A SPECIAL MEETING OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
TENTATIVE BUDGET HEARING
SEPTEMBER 8, 2003
The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in special session on Monday, September 8, 2003, at 5:05 p.m., in the Board of County Commissioner’s Meeting Room, Lake County Administration Building, Tavares, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Welton G. Cadwell, Chairman; Debbie Stivender, Vice Chairman; Catherine C. Hanson; Jennifer Hill and Robert A. Pool. Others present were: William A. “Bill” Neron, County Manager; Sanford A. “Sandy” Minkoff, County Attorney; Wendy Taylor, Executive Office Manager, Board of County Commissioner’s Office; Barbara Lehman, Chief Deputy Clerk, County Finance; and Judy Whaley, Deputy Clerk.
Commr. Cadwell opened the meeting at 5:05 p.m. and, for the record, remarked that the first public hearing is for the purpose of amending and adopting the tentative budget, recomputing the proposed millage rate, if necessary, publicly announcing the percent by which the recomputed proposed millage exceeds the rolled-back rate, and discussion of the specific purposes for which ad valorem tax revenues are being increased.
Mr. Bill Neron, County Manager, stated that the Countywide millage rate is 5.917 which is the same millage as in the current fiscal year. The Municipal Service Taxing Unit (MSTU) for ambulance and emergency services is .5289 mills per $1,000 of assessed taxable value, again the same millage rate as in the current fiscal year. The stormwater Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU) is .500 mills per $1,000 of assessed taxable value, which is up .100 mill from last year’s .400 mills. This is the last year of a five-year program by the Board to increase that MSTU from .100 mill per year to reach a .500 mill cap for stormwater utility projects in the unincorporated area. The tentative countywide budget is $286,425,638 which includes $16.1 million in rebudgets from the current fiscal year for carryover projects. He commented that the Board has had several budget workshops and a retreat on budget issues.
Commr. Cadwell opened the public hearing portion of the meeting and called for public comment.
Mr. Elmer Berol of Fruitland Park addressed the Board and asked questions on several subjects including the following: the Covanta incinerator, who runs it, how much has been paid to Covanta to date, how much has been paid to two law firms to fight Covanta, who was the County Manager, the County Attorney and County Commissioners at the time the incinerator contract was signed; fire fees; leachate; Fire Station 61 in Lady Lake; how much confiscated drug money has been collected, does the Sheriff keep all the money, is the money audited, and who determines what is confiscated; the amount of property taxes billed; the amount of the Lake County payroll; the amount of garbage collection billings; the amount of payout in garbage collections; the amount of payout in fire protection; accelerated impact fees; and escrow money. He expressed concern that the fire service provided to his area is by volunteers and probably is the slowest response time in the County while he and his neighbors are being asked to pay for new equipment and stations for new homes in South Lake County. He commented on the $40 million that was borrowed for construction of the jail and the judicial center.
Commr. Cadwell informed Mr. Berol that staff would research his questions and give him answers and information as soon as possible.
Ms. Nadine Foley, a resident of Umatilla and Chairman of the PEAR (Palatlakaha Environmental and Agricultural Reserve) Advisory Committee, requested that $25,000 be included in the Parks and Recreation budget for Fiscal Year 2003-2004 for a site master plan for PEAR Park. She mentioned that the site master plan is needed to guide the work projects and coordinate volunteer efforts in an orderly fashion. Although the river trail and tree planting projects are ongoing, a master plan could prevent current work from needing to be undone in the future. The site master plan would delineate where roads, trails, possible stormwater retention ponds, and parking areas should be. A master plan would be helpful in pursing grant applications and private donations. She announced the following: that a countywide Envirothon for high school students will be held on March 18, 2004; that, beginning September 18, 2003, the Park will be open Thursday mornings; and that a tree planting event will be held on November 15, 2003, from 8:00 a.m. to noon.
Ms. Peg Murphy, a resident of Hawthorne in Leesburg, stated that she is representing the PEAR Association which is an active group of environmental volunteers. The members plant trees, establish Xeriscape gardens, hike and bird watch. She commented that she has written grant applications and will resubmit an application to the Lake County Water Authority with the opening of the Park next week. She expressed the dire need of a master plan.
Mr. Roy Romano, who resides in a rural area of Howey-in-the-Hills, stated that he attended the meeting to protest taxes and he remarked that there are no stormwater problems in his area. He opined that paying for an ambulance trip to the hospital and paying for taxes for the same service is double payment.
Commr. Cadwell explained that the millage rate supplements the cost of the ambulance program and is shared by all the citizens who pay taxes. He further explained that, while the taxable value of Mr. Romano’s property might have gone up, the ambulance millage rate is the same as last year.
Mr. Romano requested that the Board keep the same budget or reduce the budget. He pointed out that he had to reduce his own personal budget because of a reduction in his work hours. He reminded the Board that he is also taxed by the St. Johns River Water Management District, the Lake County Water Authority and South Lake Hospital. He voiced his opposition to a higher ambulance tax and stated that he is adamantly opposed to a higher stormwater tax.
Mr. Ray Gillis of Eustis inquired whether the Board has, or should have, a goal in mind of what percentage of a homeowner’s income should be paid in property taxes. He stated that he has an average income, based on the 2000 census, and he pays approximately 6% of his take home pay in property taxes.
Commr. Cadwell stated that, while there is no Board policy, only about four other Florida counties have a rate lower than Lake County.
Mr. Gillis stated that, before he moved to Lake County, his property taxes in a rural area in the Florida Panhandle were only about 1% to 1-1/2% of his take home pay. He suggested that a percentage goal should be a part of the budget making decision and pointed out that higher property taxes force young families to buy smaller homes or to rent a home.
Mr. Robert Cox, a resident of Deland, stated that he owns a mobile home, used as a rental, on a small canal front lot near the St. Johns River in Lake County. He stated that last year his property was assessed at $21,013 and this year’s proposed assessment is for $136,223. His property taxes last year were $361.10 and this year’s proposed taxes are $2,350.65.
Commr. Cadwell informed Mr. Cox that the Lake County Property Appraiser, not the Board of County Commissioners, sets the value of real estate and that he can seek recourse for an assessment by filing a petition to appear before the Special Master for the Value Adjustment Board.
Ms. Peggy Elrod of Fruitland Park inquired whether the Lady Lake Fire Department will serve only The Villages.
Commr. Cadwell explained that the Town of Lady Lake currently contracts with the County but in October the County will provide service for property in the unincorporated area and other cities under contract.
Ms. Elrod asked if the fire taxes are going up because The Villages will be a separate entity.
Commr. Cadwell responded that is one reason, along with Fire Department growth in other areas of the County and the addition of manpower.
Ms. Elrod opined that the $25,000 homestead exemption is great, however, some people do not pay property taxes because of it. She suggested that the exemption should not be on the first $25,000 of assessed value so that every property owner would pay some taxes.
Commr. Hanson stated that one reason for instituting assessments is so that every property owner would pay.
Commr. Cadwell suggested that Ms. Elrod attend the Lake County Legislative Delegation meeting which will be held on October 10, 2003, at 1:00 p.m., at Lake Sumter Community College, to express her concerns regarding the homestead exemption. In response to Ms. Elrod’s inquiry about the Picciola Fire Department, Commr. Cadwell explained that the County has been going through the growing pains of closing stations and building new stations.
Mr. Bill Neron, County Manager, stated that there are no immediate plans for the Picciola Station and the County is working with the League of Cities for better overall fire protection.
Commr. Stivender suggested that Ms. Elrod attend the Lake County School Board meeting on September 9, 2003, at 5:00 p.m., to address her concerns about the school tax.
Ms. Joan McCall, a resident of an unincorporated area of Lake County, expressed her serious concern that she will be forced to help make up the budget’s deficit because money will be siphoned off because The Villages was allowed to break off from County fire protection. While unhappy about that decision, she stated that she does not have a serious problem with the $37.00 increase in the fire assessment. She stated that it behooves the County Manager and the County Commission to find better ways to protect all County residents in terms of fire protection. She opined that the Board should not have held the line on taxes in the past because needs have increased and the resources have not. She declared that she wants to be protected in her home.
There being no further public comment, Commr. Cadwell closed the public hearing and reserved comment to the Board.
Commr. Hanson stated that she had previously asked the County Manager and staff to look at the increased fire/rescue calls in the commercial category. She thanked staff for compiling that information. She further requested that, when possible, the number of fire calls versus the number of rescue calls be separated for the purpose of Board evaluation and analysis.
While recognizing that the Board would not be interested in increasing the budget, Commr. Cadwell inquired whether the PEAR Park master plan, as requested by Ms. Foley, could be designed in-house by County staff.
Mr. Neron stated that PEAR might have a conceptual plan, but they now need a master design plan. He will research the issue and report back to the Board at their meeting on September 23, 2003.
Commr. Cadwell publicly announced the percent by which the recomputed proposed millage rate exceeds the rolled-back rate, and the specific purposes for which ad valorem tax revenues are being increased.
He read the following into the record:
• Proposed Lake County General Fund millage rate is 5.917, which is 5.698% over the rolled-back rate of 5.598 mills.
• Proposed Lake County Municipal Service Taxing Unit (MSTU) for Ambulance & Emergency Medical Services is 0.5289, which is 5.78% over the rolled-back rate of 0.500.
• Proposed Lake County Stormwater Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU) is 0.500, which is 28.535% over the rolled-back rate of 0.389 mills.
• Lake County’s aggregate rolled-back rate is 6.323 mills and the proposed aggregate tentative rate is 6.732 mills, which results in an increase over the aggregate rolled-back rate of 6.468%.
TENTATIVE MILLAGE - BOARD ACTION
Commr. Cadwell announced that the next item is to adopt a tentative millage with three separate motions.
On a motion by Commr. Hanson, seconded by Commr. Pool and carried unanimously, by a vote of 5-0, the Board adopted a tentative millage of 5.917 for the Lake County General Fund.
On a motion by Commr. Stivender, seconded by Commr. Hanson and carried unanimously, by a vote of 5-0, the Board adopted a tentative millage of 0.5289 for the Lake County MSTU for Ambulance and Emergency Services.
Commr. Hanson made a motion to adopt a tentative millage of 0.500 for the Lake County Stormwater Management MSTU.
At this time, Chairman Cadwell passed the gavel to Vice Chairman Stivender in order to second the motion.
Under discussion, Commr. Pool stated that he supports stormwater fees, taxes and management but he does not support two entities managing stormwater issues. He stated that he will not support the tentative millage because of a duplication of services.
Commr. Cadwell stated that he respects Commr. Pool’s opinion, but the water quality problem is such that the County is a long way from having too much money to spend on stormwater.
Commr. Pool interjected that the Lake County Water Authority charges everyone in the County and the County is charging just County residents. He opined that creates an inequity and that there should be one entity, one agency, which charges everyone. He commented that, although the money is being spent wisely, he will not support the increase.
Commr. Hanson stated she feels that eventually there will be only one entity, but that progress has been made toward protecting stormwater, particularly through the Public Works Department. She feels that stormwater management will be more and more critical in our potable water sources. While not in favor of the MSTU millage when it was first initiated, she supported it because the dollars are important to Lake County.
Commr. Cadwell remarked that stormwater affects water quality and without funding the water quality of the lakes and streams will be affected.
Commr. Stivender stated that she will support the tentative millage rate because this is the last year of the five-year program to reach the 0.500 mill cap. She requested that staff and the County Manager work diligently with the Water Authority so that different agencies are not trying to do the same thing.
Commr. Pool reiterated that the Lake County Water Authority charges everybody, city and county, and he does not care if the Water Authority raises their taxes for stormwater. His point is that there should be one entity, one agency.
Commr. Cadwell called for a vote on the motion, which carried by a vote of 3-2.
Commissioners Hill and Pool voted “No.”
TENTATIVE BUDGET - BOARD ACTION
Commr. Cadwell announced that the Board should consider any amendments to the tentative budget and adopt a tentative budget.
On a motion by Commr. Hanson, seconded by Commr. Pool and carried unanimously, by a vote of 5-0, the Board adopted the General Fund tentative budget of $108,682,228.
On a motion by Commr. Hanson, seconded by Commr. Pool and carried unanimously, by a vote of 5-0, the Board adopted the Lake County MSTU for Ambulance and Emergency Services tentative budget of $5,974,865.
On a motion by Commr. Hanson, seconded by Commr. Stivender and carried by a vote of 4-1, the Board adopted the Stormwater Management MSTU tentative budget of $4,400,305.
Commr. Pool voted “no.”
On a motion by Commr. Pool, seconded by Commr. Hanson and carried unanimously, by a vote of 5-0, the Board adopted the Countywide tentative budget of $286,425,638.
FINAL ADOPTION - PUBLIC HEARING DATE
Commr. Cadwell announced that the public hearing for final adoption will be held on September 23, 2003, at 5:05 p.m., or soon thereafter, in the Board of County Commissioners Meeting Room, Lake County Administration Building, 315 West Main Street, Tavares, Florida.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 6:10 p.m..
WELTON G. CADWELL, CHAIRMAN
JAMES C. WATKINS, CLERK