurate, with no misrepresentations. He stated his reluctance to speak on behalf of the County and the School Board, but that if there was a concise body of data to draw from, the questions could be answered from an educated standpoint, thereby conveying to the public and the press their priorities. Commr. Hanson then discussed the importance of immediately looking for opportunities to speak in the communities.
Commr. Pool inquired if there was a problem in the event that individuals from the different groups were to show up at the same meeting. Mr. Sanford Minkoff, County Attorney/Interim County Manager, responded that it was not a problem as long as two persons from the same group did not discuss issues. Commr. Pool suggested that they tag team speaking engagements.
Mr. Smith stated his anticipation of having a presentation from the School Board for their portion that would be integrated into the overall presentation. He anticipated that one person from each group would attend events to make presentations. He felt it was important to get out in unison. Commr. Stivender agreed, suggesting that they utilize the help of staff to schedule media events ahead of time so that a representative from each group could be present. It was discussed that the issues needed to be put together, in writing, such as a handout or brochure, along with a fact sheet, making a strong case for the presentation. It was pointed out that with a fact sheet anyone from the groups could then attend the presentations, not just members from the steering committee. Discussion took place regarding the need for timeliness; that it was important that the three groups put together a plan as soon as possible. It was suggested that a workshop be scheduled.
Mr. Mullins inquired as to whether a lot of the Interlocal Agreements would need to be signed as soon as possible. Mr. Minkoff stated that he met with various city managers last week, and, while not all were there, managers representing the majority of the cities were present. After speaking with them about the content of the Interlocal Agreements, with staff working on preparing them, along with an ordinance, Mr. Minkoff stated it was scheduled to be brought before the Board in August, for adoption in September.
After some discussion regarding the issue of start-up money, it was agreed that each group would be responsible for their part. It was suggested that the decision on splitting the costs of the information campaign $20,000-$20,000-$20,000 be decided at a follow-up meeting, with the steering committee addressing that issue. It was noted that while the cities themselves would not generate the money, they would, however, be responsible for raising the money to support the expense of informing the public, and that this also does not necessarily mean that the checks would come from the cities but from individual businesses.
Mr. Smith inquired as to the next meeting date. Commr. Hanson suggested that the steering committee come back with a recommendation.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting adjourned at 10:45 a.m.
________________________________________ CATHERINE C. HANSON, CHAIRMAN
JAMES C. WATKINS, CLERK