A special MEETING OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
october 4, 2013
The Lake County Board of County Commissioners was present at the South Lake Chamber of Commerce Fall Trustee Luncheon on Friday, October 4, 2013, at 11:30 a.m. at the Clermont Community Center, 620 W. Montrose Street, Clermont, Florida. Commissioners present at the luncheon were: Leslie Campione, Chairman; Jimmy Conner, Vice Chairman; Timothy I. Sullivan; Sean Parks; and Welton G. Cadwell. Others present were: David Heath, County Manager, and Susan Boyajan, Deputy Clerk.
introductions and overview
Mr. Mike Bucher, Public Policy Chair and President of the Chamber Alliance, mentioned some of the trustees that were present at the luncheon representing various businesses throughout the county, including representatives from Becker Funeral Home, Boyette Cummins & Nailos, Century Link, Computer Business Consultants, Duke Energy, Lake Ridge Winery, Montverde Academy, South Lake Hospital, and Walt Disney World Resorts. He also acknowledged some of the trustees that were not able to be present, which were Ameriprise Financial, the Doc’s In Urgent Care, and Bright House Networks. He then directed everyone’s attention to the handout that was provided titled Public Policy Committee – 2013 Key Initiatives, which summarizes all of the public policy initiatives that they worked on this year as a committee, and listed the committees that worked on those initiatives, which were Education, Sports & Tourism, Economic Development, and the Lake County Chamber Alliance. He related that the middle column listed some of the key project initiatives that they undertook this year, some of which they are still working on, and the third column contained resolutions or letters of support that they approved at the Board of Directors level to be issued on behalf of the South Lake Chamber of Commerce, most of which have been approved and issued to the Board of County Commissioners. He also recognized the committee chairs and asked for them each to speak briefly about what they feel is their single most important initiative that they have handled this year in their committee.
Mr. Clinton Pownall, Education Committee Chair, related that one of the key initiatives that they accomplished last year and was continuing this year was a job readiness campaign at South Lake High School in which 25 volunteers conducted seminars with the senior class regarding skills such as interviews, how to dress for success, and how to achieve higher job success. He announced that they now were going to offer that program to all three high schools in South Lake this year, starting with East Ridge High School on October 29, and he mentioned that they were looking for additional volunteers.
Ms. Shannon Hidalgo, the new Sports & Tourism Committee Chair, talked about the Runner Friendly Community Project that they have been working on thus far, stating that they have assembled a committee of individuals who all were very passionate about running, health, and related activities. She specified that this committee has identified an infrastructure, assets, and events within the community that they could promulgate to the Road Runners Club of America, including three criteria which they have to include in order to substantiate their claims that they are runner friendly which showed community support, community infrastructure, and government support. She reported that to date they have a complete and comprehensive document that has included the work of local law enforcement agencies, the local fire department, all of the area’s non-profit organizations, business leaders, Chamber members, and the local public and private schools. She added that the application is due November 1, and they believe they will have this application submitted by mid-October. She pointed out that only one other community has this designation, which was Pensacola, and she opined that the impact will be profound for their community. She commented that the impacts and the success were already being felt, since they have already begun to put the assets into relationships with other individuals and organizations in their community, such as a third-grade teacher at Groveland Elementary who has started a girls’ running program called “Girls on the Run” for elementary school girls to have better body awareness and self-esteem and to develop a passion for health and wellness for a lifetime.
Curt Binney, Economic Development Committee Chair, explained that they wanted the Economic Development Committee to be a place where the municipalities and the business community come together with the County, other local governmental entities, and the legislative bodies to talk about economic development issues. He related that they hosted a forum two years ago at the St. Johns River Water Management District to discuss reuse water and water issues in South Lake which they believe would greatly affect their economy. He mentioned that recently the Central Florida Water Initiative came out with a study that indicated they were currently at 94 percent capacity of the aquifer, so reuse and reclaimed water will be important for their economic development in the future. He stated that another initiative was to work with the County’s Economic Development Department to develop a Business Opportunity Center in South Lake, which was then started in North Lake as well, and they were looking at other initiatives, including the Sector Plan and ways to encourage companies to come to South Lake.
Mr. Bucher explained that there were two delegates from each of the eight Chambers of Commerce that made up the Chamber Alliance and who looked at overarching issues at the state and county levels, and he opined that they have done some great things this year. He specified that their marquee event each year is Lake Legislative Days held in Tallahassee, and he commented that he was very proud of the fact that South Lake County is always well represented each year for that event. He reported that the Chamber just voted unanimously in favor of supporting the renewal of the local option gas tax which is used to help fund maintenance of their roads and was a critical funding source that should and must continue because of all of the demands and road traffic in Lake County. He then invited the Commissioners to join him at the front table, and introduced the Commissioners, noting the District they represent.
panel discussion with the commissioners
Mr. Bucher explained that for this segment of the Question and Answer Period, he will ask the Commissioners about three or four questions from their public policy committee members on topics that are currently under discussion or ones that they have addressed this year, some of which relate to the Public Policy Committee Initiatives handout, and then they will try to allow for about ten to fifteen minutes of questions from the floor at the end of the question and answer period. He read the first question which was “South Lake County’s future developments known as the Hills of Minneola and Wellness Way will require significant investment in roads. The BCC recently passed an impact fee ordinance for the South Lake Benefit District to help fund critical road projects with an estimated cost in excess of $18 million. Are these impact fees sufficient to fund their future roads and how will they be implemented as a funding source?”
Commissioner Sullivan related that the County recently changed the impact fee districts, noting that at one time they had more than three districts, and he pointed out that the money could only be spent in the districts. He also indicated that the Board expected to levy a 70 percent impact fee in the South Lake District, which will help to fund the $10 million Lake County is expected to contribute towards the $40 million Turnpike project, and the key to that will also be what they use the penny sales tax for in the future.
Commissioner Parks commented that it was a necessary and good decision to reinstate the impact fees, and he pointed out that there were projects specifically identified in the South Lake district that are dependent on the higher impact fees which are expected to bring in one billion dollars in economic value to Lake County. He stated that they were looking at a portfolio of options as described by the Capital Facilities Advisory Committee which would spread the cost of their roads and transportation across different areas to be borne by both the residents that have been living there and the new residents from the growth that will be coming in. He expressed an intention of moving forward with the renewal of the six cents worth of existing gas tax.
Commr. Conner thanked the Chamber for the resolution regarding the six cents of local option fuel tax, and he commented that the reenactment of the transportation impact fee was something that they did not do on their own. He explained that the BCC wanted to raise revenue without hurting the economy. He opined that they had an incredible and unique opportunity with the Turnpike interchange, which fueled the BCC support of the reenactment of the transportation impact fee, and he assured everyone that they would continue to study data and monitor their growth patterns after reenactment of the fees to make sure the money is there in order to be able to fund their share of that project.
Commr. Campione commended the Chamber for getting so involved in public policy and letting their voices be heard. She commented that there are certain theories that go into the equation regarding the amount that impact fees will produce and the dollar amount needed to take care of the improvements; however, impact fees will not be collected if growth does not happen. She expressed concern that adopting impact fees at a higher rate might hinder the growth that is happening which is helping the economy to slowly rebound. She noted that they need those improvements in order to get the Minneola interchange in place, which she believed had potential to be an economic driver for the area, and she commented that they needed to be looking at the CFAC recommendations and several sources of funding, including ad valorem in the future, sales tax, and the gas tax renewal.
Commr. Cadwell commented that although he believes the interchange will be built, he was concerned about whether the County would be able to build the infrastructure around the interchange that will be needed, and they will need to utilize all sources of funding together to do that. He stated that it was important for the residents to be aware that the County will be designating the local option fuel tax specifically for roads. He pointed out that the County is not able to index their gas tax the way the state is able to, and he commented that they should be asking the state to be allowed to do that. However, he pointed out that Lake County has not made use of the nickel gas tax the way other counties have done, which will be a problem for them if they ask the state to allow them to index the gas tax. He also opined that they needed to start dedicating some general fund dollars to transportation.
Commr. Campione clarified that although she voted against the impact fee increase, she did support 60 percent of the total rather than the 70 percent that was approved, which she believed would do more to discourage commercial growth. She also cautioned about the timing of asking for approval of the nickel tax too close to the time of asking the voters to approve the six cent local option fuel tax.
Mr. Bucher related that there has been a lot of discussion as to when that impact fee would be collected and whether it would be collected upfront prior to development as it had been in the past, but the BCC has been trying to come up with creative ways to mitigate the financial impact as much as they can when that impact fee is collected.
Commr. Conner responded that they were looking at the impact fees being due during the CO (Certificate of Occupancy) as opposed to when the permits were pulled, which would give the developers several more months to pay the fee.
Commr. Parks elaborated that the BCC has been looking at allowing the payments to be made over time for specific industries in order not to discourage businesses from coming to the county.
Commr. Cadwell emphasized that those concessions are only going to be made for commercial development and would not apply to residential development.
Commr. Campione added that currently under the County’s ordinance, builders must pay 50 percent of their impact fees at the time that they file their plat in order to reserve their capacity, and they would pay the balance at the time of the CO.
Mr. Bucher stated that their next question was “The Central Florida Water Initiative Committee commissioned a study that was done by SJRWMD along with other water management districts to address their water supply in Central Florida and found only 6 percent of their overall current water consumptive use is available in the upper Floridian Aquifer for future consumptive use. Knowing that we are possibly at 94 percent capacity, what impact will this have on their future land use and economic development?”
Commr. Parks responded that water would probably be the most limiting factor to economic development in the future, which is why that issue is very important, and he opined that the county will be fighting other counties that are 10 to 20 times larger and are more influential over 50 million gallons of day worth of allocation. He commented that the South Lake Water Initiative is extremely important because it is all entities in the the county acting together proactively to define their alternative water supply project, and he related that the RFQ for their project has to be ready within the next several months, since the timing is absolutely critical.
Commr. Campione commented that she is very supportive of the water initiative.
Mr. Bucher read the next question which asked, “South Lake County faces increasing pressure for new classrooms associated with residential growth. The BCC and School Board recently discussed supporting a $2,500 impact fee; however, the BCC did not support the School Board’s recommendation that an additional $2,500 be added to the impact fee when unemployment dipped below 7 percent. Since the School Board’s consultant estimates that a single family home necessitates over $10,000 in new classroom needs, how would the BCC propose that the School Board address the shortfall in funding the construction and maintenance of schools?”
Commr. Conner mentioned that he had been on the School Board for 12 years before he was on the BCC, and he commented that the School Board was addressing those questions ten years ago. He related that the BCC discussed doc stamps and instituting a fee on real estate transactions specifically for schools about six months ago, which he believed there was a consensus for in Lake County; however, he opined that they needed to fight the real estate lobby in Tallahassee in order to make that happen. He noted that the School Board has so few sources of revenue, which created financial problems for them, and he was in favor of a user fee which spread out the expense over a broader range of sources. He related that as liaison for this issue, he has met with Chairman Kyleen Fischer of the School Board and Dr. Susan Moxley, Superintendent of the School District, to discuss pursuing an allocation of funds through doc stamps through their respective state associations, which he believed would be much better than relying on impact fees. He added that the BCC did not want to tie the impact fee to the unemployment level because of the changeability of that factor, and he related that the first step will be to discuss instituting a $2,500 impact fee at the next BCC meeting on October 8.
Commr. Campione added that School Board Member Todd Howard has been working closely with Senator Alan Hays on the concept of using the doc stamp as an alternative in lieu of impact fees altogether and the possibility that Lake County could be a pilot project for that initiative. She related that she has heard feedback from the real estate community that there may be support locally for doc stamps used in lieu of impact fees for transportation as well, which she opined brought in about twice as much money, and she believed they needed to be proactive about getting involved in this issue.
Commr. Cadwell, however, commented that they should be cautious about giving up any of their home rule power, and their ability to enact impact fees is a home rule issue in the state of Florida, which they would be giving up if they chose to use doc stamps instead. He also pointed out that they would have to come to an agreement with regard to the cities and the County as to how those funds would be split.
Mr. Bucher read the final question from the Public Policy Committees, which was “Littlejohn Engineering recently completed the master Sector Plan for Wellness Way. Now that they have had an opportunity to review the proposed plan and may have had meetings with some of the stakeholders, what opportunities and challenges do they foresee in carrying out and implementing it as it relates to economic development?”
Commr. Parks pointed out that this plan is long-term for 2040 rather than an immediate plan and mentioned that they do not want what happened in South Lake to large tracts of land after the freezes to happen again. He specified that it was a plan to help them move away from being a housing-dependent economy and move in the direction of being commerce and industrial related, and there were measures being proposed in that plan requiring that any development quantifiably show it was adding jobs to the Lake County economy. He added that one of the challenges will be the perception that they intend to add more houses.
Commr. Cadwell added that this was a true, long-range look at large parts of the county that are already adjacent to a robust economic development economy, and he assured everyone that this plan is not intending to just build more houses for people working in Orange County.
Commr. Sullivan commented that they had to develop economically but not residentially in Lake County in order to maintain the standard of living that they enjoy and have something that will have a positive impact on their community as opposed to a drain on it.
Commr. Conner opined that all five County Commissioners were pro-business with a philosophy to support economic growth, although they may have differences among them how to get where they want to go, and he noted that they invited the stakeholders to plan and invest together on the Sector Plan.
Commr. Campione opined that they were heading in the right direction; however, they had to be careful that they have policies inside that sector plan that do not discourage employment or development based on the market conditions that spur employment center development and needed to be careful about how they would tackle the school issue in that sector plan area. She commented that she believed that the Chamber Alliance Education Committee should take an active interest in how the concurrency service areas could be drawn in a way to ensure that schools are built at the same time they are needed.
Mr. Bucher stated that that concluded the questions from their Public Policy Committee members, and he opened up the floor for questions to the Commissioners.
Ms. Cuqui Whitehead, the Chair of the Ambassador Committee, asked whether the capacity left in the aquifer that was discussed was for current or future growth, since she had heard that Niagara Bottling Company wants to increase their water consumption.
Commr. Parks responded that he believed that was for future growth, and he opined that Lake County will be on the losing side of that allocation if it was done as it had been in the past by population and historic usage numbers. He noted that Lake County was on top of the aquifer because of its topography, so the water should be coming this way if it is going to be reapplied through reuse or rapid infiltration basins from the east side.
Mr. Kasey Kesselring, Immediate Past Chair, mentioned that Niagara is applying to increase their CUP to take almost double the current amount from the aquifer associated with some new contracts that they have been awarded that is estimated to add a considerable number of jobs as a result, and he asked to hear each Commissioner’s thoughts on that.
Commr. Cadwell responded that one of the things they will have to factor in is what type of water usage the businesses that are recruited are going to need, but now they had to do their due diligence to make sure that Niagara is using the smallest amount of water they need and to look at where that company is getting it from and whether it has long-range plans for reuse water. He added that Niagara has indicated that they will change where they are getting the water from, and they had to look into how it would affect the county. He noted that this county has a bad history of per capita water use, and he commented that they all had to be better stewards themselves of water usage as well.
Commr. Campione commented that they needed to familiarize themselves with the application itself, and the preliminary reading she has done indicated that Niagara is switching from an upper to a lower aquifer well, which is much better for South Lake’s water situation. She added that she now has data on the claims that were made initially about what they would do with their reuse water and how they would work with the City of Groveland. She commented that this would be used for human consumption and not for irrigation of yards.
Commr. Parks stated that he agreed with Commr. Cadwell that they should make sure Niagara is only using the minimal amount of water that they need, but he emphasized that the BCC has no approval authority over that Conditional Use Permit. He pointed out that the state statute specifically states that bottling plants are an allowable use of water, and they would have to get their legislators engaged to change or address that issue. He also pointed out that breweries and soft drink companies also use a lot of water for their enterprises.
Commr. Conner commented that he did not support Niagara using double the amount of water they currently use, since the residents of the county had to abide by water restrictions, even though he normally does not like government interference. He also believed that residents should avoid the wasteful use of automatic sprinklers that come on even during rainy weather and practice other water conservation methods.
Commr. Sullivan stated that he supported Niagara’s efforts for economic development purposes and noted that they pay an above-average wage. He opined, however, that water is probably the most important state-wide issue that they need to address, but was unfortunately out of the hands of the County Commission. He commented that the initiative by Lake County and their fellow counties to do something about that was very positive and something that they needed to move forward with quickly to avoid a crisis.
Mr. Clinton Pownall, Education Chair, expressed concern about the Lake County School System’s $16 million shortfall and the possibility of losing some key employees and officials due to low pay and problematic issues. He commented that no one will want to live in this county if they could not support the future generations of this community. He opined that the issue of doc stamps will “move at the speed of government” and asked what the BCC will do to help fund the school system.
Commr. Conner clarified that Mr. Pownall was asking why the BCC did not support a $10,000 school impact fee. He noted that the School Board did not recommend the $10,000 fee or any other recommendation to the BCC, with two of the five School Board members not wishing to reinstate impact fees at any level. He related that the BCC will hear the recommendation that the School Board finally decided on at its third meeting regarding that issue for 25 percent or $2,500, and he opined that instituting a $10,000 impact fee on a residential house right now would probably kill this economy, pointing out that they were slowly pulling a few more permits this year than last year. He commented that they had to have the right balance as indicated by Commr. Campione of impact fees that will not discourage the small amount of increase in economic development that is currently happening, and he also opined that the County might not have seen that growth if the County had not waived impact fees.
Commr. Campione reported that property values in Lake County over the last five or six years have gone down almost 40 percent, and they have finally seen a small increase this past year in their values for the first time in years attributed to the new construction that took place over the past year. She opined that a $10,000 impact fee will kill their economy and hurt the value of their existing homes as well as increase their unemployment and make it harder to attract businesses. She emphasized that they are trying to do the prudent and best thing for the economy and the county, and she stated that she did not think the $10,000 figure was the correct amount that was needed to fund the schools. She pointed out that it was not fair to say that the only families that are bringing new students into Lake County are the ones that move into new houses.
Mr. Dick Scott, a resident of Eustis, stated that they see needs for schools, roads, and other infrastructure but only have limited tools available to them to meet those needs, and he asked how they could put a plan in place in order to get on a proactive side of things rather than reactive side.
Commr. Cadwell noted that what has historically happened in government regarding transportation and schools is that there is a crisis before anyone acts, and that is what will happen if they do not come up with some type of revenue source, although he realizes that is hard to do for the school system. He mentioned that the BCC soon will have a workshop on rails and sidewalks relating to the bus crisis that the school system has had to go through. He assured everyone that the BCC does not want to get to a crisis point regarding transportation and plans to come up with some type of long-range plan to fund their transportation needs which will involve more than one source of funding.
Commr. Sullivan expressed a concern about having a plan, and he pointed out that the option of ad valorem funding needs to be restored to the school system. He stated that the BCC supported Minneola to get the Turnpike Exchange, but the state was only paying for half of that with a CRA paying for the other half as those new tax revenues come in, which is the best plan for funding that. He related that another example of government cooperation is the support of the BCC to help the school system set up a new manufacturing training facility, which will contribute to the improvement of the workforce and be an economic driver. He also pointed out that the BCC controls only a small portion of the tax dollars which come in.
Ms. Ann Dupee, a resident of Clermont, suggested that the BCC lobby the legislature for more workforce funds and mentioned that the Groundwater Foundation with headquarters in Nebraska is having a conference at the Mission Inn the middle of October, which will include an experiment showing how difficult it is to get dirty water back out of the aquifer. She also asked about the LYNX bus routes that have been recently discussed at the BCC meetings.
Commr. Parks related that the Groundwater Foundation National Conference will take place at the Mission Inn on October 15 and that he will look into having a future agenda item at their BCC meeting to talk about the Groundwater Guardian Community through that foundation. He announced that there will be a water summit on November 19 at the Clermont Community Center from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. He explained that the BCC decided that they were not able to fund Route 204 which goes from Clermont to downtown Orlando and Route 55 at Four Corners as they had in the past out of the general fund due to extreme monetary shortages, but they have offered to LYNX to restore those routes with some reductions, time changes, and increased fares using federal 5307 money that is available, although they have not been able to get a decision about the federal funding because of the government shutdown.
Commr. Conner added that the subsidy per rider that the County is currently paying for Route 204 is a large one of about $2,400 to $2,500 per year.
Commr. Campione elaborated that they were exploring the numbers to make sure that they were using the right numbers, and she mentioned that some of the riders are willing to double their fares to keep the routes running, since they could still save money by riding the bus.
Mr. Bucher thanked their trustees, the Board of Directors, and the Chairs and Chamber staff that were there at the meeting; and he also especially thanked the County Commissioners for taking time out of their busy schedules to share their thoughts about the issues that were important to South Lake County.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 1:10 p.m.
leslie campione, chairman
NEIL KELLY, CLERK