A special MEETING OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
march 16, 2016
The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in special session on Wednesday, March 16, 2016 at 11:30 a.m., for a Lake 100 meeting at the Mission Inn Resort, Howey in the Hills, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Welton G. Cadwell, Vice Chairman, and Leslie Campione. Others present were Susan Boyajan and Angela Harrold, Deputy Clerks.
welcome and introduction of guest speakers
Mr. Kasey Kesselring welcomed everyone to the Lake 100 meeting and introduced Commr. Cadwell and Mr. Josh Blake, who are both running for the District 5 County Commission seat. He explained that he would give both individuals five minutes to introduce themselves, and then they would proceed to the question and answer portion of the session.
Mr. Blake related that he was born in Winter Park, grew up in Lady Lake since 1987, and has worked on the legislative staff in the Florida House of Representatives with Representative O’Toole in that capacity for the last eight years representing District 33, which encompasses Lake, Sumter, and Marion Counties. He mentioned that they had just wrapped up a legislative session on Friday evening, March 11, resulting in an $82.2 billion budget, in which he believed Lake County fared fairly well. He commented that the reason he is running for County Commission stems from his frustration regarding his differing opinions on policy, although he has a cordial relationship with Commr. Cadwell, as well as the fact that although they have expected Republicans who they have sent to Washington D. C. to hold the line on certain fundamental conservative issues over the last eight years, it has not happened the way he believed it should have happened. He elaborated that his frustration culminated in 2014 with the tax increase Lake County instituted at the county level, illustrating that they also had some issues locally as well, which was when he had decided to run for the County Commission. He recapped that after he had pledged in a recent article in the Daily Commercial newspaper never to raise taxes or fees, he received a call from an elected official in Lake County who advised him that he might find himself in a position of having to break that promise. However, he opined that he is running on a platform consisting of a set of principles and a belief that government exists for the sake of providing the private sector with the basic core services of public safety and infrastructure. He concluded with a quote which reflected his basic principle which stated, “The problem is not that the people are taxed too little; the problem is that the government spends too much.” He asked for the group’s support in the primary on August 30.
Commr. Cadwell thanked everyone for allowing him to serve the County as County Commissioner for over 24 years and assured them that he has never taken that opportunity for granted for even one day. He expressed confidence that both he and Mr. Blake will run cordial campaigns that will concentrate on the issues, policy, and the future of Lake County. He commented that although he was not normally comfortable promoting himself, he realizes that being part of a political campaign will necessitate that he do so; however, he mentioned that he was comfortable talking about the accomplishments of the Board of County Commissioners. He commented that he has loved being a County Commissioner and making a difference in the lives of the citizens of Lake County, and he does not have further political aspirations to serve in a state or federal capacity. He noted that he has risen to a leadership position in every organization of which he has been a member, with a mindset to represent and promote Lake County, including the President of the Florida Association of Counties (FAC), a permanent seat on the Board of Directors of the National Association of Counties (NACo), and the Chairman of the Central Florida Expressway Authority, which will be a great economic engine for Lake County along with the Turnpike interchange in Minneola and the Wellness Way Sector Plan.
Commr. Cadwell opined that Lake County will soon be in the position that it was 15 to 20 years ago with a lot of pressure for growth, and they will need experienced leadership to manage that growth in order to avoid the same mistakes that were made in the past. He expressed confidence that they will grow their commercial tax base and pointed out that they have some opportunities to do so but need experienced leadership to guide that endeavor. He commented that he cares more about what people think of the Board and the County itself than what they think of him or the other Commissioners individually, and his goal has always been for the County to be thought of favorably by others. He pointed out that he has had a lot of opportunities to vote on issues over the last 24 years on the Board, which were also opportunities for making some individuals angry; however, he emphasized that the Board was in agreement on most issues much more than it disagreed. He opined that few people have family members and friends that they agree with all of the time, and he requested that everyone think about the service he has given to the County as they make their decision through this process and think about whether they wanted him to remain their County Commissioner.
question and answer session
Mr. Rich Kelley asked Mr. Blake how the eight years he spent in Tallahassee prepared him to be on the County Commission.
Mr. Blake responded that the most important function of the County Commission is to formulate the budget every year and decide on local tax and ad valorem policy. He elaborated that his office has served in a number of different appropriations capacities over the last eight years, such as the budget he previously mentioned, and he noted that they had gone through the state’s $4 billion higher education appropriations budget in the last two years line by line to cut out the “low hanging fruit” and prioritize. He opined that he has budgetary experience that will prepare him for the role of County Commissioner in terms of scope, size, and complexity.
Mr. Bud Beucher mentioned that he had attended all of the County Commission meetings in the summer and fall when the tax increase was proposed a couple of years ago, and he opined that he disagreed that most of the items being touted as essential and warranting the increase were absolutely necessary. He added that he was hoping for a meaningful reduction in the tax rate during the following fiscal year and asked Commr. Cadwell why that tax rate was not lower. He elaborated that he was hoping to see more relief by that subsequent fiscal year.
Commr. Cadwell explained his reasoning in that instance was that they had finally gotten the County back on some financial stability and built back the reserves closer to what they should be, since they had lived off reserves during the hard economic times, which was their only option without raising taxes during those years. He mentioned that he had been in favor of smaller increments of tax increases before they had gotten to that point so that the large tax increase would not be necessary. He stated that their bond ratings were becoming unfavorable, and the County was in a tough situation. He added that the population continued to grow during the time the County was living off of their savings, and the Board makes their decisions based on the county as a whole. He commented that he did not feel they could abandon some of the things that make Lake County unique, such as their parks system, which was an asset that attracts new businesses and residents to the county, and he opined that they needed to continue to keep the infrastructure a positive factor for the backbone of the community. He elaborated that they needed one more year of a stable revenue source and noted that they were operating with 150 less internal positions and had made other cuts.
Mr. Beucher asked whether Commr. Cadwell would reexamine that increase in the next cycle if the economy continued in a positive way.
Commr. Cadwell assured him that he absolutely would do that, adding that growth in the area and the current business climate would facilitate that rollback.
Mr. Don Buckner asked the candidates to discuss their stance on impact fees and what they believe the future of impact fees would be.
Commr. Cadwell answered that he supports impact fees but has always tried to keep them reasonable. He added that he thinks impact fees have a place in their financial system and that their transportation system in Lake County would be in shambles without them. He elaborated that he would continue to support them unless they find other funding sources such as additional gas taxes to pay for essential infrastructure.
Mr. Blake opined that the impact fees in Lake County are ridiculous. He stated that two ways a governmental entity can raise money are to increase their tax base by bringing about economic growth or charge new people moving into the county an impact fee, which he opined would prevent those people from coming there.
Commr. Cadwell pointed out that about $7,000 of a $10,000 impact fee was for schools, noting that the transportation portion of the impact fee was a very small percentage.
Mr. Kesselring opined that the vast majority of economic development currently in the south part of the county is residential by national home builders who appear not to have a tremendous amount of investment in the county as a whole, and he asked how that would relate to impact fees, particularly regarding infrastructure.
Commr. Cadwell answered that he has struggled with the issue during his career of whether to separate local business from the others, and he pointed out that some large commercial franchises and most large home builders already have an impact fee figured into their price. He assured everyone that the Board has looked at all aspects of this issue, such as impact fee credits, but those would have to be paid out of the general fund.
Mr. Blake commented that impact fees do not exist in a vacuum, and he opined that business owners are already paying exorbitant federal, state, and local taxes. He added that he has been working with some legislators in Tallahassee for the past four years to get rid of the six percent tax on commercial rent and leases, which is only charged by the State of Florida and no other state. He opined that excessive taxation combats the kind of growth they are trying to create, since people will lose the incentive to come into the county and create more economic growth.
Mr. Greg Beliveau pointed out that the school impact fees make up a vast majority of the Lake County’s impact fees. He explained that those fees benefit and are requested by the School Board and not the County, and that fee is affecting projects across the board. He added that multi-family impact fees result in the highest increase, and he suggested that they revisit the amount of those fees.
Mr. Blake stated that some of the surrounding counties such as Marion County have gotten rid of their impact fees in order to preserve that business for themselves, pointing out the Federal Express distribution center as an example of businesses which have located to Marion County.
Commr. Cadwell mentioned that the County had suspended their impact fees but had to reinstitute them.
Mr. Beucher related that he had served on the alternative impact fee committee for transportation impact fees, and about 8 ½ percent of their ad valorem taxes went to road maintenance, enhancement, improvements, and expansion prior to the creation of those fees. He mentioned that there were some who believed that impact fees are the right thing to do in order to make new growth pay its own way, but he believed that some of those fees are used for capacity enhancement projects to add bicycle and turn lanes on roads. He commented that he thinks there has to be a balance, and economic growth and increased revenues of ad valorem taxes brought in by businesses should be enough to pay for the impacts of those businesses.
Commr. Cadwell responded that the committee Mr. Beucher mentioned suggested six or seven years ago that the County raise the gas tax and start using a percentage of their ad valorem taxes for transportation, and the Board has not decided to do that yet, although it may come to that at some point, which could drive down impact fees. He pointed out that they have continuously asked the State of Florida to be able to index the gas tax the way the state is allowed to do, but there has not been the political will in Tallahassee to allow the counties to do the same thing.
Mr. Beucher asked whether the Governor vetoed the provision in the budget bill that allows counties to raid TDC (Tourist Development Council) funds that are actually supposed to be used for the advancement of tourism to instead be used for police and fire service, although currently the bill only pertains to the coastal counties.
Mr. Blake responded that he will check on that, since the Governor released that list yesterday, but he mentioned that none of the Lake County projects on the list were vetoed.
Commr. Cadwell opined that he did not believe the Governor would veto it.
Commr. Campione announced that one of the items not vetoed was $2.8 million for the Lake Technical Advanced Manufacturing Center project, which is a game-changer for Lake County and will help encourage some young people to continue to live in the county. She added that since this is located in the north part of the county, they needed something in the central or south part of the county. She commented that the future for Lake County’s economy is to grow their manufacturing sector.
Mr. Beliveau mentioned that all of the projects for the City of Umatilla were cut out of the budget.
Mr. Mark Roberts asked the candidates to address the spending in the County’s 2014 budget.
Mr. Blake stated that the justification for the tax increase in 2014 was the $15.1 million hole, but some of the projects that were included as part of that budget were new park construction, and he opined that having a job is a more important quality-of-life issue than parks. He added that the tax increase can cost businesses an extra $40,000, which makes it more difficult for those businesses to recover from the recession and to expand. He commented that the primary role of a business or a corporation is to make a profit rather than providing jobs, which is just a side effect of a profitable business. He indicated that he did not agree with the priorities of the Board at that time, and he believed that public safety and infrastructure should be at the top of the list during the recovery from a recession.
Commr. Cadwell noted that the park construction was done out of the sales tax rather than the general fund, although the maintenance of those parks are paid for out of the ad valorem funding. He also emphasized that the portion of the budget that the County controls is very small once all of the state and federal mandates that the County was required to do were taken out, such as Medicaid and emergency services, and he commented that the Board has cut that small portion as much as possible.
Mr. Beucher expressed concern about the $55 million for the Sheriff’s budget that the County approved but does not control, since he did not believe that the County is provided with enough of the details or the chance for any input regarding that budget. He asked whether the Board should take a more active position with the Sheriff in creating his budget.
Commr. Cadwell commented that they have always tried to work cooperatively with the Sheriff, who has cut about $1 million in the last three years in response to the Board’s requests. He pointed out that the Sheriff has a right to create his own budget as a constitutional officer and has a right to protest his budget to the Governor, who has historically always given the Sheriffs what they requested. He explained that the County would be required by law to refund that amount to the Sheriff if that situation occurred, which would result in having to send out new tax bills. He assured the group that the Board has a level of trust that the Sheriff is honest with them and clearly conveys his needs, and he pointed out that the Lake County Sheriff’s requests are much less than most other counties.
Mr. Buckner asked the candidates whether they support a zero-based budget, and if so, how they would go about trying to get that implemented.
Mr. Blake commented that he agreed with Commr. Cadwell, since public safety and infrastructure are the core functions of government, and he believes that the Sheriff should be a budgetary priority for the County; however, he believes that transparency is a good thing and that zero-based budgeting is a good place to start, since it causes them to reevaluate the priorities every year. He mentioned that the State of Florida had to cut $10 billion out of their budget between 2009 and 2012, which required zero-based budgeting to see what was working and what was not and to cut the “low hanging fruit.”
Commr. Cadwell commented that the County has done that within its departments.
Mr. Ted Ostrander asked about any possible problems regarding pension funds.
Commr. Cadwell assured him that there were no problems, since County employees belonged to the Florida Retirement System (FRS), adding that the pension crisis pertains to some cities or counties who have their own pension programs.
Mr. Kesselring thanked everyone for coming to the meeting and called an end to the session.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 12:30 p.m.
welton cadwell, vice chairman
NEIL KELLY, CLERK