A Special MEETING OF THE BOARD OF COUNTY COMMISSIONERS
february 16, 2021
The Lake County Board of County Commissioners met in a special session on Tuesday, February 16, 2021 at 9:00 a.m., at the Tavares Pavilion on the Lake, Tavares, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Sean Parks, Chairman; Kirby Smith, Vice Chairman; Doug B. Shields; Leslie Campione; and Josh Blake. Others present were: Alan Rosen, County Manager; Melanie Marsh, County Attorney; Jo-Anne Drury, Deputy County Manager; John Molenda, Deputy County Manager; Jennifer Barker, Executive Director of Administrative Services; Niki Booth, Executive Office Manager, County Manager’s Office; Kristy Mullane, Chief Financial Officer; and Kathleen Bregel, Deputy Clerk.
Welcome and pledge of allegiance
Commr. Parks welcomed everyone to the meeting, and mentioned that this was an important meeting for the Board of County Commissioners (BCC) because as like any good organization, they wanted to take time to step back, look at who they were, reevaluate their goals and where they were going, and consider what could be done to improve the County’s services. He then led the Pledge of Allegiance.
purpose, goals and audience activity
Commr. Parks expressed appreciation to all the many City elected officials and County staff for attending the meeting, and indicated that this Board retreat would have a different format than other meetings, would incorporate audience input, and would have a moderator to lead the discussions since there were two new County Commissioners as well as a new County Manager. He thanked the City of Tavares for assisting with the use of the Tavares Pavilion on the Lake. He then introduced the meeting moderator, Ms. Monica Wofford, who was a Lake County resident, had been seen on CNN and Fox News channels, had trained audiences in all 50 states and 32 countries, and started her firm, Contagious Companies, Inc., 18 years prior with a focus on leadership. He specified that in the spirit of uncovering and reaching for all that they wanted in Lake County, the BCC brought Ms. Wofford in to facilitate how the County proposed to move forward. He relayed that Meetings and Conventions magazine called Ms. Wofford one of their favorite business speakers, that Ms. Wofford was also the author of seven books, and that she sat on the same number of local boards in the Lake County area.
Ms. Wofford explained that this would be a different style of retreat, and would result in action. She expressed that it was an honor to be asked to participate in this meeting, and to be among so many elected officials and leaders in the community. She mentioned that she had moved to Lake County 23 years ago, and talked about how the county had changed through the years and had experienced growth. She remarked that leadership currently was about building better partnerships, and was the reason so many had gathered at this meeting. She specified that the reason for this retreat was to focus on where they wanted to go as a county collectively, and that they would review some of the larger categories and priorities already established by many of the leaders; additionally, they would begin to examine how to make progress in these areas. She explained that all audience members would have a chance to participate in this exercise, and to work together on determining the county’s forward momentum and progress. She noted that there would be no official votes taken at this meeting; rather, there would be input from everyone in attendance with a formal debrief from the County Commissioners. She explained that there were various topics posted around the room, and that everyone would have the opportunity to share ideas in each of these areas. She commented that after these collaborative efforts regarding each topic, they would then examine the differences in how individuals communicate, how individuals manage conflict, the way individuals might disagree, and how these differences affect their messaging. She indicated that they would conclude by hearing the Commissioners’ thoughts on each of the topics. She then explained how the process would work, and addressed the guidelines of the Sunshine Law which would allow the Commissioners to observe the participants in the exercise but not engage in conversations regarding the topics. She shared that the topics to consider included public safety, intergovernmental coordination, quality of life, legal, budget, facilities, strategic planning, education, economic development, housing and homelessness, communications, emergency response, and growth management.
The audience then participated in an exercise through which they provided ideas, actions, goals and outcomes that they desired on the various topics posted around the room.
categories of focus for improvements and progress
Ms. Wofford regathered those in attendance, and asked for the group by each topic area to choose a leader to report the highlights of their topic. The groups then reported as follows:
Housing and Homelessness
Mr. Kelvin Coachman, Director for the Office of Housing and Human Services, shared the highlights for Housing and Homelessness as follows: resolve homelessness by giving help, removing barriers, and providing resources; have a collaborative approach on how to serve the homeless; educate the public; help find affordable housing; stop mobile home park owners from taking advantage of seniors; get involved with homeless advocacies as well as attainable and affordable housing groups; find ways of funding for initiatives; and build a homeless shelter.
Mr. Levar Cooper, Director for the Office of Communications, mentioned that their comments primarily centered around educating the community on the different resources available through local government, strengthening the relationship between government and communities, educating the public on how government worked, improving the County website as far as consistencies and redundancies, and communications training for liaisons in strategic offices.
Mr. Tim McClendon, Director for the Office of Planning and Zoning, commented that many of the growth management items dealt with sprawl issues, and included the following suggestions: having the County work closely with the Cities regarding road network inputs, quality development, and the type of uses occurring; not giving approvals until the levels of service were funded; and to stop approving high density next to rural type settings.
Mr. Brandon Matulka, Executive Director for the Agency for Economic Prosperity, shared that the group discussed how all of the other topics directly or indirectly affect economic development. He mentioned that some of their top priorities included the following: increasing the amount of highly skilled employees; supporting business clusters with high wage jobs, including at home businesses; needing it to be easier to do business in Lake County and getting the Cities, the County, and other supporting organizations to work together in order to make this happen; the importance of roads and trails, both new and extensions, for economic development especially in recruitment of businesses; including Cities and other organizations in updating the economic action plan; and eliminating barriers for growth for existing businesses.
Ms. Sherri Owens, with Lake County Schools, remarked that this group was quite diverse and had broad perspectives. She relayed that their discussions revolved around having increased access to quality Pre-K programs, equity among underrepresented diverse student populations, encouraging students to take advantage of career and technical education opportunities in order to prepare more students for jobs, increasing the number of students completing post-secondary education, and having the community advisory boards partner with education.
Ms. Allison Teslia, Director for the Office of Management and Budget, stated that comments for this topic included the desire for rollback rates to not be a way of life, right sizing the budget, differentiate between county needs and wants with needs being funded first and wants being postponed before raising taxes, fund more stormwater retrofit projects from stormwater assessments, find creative ways to fund roads, and consider minimum wage implementation as well as turnover compensation.
Mr. Wes Jones, Director for the Office of Facilities Management, commented that they had four items which were quite broad and included proactive maintenance and replacement, energy efficiency, security, and infrastructure renovation and upgrade. He noted that all of these overlapped and tied into the infrastructure renovation and upgrade, noting that his office maintained approximately 170 locations throughout the county.
Mr. Jim Kovacs, Director for the Office of Human Resources and Risk Management, remarked that legal was important to all County departments, and mentioned that there was a diverse group of departments contributing to this topic. He relayed that they identified Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) compliance, Information Technology (IT) security and ransomware, and statutory compliance as the three most important items, with contract management and timely updating of ordinances also listed.
Mr. Al Minner, Leesburg City Manager, commented that this group had several city managers within it, and that their focus was to find common service levels, put emergency medical services (EMS) and dispatch under their own governing board, have a regional approach, consider alignment of services, communicate, support common goals, and work on road transfers.
Ms. Wofford summarized that these were all significant areas and issues, even those topics which were not presented, and that they were for the enhancement of all of Lake County. She then had participants return to their seats.
Ms. Wofford had each audience member complete a core snapshot assessment and then provided information on the general core attributes of the commander, organizer, entertainer, and relater personalities. She stressed the impacts these differences can have when getting work done, communicating, working together, and handling issues under stress.
recess and reassembly
The group took a recess at 10:20 a.m. for 15 minutes.
Commr. Parks thanked Mr. John Drury, Tavares City Manager, for allowing the group to utilize the facility.
Mr. Drury congratulated the new County Manager and thanked him for introducing a new process at this meeting; additionally, he expressed appreciation to all the city managers and others who took time to be in attendance at the meeting. He shared an example of how the City of Tavares had performed something similar to this 15 years prior, through which they involved many residents, and the City changed from “Tavares - Anytime USA” to “Tavares - America’s Seaplane City,” noting that manufacturing, hotels and facilities such as this were the result. He thought this process would lead to new things, and commended the County Commissioners for letting the new County Manager do something different, and for allowing all the leaders present to participate.
Commr. Parks mentioned that this would be informal, and then asked for each Commissioner to share their priorities.
Commr. Shields thanked everyone for welcoming him as one of the new Commissioners, and remarked that what struck him during his entrance briefings and meetings with all the divisions was how entrepreneurial everyone was. He relayed that he kept hearing that the County did not have money. He commented that he was a business person, and that he had heard there were approximately 1,000 people moving into the State of Florida daily. He indicated that if he was running his company and had a huge demand for his product, which he said in the county’s case was houses, and if they did not have any money, then he opined he was running a bad business. He said that there was a big demand for housing, and opined that the County was not broke. He also thanked the City of Groveland for building a park in their area since the County did not have the funding to accomplish it. He commented that it seemed like the issues in this meeting were great and he did not disagree with any of them; however, a lot of them would need funding, and the County needed to figure out how to get the budget the County needed in order to fix some of these issues. He indicated that he was not prepared to provide an answer at this point; rather, that it was something they needed to discuss and develop some solutions for. He relayed that one of the reasons he ran for office was because of the development going on in the Green Swamp in the southwest corner of Lake County, and he wanted to try to listen to his constituents to see if that area could be preserved and not developed, noting this was one of his big issues. He mentioned that he also represented the Four Corners area, and shared that he and Commissioner Parks met with about 20 people from that area. He opined that there were a lot of issues in that area, that it grew without planning, that there were all types of things to solve, and that he thought there were close to 30,000 people in that area currently, noting that this area also went into three other counties. He said he was not sure if they should make a separate plan for the Four Corners area similar to what they were doing with Wellness Way, or roll it into Wellness Way; however, in either case, people needed services from the County. He specified that parks and trails were a big thing for him, and he agreed with the comments from that group that parks and trails was a giant economic driver. He shared an example of a family member who looked to buy a house that was on a trail; furthermore, he opined that Chief Executive Officers (CEOs) come into town while on vacation, and if they see beautiful parks and trails, then they consider living and moving their business here, especially since so many were working remotely due to coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) and could live wherever they wanted. He thought that green building habits was probably something the County should be looking at, and something they could encourage within the County codes, noting that he used solar for his home and that it helps in the event of an emergency when electricity is out.
Commr. Smith thanked everyone for being part of the day’s meeting and processes. He shared that he had been on the Tavares City Council prior to coming to the County Commission, and hoped that he could bring some knowledge and assistance to the County to make it better for everybody. He stated that one of the platforms he ran on was economic development as he believed that it was paramount to everything that Commissioner Shields had discussed. He commented that the County had an economic development team, that each City had some sort of an economic team within their own communities, and that it was important for the County to work with each City to improve their economic development; furthermore, it took several things to get companies into the community such as water, sewer, roads, parks, hospitals, and libraries. He remarked that municipalities had the water and sewer but also had roads, parks and libraries; therefore, the County needed to work with each City to make it better as all the Cities were Lake County, noting that everyone was here to serve all of Lake County and not just one certain area. He thought it was important to focus on economic development and to try to get good, high paying businesses in the county in order to enhance the community. He mentioned that they could do that through automation, noting that the City of Tavares had a great automation program through which anyone who sees a pothole can take a picture of it and send the coordinates of the pothole to the maintenance team who then goes out to fix it. He opined this was efficiency, and that the county needed to be efficient, productive, and fix their roads; furthermore, roads would be a big item this year for everybody as the Cities and County were struggling. He said they needed to consider how they could maintain and enhance the county’s roads without raising the taxes so high that no one could afford to live there. He stated that workforce housing was also a big issue, and he believed that if someone was a firefighter, teacher, nurse, paramedic or emergency medical technician (EMT), then one should be able to live in Lake County; therefore, the county needed to have sustainable, workforce housing, noting that maybe a private-public partnership could assist with this. He concluded that everyone was here at this meeting to brainstorm and come up with ideas that the county could move forward with.
Commr. Parks shared a story about how he would occasionally speak at civics classes at South Lake and East Ridge High Schools, and that he would ask the students how many of them planned on staying in Lake County. He indicated that in the three to five years he had done this, only one student would raise their hand to indicate they would actually stay in Lake County; however, recently he had learned while talking to his daughters’ friends, this response was changing and students were telling him that they were interested in living in Lake County. He commented that what was important to him in serving was what the community was and what it would be for generations to come; furthermore, he saw success as a Commissioner as leaving the community better so that generations would choose to live here and those who grew up here, stayed here. He opined that while what was happening nationally may not be working well, what Lake County had, which was the ability for him to talk to a city manager or city elected official, was something that would work. He indicated this was something he wanted the County Commission to work on, and thought they had good success in the past with open dialogue with the Cities, Chambers of Commerce, the business community, constituents and residents; furthermore, it was important for the BCC to encourage participation from the Cities and other agencies such as the Lake County Water Authority (LCWA) or St. Johns River Water Management District (SJRWMD), and getting people to feel comfortable to participate in their county government. He thought a big part of this would be to support the Office of Communications team who would be able to show through communication messages the value that the County can provide through what they do as well as what is not the County’s job to do, noting that Lake County was the lowest tax county out of the surrounding seven counties. He commented that they needed to promote Real Florida, Real Close, promote what the Cities were doing, and work together through communications to get people more engaged and knowledgeable on County budgets so that they could speak factually and provide input to the BCC. He stated that he was a big believer in local government, and that was something he thought was important. He indicated that he had similar priorities as mentioned, such as economic development and prosperity and having an environment which was conducive, particularity to an entrepreneur or student who wants to stay in Lake County and start their business, as well as being attractive to relocations of companies. He relayed that he was customer driven, believed in metrics on customer satisfaction and assessing where the County stands, and that he did not want anyone to leave the County Administration Building with frustrations. He understood that it would not be perfect, but that they should strive to have the ultimate customer experience. He said that the quality of life was a part of being attractive to families, that they would need to address water quality, and that the issues of septic tanks would need to be addressed, noting that they might need to go to higher performing septic tanks in unincorporated areas in order to protect water resources. He also wanted to work with the LCWA on stormwater projects in partnership with the Cities. He commented that for growth management, he and Commissioner Shields faced the reality of the City of Orlando coming into their area, but they did not want Lake County to be like the City of Orlando; rather, they wanted the identities of “Real Florida, Real Close,” Clermont “Choice of Champions,” Groveland “City with Natural Charm,” etc. to be protected. He stated that the Green Swamp was extremely important to him, and opined that there were areas where they would grow, such as Wellness Way, and areas, such as rural wildlife corridors, where they would not grow like they were in Wellness Way. He remarked that from a planning standpoint, coming up with policies would be important in the coming year in order to promote that. He also mentioned attainable housing, and expressed his excitement for the comprehensive economic development committee that had been formed through the nonprofit organization; furthermore, he wanted the County to continue to support the attainable housing initiatives, noting that there were currently some action items that they needed to follow up on and support in the coming year. He opined that they would need to think outside of the box for roads, and reported that roads were not funded out of the General Fund but were strictly out of penny sales tax and gas tax funding. He thought they might need to come up with some creative ideas such as municipal service benefit units (MSBUs), ways to work with Cities on hotspots, or consider utilizing the Capital Facilities Advisory Committee from about 10 years prior which put together a portfolio of options that could be incorporated.
Commr. Shields remarked that another item that struck him as a new Commissioner was how different the county was from the south to the north of the county; therefore, some of the issues were different so the solutions might be different.
Commr. Parks also mentioned that the budget was extremely important, particularly the reserves.
Commr. Campione commented how different this Board retreat was from previous ones since she had been on the County Commission, and she expressed her appreciation for the city elected officials, city managers, and educators who were present to discuss the county’s future, their common issues, problems that needed to be solved, and their aspirations. She opined this was a positive way to start, although she noted that it was merely a start as the problems and challenges they had experienced were getting more complicated and difficult. She said that on one hand everyone seemed to agree that economic development was important; however, on the other hand they had residential growth pressures like they had never seen before in Lake County. She thought that overall, the desire was to maintain the quality of life of Lake County, and to maintain the character; furthermore, how to meet the demands on transportation, the demands on schools, keep the character intact, enhance and improve the character, and then become a place that has job opportunities for young people and a place that attracts good quality jobs meant there was a lot to work through. She knew that many had been discussing these items for a long time, but stated they really needed to focus on some key things such as transportation. She said that they needed to figure out how to grow, knowing that the Cities were the water and sewer providers; furthermore, one of her big concerns was that infrastructure be strategically placed in locations that made sense, and thought this needed to be considered in the big picture of how to maintain the quality of life and protect the county’s character. She expressed an interest to have discussions about this with the Cities, and how the County could leverage what the Cities were able to do that the County could not do, but at the same time being smart about how these things were done. She opined that as the county grew and more subdivisions were built, then the roads, congestion, safety issues, etc. would only be compounded; additionally, if they did not work together on transportation issues, then they were setting themselves up for serious problems moving forward. She relayed that the Commissioners had put together their list of priorities, and that the lists seemed monumental as there were so many things happening in the county, such as public safety and the question of how to provide services more efficiently and more effectively; furthermore, they had to consider cost and not do it in such a way that they did not price out of the market the people who already lived there or create burdens on residents so that they could not afford all the County wanted to do. She remarked that if they wanted to get these things done, then they needed to figure out a way to do them more efficiently. She commented that this might mean that some priorities that were high before might need to be reduced and that things might need to shift; additionally, she thought they needed to review how services were being delivered within the cities and countywide, and to look for ways that Cities and the County could save so that other issues could be solved, such as transportation. She indicated that her overarching goals included: how to keep property taxes intact but still provide quality, effective services; how to protect against cost of living increases; how to preserve and enhance the quality of life in Lake County, which could be anything from job opportunities, low crime, dependable public safety, access to healthcare, education, transportation, recreation, protecting and improving water quality, noting that the county’s lakes were one of its greatest resources; and how to preserve the small town charm, downtown districts, rural character, and agriculture uses. She summarized that those were her primary items that she then addressed into many of the items already discussed, such as putting housing in the right location and helping housing be more affordable and attainable. She opined that there were housing needs and the county was struggling to meet the needs for those who currently lived here; therefore, how could they attract companies to come into the county. She indicated that she had made a list of items within her district which were high priorities due to problems that needed to be solved, such as illegal sand mining. She specified that animal services was also a big priority for her over the last several years, and she expressed excitement for the new animal shelter that would be opening. She wanted this to continue to be a priority because it was something that brought the whole community together, was a value that everyone shared regardless of where they were within the political spectrum, and was something that was done countywide. She opined that was a great example of good intergovernmental coordination and community involvement.
Commr. Blake mentioned that he was the Commissioner for District 5, which was the northern area of Lake County, and included the Cities of Fruitland Park and Umatilla, the Town of Laky Lake, and Astor; furthermore, he had just started his second term. He reiterated that these goals workshops were an opportunity for the Commissioners to discuss what was realistically possible. He commented that the pandemic had shifted his focus on issues that he had seen play out across the country, with one being the realization that pandemics were possible and the need to have strategic personal protective equipment (PPE) reserves, for example; furthermore, one thing that he had focused on and wanted to work on this term was the County’s emergency operations plan. He opined that while things were remarkably smooth here with generally restrained and conservative local government in the area, he had seen a lot of abuse that took place across the country in areas where there was a lot of overreach. He mentioned that he had met with Ms. Melanie Marsh, County Attorney, and one item which he desired to bring to the Commission looking forward was changes to the emergency operations procedure, noting that he thought things had been handled well in the area but thought moving forward there was the chance they could have different leadership who might take things beyond what he thought was practical. He indicated that in terms of the local emergency procedures, they were written primarily with hurricanes in mind as that was typically the State of Florida’s emergency; however, with the recognition of what a modern day pandemic looked like, and when there were issues with curfew, such as what happened in the State of Michigan, there was the potential to have abuse of power if one person is given the ability to make decisions. He opined that those types of decisions needed to come to the full Board for a vote, whether in the form of an emergency meeting or virtual meeting; additionally, he had the same opinion in regards to emergency operations spending powers. He relayed that he was surprised to learn that there was no cap on emergency spending in Lake County, which he said was fine if a county had responsible people, which he noted Lake County did; however, he thought in the future it was important to review these types of things before they were an issue and perhaps place a spending cap on the emergency spending powers that the Chairman of an organization could make and require that to come to the Board. He indicated that Ms. Marsh had begun to draft some of these items which would still need to be discussed at a Board meeting. He agreed with the road situation already mentioned, and one specific area he wanted to address was making sure they had enough full time employees (FTEs) in the road maintenance department as he thought that if a local government could not handle roads properly, then there was not much else that would go well since this was a core function of government as one cannot get to a park unless the roads are in good shape. He stated that something he did not realize was that when infrastructure sales tax was reauthorized, the proportion of the funding which was going to roads decreased, as it used to be 50 percent but when it was reauthorized, it decreased to somewhere under a third. He said that was one issue regarding how the infrastructure sales tax funding is spent, and he thought more of it needed to go to roads. He reiterated his thoughts to prioritize funding to make sure they were handling the core function of government correctly, noting that he understood there were some open positions in this department. He mentioned that another issue he had was regarding setback requirements for wetlands and how Lake County differed from some of the surrounding jurisdictions. He relayed that when he ran for his first campaign, he was focused on making it easier for small businesses to get started, survive and thrive in Lake County. He opined that what had happened during the last year was horrific for small businesses; however, some of the things they were able to accomplish the previous year were items such as getting rid of the local business tax and dock permits, noting that prior to this people had to ask the government for permission, and pay the government in order to replace some wood on their dock, which he opined was unnecessary. He expressed a desire to focus more on items such as this that did not make sense for the government to be involved in. He shared that also in this category of items, he would place the roughly 30 pages of landscape regulations in the Land Development Regulations (LDRs) as he considered that too much, noting that this was not because he did not appreciate the beauty of landscaping; rather, he thought the market would naturally work that out with a minimum level and it did not need to take up 30 pages within the Lake County Code. He relayed that his last item was the housing situation, which he recalled had been discussed since his first term; furthermore, this included not only attainable housing but the housing shortage across the board. He opined that what happens was when a development comes forward, the “not in my backyard” (NIMBY) instinct takes over for those in the vicinity, and it can end up being governance by whoever has the most power who ends up getting what they want. He shared that he wanted to address the concept of pocket neighborhoods, which he said was a term coined by an architect in the Seattle, Washington area who had done some great projects. He recalled that Mr. Kent Adcock, President and CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Lake-Sumter, had given the BCC a presentation on cottage housing and how there was a transition away from the mansion culture to more practical housing alternatives. He explained that the pocket neighborhood was such that there might be a development on 12 acres or less, that there was higher density, that there were smaller parcels, and it was not as big of an imposition on the neighbors who might not have the NIMBY response that a larger planned unit development (PUD) might have. He added that as part of this, the BCC had also requested an alternative impact fee study which would look at the 1,000 square foot cottage housing, and what impact they might have on the school system for example. He indicated that the impact in the Seattle, Washington area was de minimis, and opined that the people looking for this type of housing were the ones Lake County wanted to cater to, such as the young professionals without a family and just starting out, or the empty nesters who come to the county. He relayed that as far as the school impact fee, it could take off about $10,000 in fees and would do a lot to reduce the cost of housing, as well as streamline the process for the smaller pocket neighborhoods.
Commr. Campione shared a few things that came to her mind as she was listening to Commissioner Blake, and commented that in regards to landscape requirements, she thought that frequently in commercial developments, if a minimum is not set, then there will not be any, noting that she and Commissioner Parks had experience from working in the field with developers. She thought the focus should be on simplifying and not eliminating; additionally, maybe it was merely too complicated and a better way needed to be determined. She understood that some developers may do it correctly; however, there would be others who would do the bare minimum, noting that they were used to having to comply with the local regulations. She said that regarding the NIMBY housing issue, she liked the idea of the pocket neighborhoods; additionally, she thought that infill was critical and was an area they could work better with the Cities. She relayed that they had attempted to perform some infill programs through which the County tried to come up with ways to waive school impact fees. She said if they could team up with the Cities so that they could possibly waive the water and sewer impact fees for a set number per year, and if they really focused on doing some of the pocket type infill projects which would cater to the younger generation to be closer to downtown districts, then there might be something there that they might be able to build upon. She opined that it was all about location; furthermore, while the county needed attainable housing, they needed to be careful because many of the templates for the higher density would merely clear cut the land and put a subdivision in such that the county then looked like anywhere else in the state. She thought they needed to find a way to keep this from happening.
Commr. Parks said he agreed with those comments; additionally, regarding the landscaping simplification, something to focus on this year would be the issue of subdivisions that come into unincorporated Lake County. He remarked that they should have some criteria in place so that they would be able to have more certainty regarding what they get, and so that the developer knows upfront what the County was asking for. He opined this might be stricter, but would be more predictable for the developer and would save some issues and give assurance to what type of community the county would get.
Commr. Smith opined that the pocket neighborhood idea was fantastic, and shared that the City of Umatilla had already done that with veterans housing, noting that he thought millennials who were just starting out wanted a smaller house with a smaller yard. He commented that one item he forgot to mention earlier which was important to him was education. He expressed a desire to see technical education within the high schools as not everyone was desiring to go to college; additionally, as students graduated, he wanted them to have a viable opportunity to obtain a job which paid well so they could then become productive in society. He wanted educational opportunities, technical schools, and partnering with electricians, contractors, the colleges and high schools to be addressed.
question and comment period
The Chairman opened the floor for questions.
Chief Jim Dickerson, Director for the Office of Fire Rescue, mentioned that since the County had several plans, such as the ones in parks and trails, public safety, and housing, he suggested to have all of those plans in one place so that those relocating to Lake County could have a one-stop shop for these items, noting that it should be something brief to explain where these areas might be in the next five, ten or fifteen years.
Mr. Ron Hart, Executive Director for the Lake County Water Authority, opined that there were issues with the quality of water within the county that needed to be addressed. He explained that the Harris Chain of Lakes was fortunate to have improving water quality due to the vast programs that had been implemented to address the previous loadings; however, he said that as the population and the infrastructure increased, it also increased the loading of pollutants going into the lakes. He relayed that the Clermont Chain of Lakes was experiencing a decrease in water quality. He raised the question of how County Commissioners could balance the desire to attract more people into the county with the potential damage this could have on water quality.
Commr. Campione thought this would be an issue that they would benefit from collaborating with the County and the Cities, since much of the growth would be happening in the cities as opposed to the unincorporated areas. She shared that many individuals come before the BCC to express their concerns with deterioration of the lakes. She reiterated that this should be worked on together by the Cities, the County, the LCWA, and the SJRWMD.
Ms. Martha MacFarlane, Mayor for the Town of Howey-in-the-Hills, asked how to obtain more information in order to benefit from the efforts of other cities. She gave the example of the City of Umatilla’s success with pocket communities, the demand for housing, and the NIMBY mentality. She mentioned that some have developed a successful communication plan regarding this which she would like to leverage and utilize when her town is approached by developers desiring to place a development with smaller units in order to assist with successfully communicating to constituents.
Mr. Vance Jochim, a concerned citizen, pointed out the discussions regarding business leadership and attempting not to price out people in the county, noting that some cities had millage rates that were twice the rate as others. He suggested having a high level committee to research consolidating many services and to develop a long range plan.
An audience member thanked the BCC for allowing them to be able to hear about the various challenges the county was facing. He mentioned that as a pastor, he dealt with homelessness, and he inquired where the county was at in terms of the possibility to have a homeless shelter built in the area. He expressed concerns that a new animal shelter was built but a homeless shelter had not yet been done.
Commr. Campione remarked that this was a bigger discussion than merely this question; however, she relayed that they had done a lot of research and review of other communities in order to decide the best way to address homelessness in Lake County. She indicated that one thing she had learned through this process was that building an animal shelter was a very different scenario as animals were brought in, taken care of, and the end goal was to have them adopted. She said it was very different when talking about a homeless shelter. She indicated that the models that seemed to be working were the ones that met people where they were at while attempting to connect them to housing rather than putting them in a shelter and thinking that just because they were placed in a shelter meant that all of their problems would go away and they would be able to be sustainable on their own. She relayed that the County had begun work on a model called Housing First, along with the Mid Florida Homeless Coalition, so that social workers connected with people who needed housing, noting that the biggest issue in the county currently was that they did not have the in-between housing, or the place someone could reside while they were getting their feet on the ground and trying to move into more permanent housing. She stated that many other communities discovered that merely having a shelter where individuals could go for a night did not truly work, nor did it get these individuals where they ultimately needed to be; therefore, she reiterated that they needed something that was in-between. She relayed that one of the things some of the other communities did was to have units in which someone could be placed for a short period of time as they were also connected with a social worker or someone who could assist them. She reiterated that as far as placing everyone in one facility, that had shown in other areas to actually create more problems for the community as opposed to trying to do this such that people are met where they are at and connected to the services they need. She indicated that this process gets them off the street and sheltered but not in a big facility, noting that a shelter can often bring people into the community who were merely looking for a place to sleep, which also brought other problems with this approach. She stated that they were working on this issue but had more work to do.
Commr. Parks indicated that they were hoping to have an actual workshop dedicated to this in the near future.
Commr. Campione noted that they had also been working with The Salvation Army over the previous couple of years, and that there were some good things that had already been accomplished so far.
Commr. Parks recapped that the Board understood the seriousness of this issue, and that there would be more workshops to address it with the goal to do it the right way for the community.
Mr. David Colby, President of the South Lake Chamber of Commerce, thanked the BCC for listening over the previous year, and opined that the actions of this Commission had been significant for local business. He stressed how important it was over the previous year to keep businesses open, and to keep people working, noting that some neighboring counties did not do this. He also thanked the BCC for their input on the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding, and opined that the County did a great job administering it; furthermore, it was very meaningful for local businesses. He expressed appreciation for the County’s support of the growth of local businesses and for the Amazon and Kroger projects. He opined that this was significant and that those wages would be spent five to seven more times within the community. He was also grateful for what the BCC was doing in regards to workforce housing.
summary of commissioners’ top priorities
Ms. Wofford mentioned that this was just the beginning, and asked for each Commissioner to share their top priority.
Commr. Blake said he would start with the obvious one of protecting small businesses from any sort of negative impact or excessive taxation as they attempted to bounce back, noting this was a short term goal. He remarked that his long term goal over the length of his second term was to focus on the housing situation, and to try to create a separate zoning category.
Commr. Campione said that she had a hard time narrowing it down to one priority as she did not see how that could be done in county or local government because it would then appear that the other items were not as important. She commented that in looking at the challenges they were currently facing, she would say that intergovernmental collaboration and cooperation on housing issues would be at the top as she thought it could address a number of issues such as economic development, quality of life, and transportation.
Commr. Parks commented that the biggest issue for the BCC was that they would need to be innovative and imaginative, that this was where they needed to start, and that the solutions were within this room. He indicated that they would need to be innovative in order to not raise taxes; however, they needed to also build trails, noting that they might have to be imaginative to develop a plan in order to do this. He said that answer would rest with sharing the load with the Cities, that many answers were already there, and that a lot of people had already done some great work in the past that was available to them. He encouraged finding a way to get to yes instead of no, and to be persistent in doing so, noting that he thought the biggest issue as leaders in the community would be to get all of these other very important things done.
Commr. Campione agreed that trails were huge and went under the cooperation and collaboration topic.
Commr. Parks remarked that there were managers and leaders on both sides in the room, as well as those who supported them, and that it was important to have an environment for them that was imaginative and innovative to help get that done.
Commr. Smith thanked everyone for being at the meeting, and thought they should do this again, noting that many in the audience had great ideas and it would be good to brainstorm again. He relayed that his top priority was economic development because it included the other items of roads, trails, education, water, schools, etc. He said if they could enhance their economic development and work with the Cities and partners, then they could do good things in Lake County in order to make the county better for all of the county.
Commr. Shields agreed, and remarked that while they were waiting for economic development to happen, maybe there were buckets of revenues that had not been explored closely, such as impact fees, tourist taxes, etc., and he shared that he had a Chamber of Commerce request to increase the gas tax. He pointed out that many recognized that the county had outgrown their roads, noting that it was tough to have economic development if there were no roads to get to places. He opined this needed to be fixed, and he agreed that they needed to be creative and to figure out how to pay for what they wanted.
Ms. Jennifer Barker, Executive Director for Administrative Services, mentioned that she had provided a few PowerPoint slide documents to the Commission which she would email to anyone who also wanted them. She commented that her first slide handout looked at the Lake County population countywide, not just unincorporated, from 2010 to 2020, noting that the county had increased by approximately 70,000 people, which was about a 23 percent increase. She pointed out that these were numbers based on estimates except for the year 2010 which was a census year. She stated that the second slide handout showed the budget history and overview which was specific to the General Fund. She reported that in 2008, the General Fund was fairly healthy with a nice fund balance and healthy reserves; however, then the recession hit. She relayed that in an effort to protect the citizens and residents of Lake County, the Board chose to not increase taxes, which they could have done, in order to make up for lost revenues and property devaluations; rather, they chose to spend down the reserves throughout the years. She noted on the slide handout that starting in 2010, there was a decline of the reserves which was represented by the yellow line on the graph. She commented that in 2015, there was a slight stabilization of the reserves due to a tax increase that year; however, they began to decline again in 2017 due to Hurricane Irma. She reported that this took the reserves down to about four and a half to five percent of the General Fund operating budget, noting that the Board policy was a goal of seven to twelve percent of the General Fund operating budget for the reserves. She indicated that since 2018, the County had been making strides to steadily increase the budget, and as of the mid-year adjustment just approved in January 2021, the General Fund reserves were at approximately 13.8 percent of the General Fund operating budget. She reminded the Board that the Government Finance Officers Association (GFOA) recommendation was to have 16.7 percent in the General Fund operating budget, noting this was intended to be enough funding in order to react to anything that was not planned for and could include natural disasters, pandemics, etc. She continued and noted that the next slide page was a high level preview of the County’s revenue for the upcoming fiscal year. She recalled that the Board had discussed the previous year during the budget process that they had anticipated a large decline in the sales tax revenue in the General Fund as well as they were unsure of what the property values might end up being in the next fiscal year. She explained that because the valuations were done based on January 1st property values, they were unsure of how the pandemic would affect the property values in the area. She relayed that over the last six to eight months, they had realized that the sales tax did decline slightly but not to the extent anticipated; therefore, they were projecting a five percent increase in the sales tax revenue for the next fiscal year. She reported that for the property values and in reviewing the previous year through the Florida Realtors Association market statistics, the fourth quarter of 2020 saw about a 20 percent increase in single family home sales as compared to the fourth quarter of 2019. She added that the median sale price for those homes for the same time period increased almost 10 percent. She indicated that due to this, they were projecting the ad valorem tax revenue for the General Fund at a conservative five percent increase over the current year; additionally, in June 2021, they would receive the best estimates of property values from the Lake County Property Appraiser’s Office, with the certified values in July 2021. She commented that they were closely watching the gas tax revenue and resort tax revenue, noting that the gas tax revenue had been trending lower over the last year due to the pandemic causing people to travel less. She reported that for the current year, they were trending about five percent less than in FY 2020 at this point within the year. She remarked that resort taxes was the revenue that took the biggest hit, and was trending approximately 21 percent less every month than they did over FY 2020, noting that staff was closely watching this. She indicated that the Board decided to hold off on approving capital projects using tourist development tax (TDT) funding currently, and that staff was monitoring this revenue with the hope that these revenues would increase as people began to travel more. She concluded by pointing out a few issues to consider throughout the budget process as follows, noting that the budget would not be adopted until the end of September 2021: minimum wage increase to $15 to happen over five years as approved by voters, noting that the first increase of $10 became effective on September 30, 2021; compression issues relating to the minimum wage increase; collective bargaining with the fire union which would have a fiscal impact; increasing the General Fund reserves to the GFOA recommendation of 16.7 percent, noting it was currently around 13 percent; and funding for roads. She mentioned that there were currently three major road projects that would probably receive Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) funding by 2023 and included the County Road (CR) 466A phase 3, Round Lake Road extension, and Eudora Road roundabout/intersection improvements. She reiterated that these three projects were possible for FDOT funding in 2023, at which point the County would need to have a match of approximately $7.3 million which had not been identified at this point.
Commr. Parks asked for staff to provide at some point the facts regarding the impact to the budget if the North Lake County Hospital District was disbanded.
Ms. Wofford provided stickers to each of the participants to place beside their top five priorities on any of the flipcharts in the room as they exited the meeting, noting this would be shared with the Board as they continued to make decisions on these topics.
Commr. Parks thanked everyone again, and said they looked forward to the follow up, noting that the work had only begun.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 12:09 p.m.
SEAN PARKS, chairman
GARY J COONEY, CLERK