The League of Women Voters of Manatee County Government Committee observes the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners (BoCC) meetings for items of interest to citizens and the League and notes adherence, or lack of adherence, to good governance procedures and the Sunshine Law. The following are the major points from the Board of Manatee County Commissioners Regular Meeting on 11/14/2023 observed by Coleen Friedman.
ITEMS OF INTEREST
Port Authority Meeting
Port Authority Consent Agenda minus item H was approved 7-0.
Port Authority Executive Director Carlos Buqueros explained that a former customer of the Port, Citrosuco, a Brazilian supplier of orange juice for Tropicana, who had moved to Port of Tampa, has now entered a contract to return to Port of Manatee. This contract will provide additional revenue of $3 million.
Motion to approve the contract was followed by extensive public comment from 7 representatives of existing customers of the Port who voiced strong objection to the berth assignment for Citrosuco, saying it would cause congestion for the other companies and hamper timely offloading of their goods.
Some commissioners said that the details of the contract are beyond the scope of the Board and that they don’t want to undermine the authority of the executive director. Motion to approve the contract passed 7-0.
Awards and Presentations
November Employee of the Month – Rebecca Woodard, Transit Department. Rebecca was described as a dedicated and caring employee who independently studies local and federal guidelines to assure county compliance, assists in training new hires and is focused on the safety and security of the special populations who are transit customers.
Proclamation of November 16 as Childrens’ Grief Awareness Day – The signed proclamation was presented to representatives of Blue Butterfly Family Grief Center and Tidewell Hospice, noting that one in eleven children in Florida will lose a parent or sibling by the age of 18.
Citizen Comments on Future Agenda Items
Five citizens came forward with comments:
- Robert M complained that there isn’t enough security in the County contending his old garage door opener can open any gate in the county because public safety must be able to access all motorized gates. He described a “massive onslaught of crime” in the county and recommended the use of new technology.
- Glen G called attention to the $15 million allocation for veterans that he claims has been misappropriated and stating it could be used for 2 years of temporary housing for homeless veterans until the recently approved Tunnels2Towers (T2T) project is complete.
- Stephanie P, a combat, disabled veteran, and mother also called out the Board and specifically Ballard, Rahn, and Beardon for not backing veterans with their actions.
- “Do Better” was the exhortation of one citizen who said that the Board has become the swamp because they defer to developers.
- Carol Felts advocated for the Board to be more transparent about adding future agenda items that citizens bring forward. She advocated for a rural citizens advisory committee.
Commissioner responding comments:
- Van Ostenbridge denied the claim of crime increase, saying he recently talked with Sheriff and crime has decreased in the county.
- Turner denied that any remote-control device could open all gates, stating that there are specific frequencies for public safety.
- Van Ostenbridge said that T2T is providing funding for construction of the veterans housing resulting in not all the original Federal American Recovery Plan funds going to housing.
Item 84 – Appointment of Cary Knight to Director of Property Management – Unanimously approved.
Items pulled from Consent Agenda
Item 8 – Approval of Manatee County Public Library Circulation Policy
Ballard recognized library staff for their willingness to give parents more options on what their children read while still allowing the library to have intellectual freedom.
Kruse commented he believes that the guidelines mirror our current parent choice cards. His only concern is that the Board may be superseding the school board’s authority on the school pass.
No public comments. Motion to approve the new policy passed unanimously.[Editor’s Note – Previously children had full access to public library collections with their school ID. That has been eliminated and now parents that wish their children to have full access to the library collection must physically appear at the library to sign a permission slip for full access.]
Item 19 – To authorize RFP for solid waste franchise haulers
Previously staff had negotiated an extension on the contract with existing trash hauler that included a decrease in service to one day a week and a price increase. The commissioners wished to get bids from alternative trash haulers. Staff brought forward a 238-page request for proposal for the county’s solid waste hauling services. Ballard stated that citizens have been happy with the current hauler. She suggested they take the current agreement, adjust it, and extend it for another 15 years rather than open it to competitive bids.
Comments from Turner, Van Ostenbridge, were focused on increased costs to citizens if we must open another contract with a different hauler. Kruse and Satcher expressed concern about affordability if competition is eliminated.
Motion by Turner to extend current contract (once vetted by legal) passed 7-0.
Items 24 and 25 – Investment grade energy performance audits
Item 24 – Authorization for the Purchasing Official, or designee, to execute Agreement No. 23- R083329CD for Investment Grade Energy Performance Audit for Guaranteed Energy, Water, and Wastewater Performance Savings Contract for Advanced Metering Infrastructure with Johnson Controls, Inc., in the not-to-exceed amount of $1,583,777.00.
Item 25 Authorization for the Purchasing Official, or designee, to execute Agreement No. 23- R081706CD for Investment Grade Energy Performance Audit for Guaranteed Energy, Water, and Wastewater Performance Savings Contract for Lena Road Landfill Methane Gas with Johnson Controls, Inc., in the not-to-exceed amount of $1,186,024.00.
With advanced metering there would be a reduction in the number of meter readers. The audit would take a year to complete. Van Ostenbridge stated that Johnson Controls had many violations, including significant SEC fines related to a contract with China, as well as labor violations.
- Turner was disappointed that the commissioners didn’t have a chance to explore these concerns earlier in the process.
- Rahn was concerned about losing the tax credit and if that would dissuade the company from working with the county.
- Satcher said that the whole agreement “reeks of the green new deal” to him.
- Kruse reiterated that he thought the revenue stream from the methane was good for taxpayers.
Public comment from one citizen who noted that the overall size of the contracts was substantial and felt that more discussion was needed.
County Administrator Bishop suggested they reconsider the second-choice bidder from the initial evaluation process. Commissioners expressed interest.
Items 24 and 25 passed 4-3. Rahn, Turner, and Kruse voting no on each.
After a recess, Van Ostenbridge said the County Attorney stated that a motion was needed to direct staff to move forward with the second bidder on items 24 and 25. Motion to that effect passed 6-1. Kruse voting no.
Item 88 – Discussion on Intersection of Lorraine Rd and Players Drive
Chad Butzow, Public Works Director, said that on December 6, 2022, a change order for the intersection was filed to consider a roundabout instead of a traffic light. In late September2023 a neighborhood meeting was held and there was a considerable community input on both options.
Public comments were offered by 18 citizens with 50% for and 50% against the roundabout. Many brought significant details regarding the functioning of smart lights, design of roundabouts, and impact on pedestrians.
Turner made a motion to put in a smart traffic signal rather than a roundabout at the intersection. Passed 7-0.
Item 86 – Approval of Gap Funding Loan request for The Nest at Robins Apartments
Background provided by Rowena Elliott, Affordable Housing Development Coordinator:
On April 25, 2023, during the Regular Meeting of the BoCC, the Board voted 6-1 (Commissioner Kruse in opposition) to no longer participate in Gap Funding. The Board directed staff to discontinue reviewing applications immediately. Because the Nest at Robins Apartments’ project was already in process at the time, the Board directed staff to continue work on it and bring it forward.
The current action requested is:
Approval of the Gap Loan Funding was for a 182-Unit multi-family Affordable Housing Development Project located at 2303 1st Street East, Bradenton 34208, in the amount of $3.5 million.
Public comments came from four representatives of One Stop Housing, the partner organization for the project, as well as from a member of the sheriff’s office. They all reinforced that this project provides much needed workforce housing for the county.
The motion to approve the gap loan request was approved 7-0.
Item 80 – Authorization of Investment through Childrens’ Service Fund Millage in 2024 for launch of Sleep Baby Safely Initiative. Infant sleep-related death disproportionately impacts infants of color. $175,000 approved unanimously.
Item 87 – Approval of the Manatee County Appropriation to Gulf Shellfish Institute for All Clams on Deck Project; and Adoption of the Budget Amendment Resolution B-24-014
$500,000 for All Clams on Deck Project Approved 7-0
Commissioner Agenda Items
Item 89 – County Policies Regarding Timing and Extent of Clear-Cutting:
Kruse proposed directing staff to bring back proposals for best practices regarding County policies for allowable site clearing, stating the county has no policy in place to deal with developers who clear cut land well in advance of any runoff mitigation in place, which creates dust fields. He noted that some counties have regulations in place.
Van Ostenbridge and Rahn agreed that dust mitigation has been an issue recently and agreed with the need for both a plan and an enforcement tool.
During public comment there were two speakers who supported the motion.
Motion passed 7-0.
Item 90 – Update on Impact Fee Timeline
Kruse stated that on April 18 the Board voted to finalize an updated impact fee schedule. The target date was moved to August and then again to November and now has disappeared. He asked when the item would be considered.
Bishop said that as the new administrator he needs to bring an accurate study to the Board for consideration and wants to expedite this. Assistant County Administrator DePol said that they see indications that development in Manatee County is slowing.
Ballard asked, since we are currently collecting 90% (of 2015 costs), could we raise it to 100%? Rahn concurred and made a motion to instruct staff in the County Attorney’s office to increase fees to 100%. [Editor’s Note – The BoCC has not increased impact fees for 8 years. Impact fees are currently 90% of 2015 construction costs of roads, emergency facilities, water and sewage lines and other infrastructure expenses required of the county to provide to new housing.]
Kruse cautioned the Board to investigate HB337 which tells county municipalities that they can only raise fees every 4 years; we need to ensure that we aren’t keeping ourselves from being able to make a more substantial increase. He also went on to “correct the record” that it was only administrator Hopes who didn’t bring this item back to the Board. And he questioned why he had never had staff tell him that they weren’t comfortable with the study. He alluded to one developer pressuring staff. We aren’t collecting enough, and Kruse feels a new study will just delay the whole process until the primaries are over.
Rahn noted that he isn’t a fan of impact fees and thinks more sales taxes on housing would be better. Clague stated the County needs to investigate regulatory requirements regarding impact fees.
Motion to start the the process of increasing fees from 90% to 100% of the existing fee schedule (2015 study costs) passed 7-0.