A Special MEETING OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
october 9, 2019
The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in a special Lake County Legislative Delegation session on Wednesday, October 9, 2019 at 10:00 a.m., at Lake-Sumter State College, Leesburg, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Leslie Campione, Chairman; Wendy Breeden, Vice Chairman; Timothy I. Sullivan; and Sean Parks. Others present at the meeting were: Senator Dennis Baxley; Representative Jennifer Sullivan; Representative Anthony Sabatini; Representative Brett Hage; Mr. Chris Carmody, lobbyist with GrayRobinson; and Josh Pearson, Deputy Clerk.
introductions and opening remarks
Commr. Campione thanked the Lake County Legislative Delegation for the chance to have this meeting.
Senator Dennis Baxley introduced his staff.
Representative Anthony Sabatini indicated that his staff would arrive shortly.
Commr. Sullivan commented that he represented Commission District 1 of the Lake County Board of County Commissioners (BCC) and that his district was from south Leesburg to Polk County; additionally, his district also touched Osceola, Orange and Sumter Counties and included the Green Swamp.
Commr. Breeden said that she represented Commission District 3 which included the City of Leesburg, the City of Tavares, the Town of Astatula, Yalaha, and the Lake Jem area. She mentioned that her district also touched Orange County through Lake Apopka.
Commr. Parks remarked that he represented Commission District 2 which included the City of Clermont, the City of Minneola, and the Town of Montverde; furthermore, it continued south to near the Four Corners area and touched west Orange County.
Commr. Campione shared that Commissioner Josh Blake’s district, Commission District 5, was located in north Lake County and included the City of Fruitland Park and the Town of Lady Lake, continuing east to the City of Umatilla and Astor. She then stated that she represented Commission District 4 which included the City of Mount Dora, the City of Eustis, and the Wekiva area. She added that the BCC ran at-large and that they tried to be engaged in all parts of the county.
lake county’s top priorities for 2020 legislative session
Commr. Campione said that the first request was a public safety matter and that the Lake County Office of Fire Rescue had first responders with most being dual certified or dual trained, along with paramedics. She mentioned that they had advanced life support (ALS) stations so that they were the first responders to a scene, and an ambulance could follow if there was a medical situation. She commented that the Office of Fire Rescue responded to a fire once every 25 hours and served about 200,000 residents and businesses. She related that the County had overhauled the office to ensure that stations were in the right locations for the best possible coverage and response times when considering that rural areas made up a significant portion of the covered areas. She mentioned that the County now had automatic aid agreements with the cities so that the County was dispatching the closest unit. She elaborated that dispatch was now able to determine the priority of a call and locate the closest unit, and she shared that the upgrades included improving the dispatch system, rebuilding some of the County’s fire stations and placing them in better locations, and replacing some of the County’s fire trucks. She said that the County spent about $4 million in the past year but that they were short almost $2 million to supply self-contained breathing apparatuses (SCBAs). She explained that the County’s SCBAs were over 10 years old and were critical when responding to hazardous material calls, vehicular accidents with fires, and active fires. She asked for the legislative delegation’s assistance to make up for this amount of funding and indicated that the County had to suspend its active fire training as a result of not having the SCBAs. She felt that this would be a tremendous help for public safety.
Representative Sabatini asked if the priorities would be in order of importance.
Commr. Campione clarified that she grouped them as public safety first and that the next priority would be a combination of public safety, community education and economic development. She commented that this request was for a hurricane-proof multi-use facility which was also the County’s fairgrounds relocation project. She explained that this was part of an effort that had been ongoing for a few decades and that the Lake County Fair Board of Directors had wanted to move the fairgrounds to a larger and more central location. She relayed that there were issues with parking at the current site and with inclement weather preventing the use of the property. She indicated that the new property under consideration was owned by the County, backed up to the landfill, and was in the general location of where the County was constructing the new animal shelter; furthermore, they would be able to utilize parking areas and facilities for a dual purpose. She explained that once completed, it would be similar to an expo facility. She relayed her understanding that private entities that would be impacted were very supportive, such as Mission Inn Resort & Club and nearby hotels which would benefit from having an expo center there for large events. She commented that if the expo center was built as a hurricane-proof shelter, the County would be able to also use it as a special needs shelter during hurricane events. She stated that the county received many people from the coast and south Florida during evacuations; furthermore, in the past, Lake County had too few spaces for special needs individuals and had to pay the Lake County School District to assist with this. She felt that being able to place all of the special needs evacuees in one location would be a tremendous help, and she said that the County’s request was about half of the total cost. She thought that this project would likely cost around $25 million and indicated that the County would be selling the current fairground location to help fund this. She added that the County was considering funding sources such as tourist development taxes (TDTs) to support the expo side of the facility, along with penny sales tax funding. She stated that the shortfall would be for reinforcing and hardening the facility to be a shelter, and she related that an added benefit for a facility of this size was that it could be used for Lake County high school graduations. She elaborated that rain sometimes prevented high school graduations from being available to all family members due to the events being moved into small gymnasiums. She explained that classrooms could also be incorporated to accommodate American Red Cross training and Lake Technical College (Lake Tech). She then mentioned natural resources and water quality and commented that the first request for these items involved an issue in the Yalaha area. She explained that the Sun Eden subdivision had a lack of drainage treatment and that there were nutrients flushing into Lake Harris, standing water, and properties flooding. She said that the septic systems there were aging and that the County was looking to establish a self-imposed taxing district that the community wanted; furthermore, the community could be funding part of the improvements. She mentioned that the County was short about $1.5 million with $1 million being for the drainage and $500,000 being for the septic tanks. She indicated that the County would be asking the residents to contribute and would then give them a match on septic tank replacements that met either the performance based systems or systems that met the Springs Priority Focus Area criteria. She noted that the Lake County Water Authority (LCWA) Nutrient Reduction Facility (NuRF) was helping treat water from Lake Apopka but not what was already in the other lakes.
Representative Sabatini inquired if an issue had occurred regarding this item.
Commr. Campione said that the County had a land use case in the area and residents informed them of the drainage issues. She elaborated that staff had investigated the area and found that there was a significant issue affecting water quality and the residents. She mentioned that there were many springs in the area and that there was significant connectivity with issues affecting residents’ homes and the lake’s water quality.
Representative Sabatini asked that with all the frontage along the Harris Chain of Lakes, would this be the most significant drainage issue there. He expressed a concern for possibly ignoring another issue that was causing nitrates to go into the water somewhere else along the chain of lakes.
Commr. Campione expressed that for a number of years, the County had been working as a result from pressure from the federal government for the County to get the nutrient loads to a certain level on all of its lakes. She said that a number of the drainage basin issues had been addressed or were in the process of being addressed. She commented that the County was typically unaware of other cases until residents indicate that they have standing water or other issues. She then said that the County had another request to create a matching fund for residents within 660 feet of any named lake in the county, and she specified that the residents would possibly be able to contribute 50 percent of funding to replace their septic system. She felt that connecting to central sewer could be expensive and said that there were impact fees, connection fees, and possible annexation by cities. She opined that some residents would not want to do this and that there may be a lack of nearby sewer connections; however, they could potentially replace an old septic system with a newer system with enhanced treatment as accepted by the Florida Department of Health (DOH) that has been proven to reduce nutrient levels. She noted that in some cases, a drain field with a layer of woodchips could also be used with an existing system. She commented that this could be a pilot program and that the County was asking the legislative delegation to partner with them. She felt that with the lakes in Lake County and the challenge of connecting to central sewer, this could be a way to show residents that the County was attempting to address water quality issues. She then mentioned that the County treated hydrilla each year through the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) who partnered with the County to complete the work. She recalled that two years prior, the FWC received $4.2 million to treat hydrilla and that they only received $2.4 million in the previous year. She thought that there was a significant hydrilla outbreak in the county as a result of Hurricane Irma, and stated that the County was receiving reports from boaters indicating that they could not navigate the water bodies. She said that the County had reviewed the affected areas and requested that $7.5 million be included in the FWC budget to treat all of the affected areas for hydrilla throughout the Harris Chain of Lakes and Lake County. She hoped that they could return to normal funding in the subsequent years and noted that if this was not done now, the hydrilla could increase and grow at an exponential rate.
Representative Sabatini said that this was not unprecedented and that about 10 years prior, Osceola County’s chain of lakes received $10 million for hydrilla treatment and they only had to spend about $1 million per year since then to maintain the hydrilla.
Commr. Campione said that much of the county’s ecotourism was connected to the use of the lakes and that bass tournaments had returned to the county. She expressed a concern for individuals navigating the lakes during the tournaments and she said that she would appreciate the legislative delegation’s assistance with obtaining FWC funding for this issue. She commented that the next requests were statutory changes and that the first pertained to the Right to Farm Act. She explained that Lake County was supportive of agriculture but that there were instances where she opined the act had been manipulated to allow individuals to engage in mining activities without proper approvals and regulations. She explained that in Lake County, individuals were allowed to excavate as long as they left the material on their property; however, taking the material off the property was technically mining. She elaborated that individuals had dug large borrow pits and she relayed her understanding that the mining industry was displeased with this due to having to follow regulations such as not impacting adjoining wells, adhering to setbacks, and having traffic on the site only at certain times of the day. She added that Lake County had an ordinance which required a tipping fee to assist with damage to the roads, and she felt that residents were concerned because roads were being impacted with dirt or damage due to large trucks coming and going from a site. She felt that this issue was occurring with agricultural operations which had not come to fruition. She said that the County had suggested language for the legislative delegation which could limit the activity leading up to an agricultural use so that they could ensure that it was a legitimate preparation of a site as opposed to a mining activity.
Senator Baxley asked if the County had done anything by ordinance to address this issue. He also inquired if she was referring to sand mining.
Commr. Campione clarified that they were preempted by state law and were not allowed to modify the Right to Farm Act. She said that the issue was the mining of sand, dirt and clay.
Commr. Sullivan felt that the construction in Central Florida had made dirt very lucrative. He then departed the meeting at 10:34 a.m.
Commr. Campione mentioned that one operation that the County was having issues with was in the Wekiva River Basin and that there was a large pit there on Walkabout Ranch Road.
Representative Sabatini questioned if this was the first time the issue had been observed or if it was a continued trend.
Commr. Campione thought that they would continue to see it. She relayed that representatives from the mining industry had indicated to her that they were seeing this issue across the state. She then said that the next request concerned medical marijuana and she indicated her understanding that growing marijuana occurred in agricultural districts and fell under the Right to Farm Act. She mentioned that the County was only allowed to permit them from the standpoint of basic building code requirements and fire safety, and she said that any requirements for setbacks, noise and light were not allowed. She mentioned that there was a facility on County Road (CR) 44A which had been an issue and which had security cameras around the property due to law, but they were focused on residents’ properties. She felt that nothing could be done locally and she hoped that the statute could be changed to give some control back to local governments for items such as noise, light and setbacks. She added that the County also could not require a turn lane if there was a facility with many employees and significant activity. She opined that there could be pushback to local governments possibly being able to eliminate the facilities through zoning; therefore, she indicated an openness to language that would limit the types of restrictions that the County could put in place for buffers or decibel levels. She also thought that while nothing could be done about odors, buffers could help mitigate this. She said that the County could provide proposed language to the legislative delegation’s offices.
Representative Jennifer Sullivan said that she had heard from constituents about this issue and that she had spoken to the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture about it. She thought that there were some actions that the Florida Commissioner of Agriculture’s office could take and stated that this item was a priority for her.
Commr. Campione thought that if it was established that the facilities had to be a certain number of feet from a residential use, they would have to internalize some of their operation and place a buffer on their own property.
Commr. Breeden inquired if there was a familiarity with what created the noise.
Commr. Campione indicated that it was a dehumidifying system and thought that if it was built into the building at the beginning, they could internalize it and reduce the noise. She said that the location that the County was experiencing issues with had brought the dehumidifiers in later and tried to retrofit them, but they continued to generate significant noise. She then began discussing the next request and explained that when the Central Florida Expressway Authority (CFX) was established from the Orange County Expressway Authority to include Lake, Seminole, Osceola and Brevard Counties, Lake County was the only county with a provision indicating that any tollways built in the county under CFX had to first be approved by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT). She speculated that this was done because Florida’s Turnpike was in Lake County and that there may have been previous conflicts between CFX and FDOT; however, she thought that these conflicts had been resolved. She asked for this to be addressed so that Lake County would be treated similarly to other counties. She mentioned that the Lake-Orange County Connector was on the agenda tomorrow at the CFX Board meeting and that staff was recommending approval; however, Lake County had to obtain FDOT’s approval for CFX to proceed with that project. She said that this project would connect State Road (SR) 27 to SR 429 at the Schofield Road exit. She felt that this was an important project for Lake County and that the Wellness Way Area Plan in South Lake was reliant on having these east-west connections; furthermore, this would be the first connection other than SR 50 and U.S. 192. She did not think that FDOT would withhold approval but expressed an interest in addressing the legislation. She commented that the County had proposed language which was prepared by CFX and could be passed on to the legislative delegation.
Representative Sabatini requested that the proposed language be sent to his office.
lake county’s other priorities for 2020 legislative session
Commr. Campione commented that Mr. Chris Carmody, lobbyist with GrayRobinson, was here to present the County’s second tier of priorities. She commented that these items were also important but that the County had divided its priorities.
Mr. Carmody commented that page 11 in the packet discussed a potential canal dredging project in the Lake Beauclair area in the Harris Chain of Lakes. He explained that this project was about reducing the nutrient daily load and that it could create recreational waterways and connections to the Harris Chain of Lakes.
Representative Sabatini inquired how the dredging affected the daily load of nitrates.
Mr. Carmody relayed his understanding that the dredging would allow for better flow of the water and the nutrients.
Commr. Campione mentioned that propellers could churn up water and nutrients at the bottom of the canals. She added that even if the water coming from Lake Apopka was clean, these nutrients would be sitting at the bottom. She indicated an understanding that there were residents who wanted to assist with this and she said that it could be a partnership where the residents could contribute funding to dredge their canals.
A representative from Senator Kelli Stargel’s office asked if these were private canals.
Commr. Campione clarified that it was a combination of public and private canals and that the right of way of the canals would be dedicated to the public as part of a special assessment program so that the County could engage in dredging.
Mr. Carmody then mentioned that page 12 of the packet concerned the South Lake Regional Park. He explained that the County had made a significant investment in this project and that this request would connect the park to potable water and wastewater to allow for further development and events. He said that this project could assist with a current shortage of ballparks in Lake County, quality of life, and economic development. He then stated that pages 13 and 14 of the packet discussed trails and that a mile trail between the Ferndale Preserve and Lake Apopka could be used by ecotourists. He also related that the Green Mountain Connector Trail could connect parts of Lake Apopka with other areas in Lake County and the Florida Coast-to-Coast Connector Trail.
Representative Sullivan asked what portion of the Ferndale Preserve project would be funded by the County’s $1.5 million request.
Mr. Bobby Bonilla, Director for the Office of Parks and Trails, said that the project was shovel ready, and Commissioner Campione stated that this would be for the actual construction of the trail.
Commr. Breeden thought that this would also be funding some lakeside amenities.
Mr. Bonilla elaborated that structures would be built on the lakefront and the connection between the parking lot and the structures needed to be an Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant trail system. He said that this would allow for restorations to continue and to supply prescribed burns. He added that there would be a precast concrete system on the trail that would be elevated and allow wildlife to navigate the area.
Mr. Carmody relayed that the next request was to find funding to continue the alignment of SR 50 in the City of Groveland. He shared that FDOT recently found about $7.5 or $8 million to begin the right of way acquisition process, and he indicated an interest in the legislative delegation advocating for this item with FDOT or finding funding projects at the state level.
Commr. Breeden added that this project concentrated on the roadway and was also critical in connecting the Florida Coast-to-Coast Connector Trail.
Mr. Carmody mentioned a request concerning the State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program (SHIP) and for the Sadowski Trust Fund to be fully funded, along with a request for full funding for the State Aid to Libraries Operating Grant.
Senator Baxley requested a one page document listing the desired projects by their priority level. He also asked for assistance from Mr. Carmody to determine which request each member of the legislative delegation could be involved with.
wrap up information
Mr. Carmody felt that Lake County had a great legislative delegation and he said that he appreciated their time.
Commr. Parks shared that for the upgrading of septic tanks to higher performance criteria, there were some newer technologies in the industry that the state was not permitting yet. He thought that they could be cost effective solutions.
Representative Sullivan expressed a concern that these technologies were not being allowed and relayed that her office had contacted the state about this. She felt that it had a created a gridlock and a price increase.
Commr. Campione asked if this would be through the DOH, and Representative Sullivan confirmed that the DOH performed the permitting. Commissioner Campione then inquired how to address this with DOH.
Representative Sullivan said that most of the legislators that she had spoken with were aware of this issue. She noted that there was a new governor but relayed a concern that the septic sub-department in DOH had a gridlock on this issue.
Commr. Breeden inquired about the BCC potentially sending a letter to the DOH and copying the governor.
Representative Sullivan thought that this would be a great start. She also relayed her understanding that the Board would be in the City of Tallahassee and thought that having more elected officials at the table would be better.
Representative Sabatini encouraged the Board to approve a resolution regarding this technology.
Senator Baxley said that part of this process would be identifying which part of the budget that each of the County’s requests were in and if any of the requests were such that the legislative delegation could possibly get an agency to place them inside their budget rather than making a request, along with communicating directly with an effective agency.
Mr. Carmody said that the County was trying to have conversations with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) regarding septic tanks and hydrilla. He stated that the County would also be in support of an opportunity to increase this funding.
Senator Baxley asked that if the County was trying to move residents from septic systems to sewer, would they go back and build better septic tanks.
Commr. Campione clarified that the County wanted to improve septic systems.
Senator Baxley expressed a concern that this policy may be in conflict with individuals who want to connect to sewer. He felt that these points would have to be made with the DEP.
Commr. Campione indicated an understanding that the St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD) currently had a program for upgrading septic systems if a resident was within a certain distance of a class one spring. She proposed possibly taking that program and expanding it.
Representative Sullivan said that they could mention this to DOH and she felt that it could be cheaper to install woodchips and redo a drainage field than to spend $20,000 to move the system.
Commr. Campione asked if there was a chance that some Sadowski Trust Fund money could be placed back into the SHIP program.
Representative Sabatini thought that it could be $45 or $60 million which would be better than the year before.
Commr. Campione expressed a concern for the funds once they were divided up proportionally per population. She opined that there was much that the County could do to assist with the affordable housing crisis and address housing needs in the county if they had their full share of the funding. She thought that significant progress could be made on this issue in a few years with the funding.
Representative Sabatini opined that there would still be an affordable housing crisis in the State of Florida even if the Sadowski Trust Fund was fully funded. He added that there were regulations and that many people were coming into the state.
Commr. Campione suggested possibly targeting the at-risk population that the County could not find housing for. She elaborated that these individuals were working but could not afford a house.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 10:58 a.m.
leslie campione, chairman
GARY J COONEY, CLERK