The League of Women Voters of Manatee County Government Committee observes the Board of County Commissioners’ meetings for items of interest to 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 Session on 05/11/2021, observed by Ellie Peterson and Ruth Harenchar.
ITEMS OF INTEREST
Legal Fees for two commissioners who were sued over a public records request.
County Attorney Clague presented his review of the situation and reasons for his recommendation to approve up to $60,000 in legal and settlement fees and costs. He cited statutes from state ethics group. Key points included:
- Statute to pay such expenses was specifically put in place to ensure elected officials are not afraid to do their job.
- Commissioners are performing their duty from the moment they are elected not from moment they are sworn in.
- Commissioners could vote that the litigation was not in the “performance of duty”.
- Commissioners should not be looking for “gotchas” to justify not paying the invoices.
- Referenced that the payment included settlement, and noted the statute does allow payment of settlement costs.
- Satcher & Van Ostenbridge may vote on the payment issue because there is an exception in Florida’s ethics law that allows officials to vote on items that relate to their salaries or expenses.
- A breakdown of the legal bills, outside of the $3000 each for settlement of the cases, was not shown or publicly available. Clague stated that detailed backup to invoices is not necessary before voting on payment. Clerk of the Court’s office is the proper place to question and possibly “negotiate” a payment reduction.
Commissioner comments included:
- Whitmore commented that Satcher & Van Ostenbridge “found their power” to resist Baugh, accused Clague of representing interests of just two Commissioners rather than the whole board or what is best for Manatee County, and said the BoCC should defer a decision on payment of the legal fees until they see the detailed breakdown of the charges. She also pointed out that the DiSabatino litigation covered 3 years rather than the 4 months of the current litigation and total cost paid by the county was only $30,000.
- Kruse aggressively attacked Whitmore, saying she was accusing himself, Satcher & Van Ostenbridge of criminal activity and that she was focused on “obscure crap” and making wild exaggerations.
- Van Ostenbridge started by saying that the Lena property purchase was a total waste of tax payer money, accused Whitmore of weaponizing the legal system and said Hopes had shown how superior he was to previous administrator and should be made permanent.
- Servia was calm and thanked Clague for his good work, said it’s not simple to do what is best for the community, and that she trusts the experts.
- Bellamy wondered why the commissioners did not submit the requested records as Kruse did. He commended Clague on his work and noted the issue was not about protecting two commissioners but protecting public officials.
- Satcher said that he did not have enough time to comply with the records request and noted that upstanding citizens like himself should not be bankrupted for getting elected.
- Baugh characterized the current situation as no violation found; Clague noted that Satcher & Van Ostenbridge settled which is different than vindication or no violation. Baugh noted her case was still pending and a similar matter would come before the board soon regarding her case.
After debating the issue for over an hour, commissioners unanimously approved the payment. Satcher and Van Ostenbridge did vote (reason noted above).
Comments by Senator Jim Boyd
- State Budget:
- Piney Point was allocated $101 million in funds from the Federal Government toward the closing of Piney Point phosphate processing plant.
- Funds were made available to organizations like Centerstone and Tidewell Hospice
- Bonuses were passed for teachers and first responders.
- Legislation passed during session in an effort to limit increases to homeowner’s insurance costs by limiting contractors’ ability to solicit homeowners to have work done on their property that would be billed to insurance companies.
- Legislation to ban local referendums limiting use of ports by cruise ship companies reasoning that municipalities do not have right to limit commerce.
- Commissioners Satcher and Van Ostenbridge expressed their disappointment the state was not able to deliver a “heartbeat” abortion law.
Board of Education Millage
As required by law, the Manatee County School Board requested the BoCC’s support of a special election to approve the ballot question for extension of the millage for the school board. Because a special election would cost approx. $400k, a resolution stating the Commission’s desire for the millage referendum to occur during the regular primary on August 16, 2022 was approved by unanimous vote.
Commissioner Kruse proposed removing all Covid 19 related restrictions in County buildings including removing ability to test temperatures and requirement for masks which passed 6 to 1. (Commissioner Bellamy dissenting). The County will make k95 masks available for any employees who desire them.
Lengthy discussion regarding a proposal from Commissioner Satcher to make Scott Hopes the “permanent” County Administrator resulted in requests for amendments to his contract including a requirement for Hopes to resign from School Board within 30 days. Proposal passed 4 to 3 with Commissioners Bellamy, Kruse and Servia voting against, and authorizing board chair Baugh to negotiate a contract appointing Dr. Scott Hopes as permanent County Administrator to be voted on at the next regular meeting on May 25, 2021.GOVERNANCE/SUNSHINE
- Discussion of legal fees was contentious and disrespectful, included irrelevant points and justifications.
- Lack of documentation/detail on legal fees and costs is not operating “in the sunshine”. The decision should have been tabled until details were available.
- Commissioners made frequent political and off point comments (Van Ostenbridge’s comment to Whitmore about caring about unborn children or Satcher’s comment about soon to be president DeSantis).
- Item added to agenda by Satcher to consider making Hopes permanent County Administrator less than 24 hours before meeting was unnecessary and not good governance, forcing decisions without public input or sufficient time to consider all of the implications.
Manatee County Commission 4/15 Work Session Observations
The League of Women Voters of Manatee County Government Committee observes the Board of County Commissioners’ meetings for items of interest to 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 Work Session on 04/15/2021, observed by Ginger McCallum.
ITEMS OF INTEREST
All Things Housing
Today’s presentation provided the Board with a summary of the county’s affordable housing strategy, a snapshot of the housing market, and accomplishments. Staff reviewed the Local Housing Assistance Plan (LHAP) Strategies, Affordable Housing Advisory Committee (AHAC) Recommendations, Surplus Property Process for Affordable Housing, Community Land Trust, and a proposed Expanded Down Payment Assistance. Link to Full Staff Presentation
Manatee County 8-Point Strategy for Affordable Housing
- Developers – What will it take to build and sell below $200,000?
- Employers – How do we engage them to provide solutions?
- Banks – Which financial institutions can provide more favorable loan products?
- Innovation – What new materials and processes are available?
- LDC – What is needed for more density, smaller lots/units?
- Fees – Can we “right-size” impact fees?
- Land – How can we reduce the cost of land? Can we do a Land Trust?
- Financial Incentives – What are funding alternatives, new sources/programs?
Cost of Housing (2020)
- Single Family average $345,000
- Condo/Townhome average $225,000
- Rental average $1,215
The need for affordable housing is greater than the supply. Area Median Income (AMI) = $76,700 (2020) for a Family of 4
For example, renters earning 0-30% AMI there are:
- 14,216 Renter households – 2667 affordable AND available units = 11,549 more renters than affordable units
- ·4433 affordable units are occupied by higher income households
Renters earning 80% AMI, there are:
- 47,055 renter households – 42,051 affordable AND available units = 5,504 more renters than units
- 21,019 affordable units are occupied by higher income households
COVID-19 Impact on Housing
- Nationwide: 30% decrease in inventory and 15% increase in prices
- Low wage earners are hardest hit— tourism/retail/hospitality sector
- Manatee County Unemployment is 4.4% (Jan 2021) and wages have not kept up with rising housing prices
- Eviction Moratorium and Emergency Rental Assistance (www.mymanatee.org/renthelp)
- Substantial increase in demand for and cost of materials
Local Housing Assistance Plan (LHAP)
- A Florida dedicated revenue source from Documentary Stamp Tax paid on all real estate transactions to a trust fund.
- Every 3 years, a new LHAP must be developed and submitted to the State for approval so local governments can receive their distribution of the annual legislative allocation.
- Manatee County is in the process of developing its 3-year plan for Fiscal Years 2021-2024
- County uses the funding below; county recoups the investment when affordable home is sold.
Current Uses of LHAP
- Housing Rehabilitation,
- Housing Replacement,
- Down payment Assistance,
- Disaster Assistance, and
- Rental Development Assistance.
LHAP asks Commissioners to approve LHAP recommendations for the 2021-2024 Plan
- Increase sales price maximums to reflect increased average costs of affordable housing.
- Increase level of assistance per household
To review the established policies and procedures, ordinances, land development regulations, and adopted local government comprehensive plan of the appointing local government and recommend specific actions or initiatives to encourage or facilitate affordable housing while protecting the ability of the property to appreciate in value. Eleven members when fully staffed (currently 3 vacancies and 4 expire in 2021)
- Utilities to charge a 4 month direct connect fee of $300 then charge a monthly fee thereafter*
- Revise Section 545.2(e) of the LDC for density clarifications*
- Allow maximum of 750 square feet for accessory dwelling units; no restrictions on the number of bedrooms; and only air-conditioned space in the square footage calculation
- Request that the Board of County Commissioners encourage the School District to waive school impact fees for all affordable housing
- Prioritize Tree Protection Trust Fund for affordable housing*
- Continue funding for Livable Manatee (fund to pay impact fees for new affordable homes)
- *Need BoCC decisions at next voting meeting to move forward
Affordable Housing Solutions/Options
- Create process for selling surplus property to for-profit developers for affordable housing.
- Proceed with pilot project to place property in a Community Land Trust (home purchaser owns the house but not the land, thereby reducing the purchase price)
- Expand Down payment Assistance Program.
Next Steps for affordable housing:
- Continue advocacy efforts for state funding for affordable housing
- Three-year LHAP plan to BoCC on April 20, 2021
- Printed inventory of Surplus Property on May 25, 2021
- AHAC Recommendations Report on December 14, 2021
- HUD AFFH/Consolidated 5-Year Plan in 2022
Commissioner Comments included:
VanOstenbridge – solution is NOT to limit development, we need more housing. Can we use county owned land, acquire and rehab properties? Don’t want to increase the size or role of government.
Bellamy – we need to preserve these programs. They benefit elderly, low income, etc.
Kruse – Impact fees should be waived on affordable housing projects to incent affordable projects and FL law allows that. Focus on Urban core and affordable versus larger more expensive home. Previous and possible current solutions are not enough and real policy changes are needed to encourage affordable housing development on a meaningful scale.
Servia – we need to increase the maximum house cost considered affordable housing to support our citizens. Parking is an issue. Does not support waiving impact fees for affordable projects but funding the payment of impact fees from the general fund.
Satcher – does not like government to get so involved. Wants incentives for developers to build affordable housing. Satcher asked if the commission increased the sales price maximums for affordable housing would more State or Federal money be available. The answer was yes.
Baugh – we need to do what we can to get the results that we want, we are not doing enough.
- The conversation was unfocused and did not seem to drive the commission toward the decisions required at the next regular meeting.
- Although fewer, there are still some “annoyed” comments and subtle digs between commissioners.
- Satcher’s partisan comment stating the Governor is doing an incredible job and this why people are moving to Florida, was irrelevant to the meeting topic.
The League of Women Voters of Manatee County Government Committee observes the Board of County Commissioners’ meetings for items of interest to 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 Work Session on 04/13/2021, observed by Coleen Friedman.
ITEMS OF INTEREST
Environmental Millage Implementation
Background Discussion: Staff presented information on the implementation timeline for the Environmental Millage which was approved by the citizens (71%) of Manatee County during the general election held November 3, 2020. The ballot language states that the 0.15 millage ad valorem tax will be used to finance the acquisition, improvement, and management of land to protect drinking water sources and water quality, preserve fish and wildlife habitat, prevent storm water runoff pollution, and provide parks.
The tax collector can only set millage once an approval resolution is made by the Board. To implement the ballot measure in fiscal year 2022 and provide timely notice to the Tax Collector’s Office, approval of an enabling Resolution by the Board is required. Under Statutory deadline requirements it is requested that this Resolution and notice to the Tax Collector be provided following Board approval at a regular meeting on or before May 25, 2021.
Staff presentation showed the millage will amount to $6.2 million annually. The existing citizen-led Environmental Land Management Advisory Committee (ELMAC) is critical to determining appropriate acquisitions. Manatee County must also consider the need for staff and resources to develop and maintain these properties and projects. There was discussion of the need to ensure that the ELMAC be reflective of all regions of the county and that 12 of the 15 current members have terms that expire in 2021.
Comments and questions by Commissioners:
- Kruse stated that he didn’t vote for the referendum and focused on the accounting. His calculation estimated that over 20 years there would be over $250 million dollars feeling there would be millions of excess funds to put toward operational costs in the natural resources arena. He believed it should go to the equivalent of a Robinson Preserve and not “little things” that may be covered by impact fees. Kruse repeatedly referred to the “excess cash” and how that money could be used to help with storm water issues. Note: Hopes will be bringing back proforma calculations on the bond issues. Kruse’s calculations are incorrect.
- Servia noted that it was encouraging to be focused on environmental protection, since the commissioners had attended a press conference earlier in the day at Piney Point, the scene of a potential environmental disaster.
- VanOstenbridge noted that he didn’t vote for the referendum and expressed concerns about the county’s land acquisition process and referenced the recent Lena Rd. parcel. He wondered if the funds could be used to improve existing county lands. He also asked if the funds could be used for submerged lands, for example, to plant seagrass beds as improvement of water quality.
- Bellamy asked for clarification of the definition of “land improvement”. Mr. Hunsicker replied that it entails returning a landscape to its natural state as much as possible, and possibly enhance. He referenced the challenge of removing invasive plants and trees and keeping those out.
- Attorney Claque noted that the language of the referendum did not narrowly define “improvement”, thus allowing discussion of improvements that might, for example, include an existing parcel of land to prevent storm runoff pollution.
- Baugh noted that she did not vote for the referendum, and that there wasn’t a plan in place before the millage language was created. She remarked that she was “not happy” and was not sure if this would move forward or not. Claque reminded the Commissioners that the referendum campaign was initiated and implemented by an outside organization which brought the proposed language to the Board for approval.
- Satcher noted that he did not vote for the referendum but stated he supports preserving land in the county.
- Kruse and Servia agreed that the voters expect the county to purchase property to preserve and that acquisitions and expenditures need to be in accordance with the referendum.
- Four commissioners (Baugh, Satcher, Kruse and VanOstenbridge) commented that they did not vote for this millage, questioned the intent of the ballot language and gave the appearance of looking for ways to use the funds other than as intended by the creators of the measure and the voters. With 71% of citizens approval of this millage, good governance would be implementation true to the intent of the referendum.
- Acting Administrator Hopes’ proactivity in clarifying points of ambiguity regarding the referendum, advisory committee and defining the next steps for the Commission was targeted and helpful.
The League of Women Voters of Manatee County Government Committee is monitoring the Board of County Commissioners. This report lists the items of interest to 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 April 6, 2021, monitored by Anne McFarlane and Ellie Peterson.
ITEMS OF INTEREST
*Note: After the close of the 4/1 Land Use Meeting, the Commissioners declared a local state of emergency regarding Piney Point. A State of Emergency was declared by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties on Saturday. State and local officials were coordinating the situation. More than three hundred homes and multiple businesses in the area around Piney Point were evacuated. Evacuation was lifted on 4/6.
- Acting County Administrator Hopes reported that a command center was set up on site and includes experts from several disciplines from state and local governments, including the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP). The priorities of the command center are:
- Safety to the residents in the area and the staff working on the disaster,
- Conservation regarding the surrounding waters and land,
- Economic drivers i.e. businesses in the area that have been shut down,
- Remediate negative impact to the environment,
- Keep attention on the berm.
- Engineering companies on site assessed possible immediate risks and began action. The Governor sent in equipment; National Guard aided in efforts as did local public works employees. Water from the leak was pulled by gravitational force into Tampa Bay. The arrival of several pumps made it possible to redirect surface water into shipping channels at Port Manatee and Tampa Bay. The channels will facilitate washing the water out further into the Gulf.
- As of today (Tuesday 4/6/21), about 50% of the water in the pond has been moved with the nutrient rich water going to the Gulf and Bay and the more dangerous water near the bottom of the stack being removed into holding containers or ponds until they can be moved by other means. The water near the bottom has the heavier metals.
- Toxicity of the water was discussed with focus on radioactive contaminants at the center. Charlie Hunsicker, Director of Parks and Natural Resources, presented visuals showing areas where water testing is being conducted. Results of the sampling will be available to citizens in the next few days. At a later date, testing will be done on the sediment at the bottom of the stack and will include tests for unacceptable levels of radioactive material.
- FL Senator Jim Boyd and Florida Senate leader Wilton Simpson are pushing legislation to pay for the full Piney Point cleanup with money from the recent $1.9 trillion COVID-19 stimulus bill, seeking $200 million from the State of Florida to close the phosphogypsum stacks holding the water and dispose of all the water at the site permanently. Funds would be for constructing a deep injection well, treating the water and disposing of it in the well.
- The Secretary of the FDEP said he would facilitate the permitting process to speed initiation of the construction. A motion was put before the BoCC to begin that process with ASRUS, LLC a well construction company that presented to the Board on March 9, 2021. The BOCC voted yes unanimously on the motion. The Commissioners agreed they would not accept wastewater from any other source for the deep injection well.
- Commissioners noted that prior commissioners and the county are not responsible for this disaster; the property is privately owned and under the state government’s supervision.
Citizens Comments re Future Agenda Items
Glen Gibbalina spoke regarding Livable Manatee, a fund used for impact fees on affordable housing construction. The Board unanimously agreed that it will be addressed at a future meeting.
Floodplain Management (Item 43)
First of 2 public hearings (next 4/20/21). This item concerns proposal for a new ordinance due to changes in FEMA rating system which effects flood insurance on high-risk properties. Click here and go to item 43 for background materials.
- Manatee County is a Class 5 in the Community Rating System (CRS), a voluntary program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), whereby we earn credits for being more restrictive in our regulations than the FEMA regulations. Currently we have enough credits for a 25% discount for flood insurance premiums for properties in a high-risk area. Because of the 1/1/2021 changes in the CRS requirements for manufactured homes elevation, Manatee could lose this full discount and go to a 5% discount without this new ordinance.
- Carl Jusma, St. Petersburg College Junior, Majoring in Business Technology: A new computer system for deployment of the Cares Act,
- Sharu Abraham, USF Sophomore, Majoring in Computer Science: Use of Drones in property management,
- Luis Mazza Wanderley, University of Tampa Senior, Majoring in Advertising and Public Relations: Short and long term use of the Premier Sports Complex, Bradenton Area Convention Center and Powell Crosley Estate,
- Audrey Bennett, NYU Sophomore, Majoring in Applied Data Analytics and Visualization: A grant optimization project,
- Brian Long, USF Senior, Majoring in Psychology: Improve communication between new hires and their department.
- Commissioners thanked all the parties who have worked tirelessly dealing with the emergency.
- The Commissioners generally exhibited good governance throughout the meeting.
Manatee County Commission 3/30 Work Session – The League of Women Voters of Manatee County Government Committee is monitoring the Board of County Commissioners. This report lists the items of interest to 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 Work Session on March 30, 2021, monitored by Ginger McCallum and Karen Curlin.
ITEMS OF INTEREST
CIP Budget: General Government (Library, Parks, Public Safety, Technology)
Capital Improvements Plan (CIP)
- Florida Statutes require that all counties develop a five-year Capital Improvement Plan.
- Designed to meet the capital improvement needs of the County.
- Capital improvements include major infrastructure facilities such as roads, bridges, parks, libraries, utilities, and general government facilities (e.g., EMS facilities, Sheriff’s facilities, etc.)
- Updated annually.
- Does not include other agency construction projects.
Goals of CIP Work Session
- Review of the status of existing CIP General Government projects.
- Review of Staff/Department project desires/requests.
- Staff may understand Commission project desires/requests.
Typical revenue sources for capital projects
- Impact fees
- Infrastructure Sales Tax (IST)
- Property Taxes
- Other revenues (State monies, grants, etc.)
Changes to Existing Projects & Department Requests
- Changes to existing projects – net reduction in costs of $3.3m
- Staff/Dept requests for the 5 year plan – net increase in costs of $13.9m
- Commission requests – unknown
Criteria for Projects
- Available Capacity to Bond/Rates.
- Cash Flow to pay debt service.
- Timing of completion of projects – Of particular concern to staff given significant competition for materials and workers.
- Departments will review list of projects individually with each Commissioner to obtain Commissioner feedback on the list, priorities, and any new projects to consider.
- Staff will provide updated information for Commissioners at a mid-April meeting with an overall prioritized list to consider.
- Reminder: this is a multi-step process for each part of the overall budget; goal is to start forming the actual budget in June.
Commissioners expressed interest in a combination of bonds and credit to pay for projects, and completing design and planning phase ahead of time so that when projects are approved they can go to bid/start immediately in order to increase efficient completion of projects.
Baugh noted that Federal funds ($78.2m) coming into the county will positively impact budgets and projects, and affect credit/bonding decisions. Infrastructure funds from the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 must be used by 12/31/2024.
Servia asked if there is demand for more parks, pools, trails, etc., in Manatee County. Hunsicker, Director of Manatee County Parks and Natural Resources, responded that yes, there is a lack of sufficient public services for citizens, and they are a major selling point of new people considering moving to Manatee County.
Animal Welfare Regulation
Discussion of pros/cons of banning the sale of puppies and kittens by retail pet stores. 18 citizen comments; 15 for a ban, 3 against. Whitmore, Servia clearly support a ban; Kruse and Bellamy seemed to be leaning towards supporting a ban and VanOstenbridge said he would not support a ban. This item will likely appear in a future voting meeting.
- The Commissioners generally exhibited good governance behaviors throughout the day.