City of Stuart
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CHANGES HAPPEN DURING CRISIS
When most people are happy, things just do not change. A crisis such as Covid is the time we are most apt to have the pot stirred.
For example, Florida was once known as “election challenged.” That was not the case in 2020. Everything ran as smooth as could be. We even had the results that same night.
So why is Governor DeSantis and the legislature asking to make it harder to vote by mail? The governor also proposed to limit drop boxes, and under his proposal, voters would need to request mail in ballots more frequently.
Trump won the state by 400,000 votes. Republicans picked up seats in the legislature and in Congress. DeSantis and the Republican Party of Florida delivered. The Florida Democrats are like the gang that couldn’t shoot straight. If there is no crisis, then why change a winning strategy?
So far throughout the country, more than 2000 election bills have been filed in state legislatures. Florida is aligning itself with the change group even though our system worked well. The crisis is that nation-wide Trump lost the electoral college vote as well as the overall popular vote by more than seven million votes. In fact, the Republicans have only won more popular votes once in a presidential contest in the past 30 years.
You can’t restrict your way out of this quandary. Republicans need to highlight their ideas and policies, rather than try to limit the number of people who can vote. Most of those policies are great for moving the country and state forward. Ideas matter, and in the State of Florida, conservative ideas should be tried and implemented to show other states what is possible. The best way Republicans can keep Democrats in the minority is to overwhelm them with solid conservative policies. We are a center-right country.
You can never do so by making it harder to vote or to gerrymander districts. Ultimately it will fail.
CHANGES HAPPEN DURING CRISIS II
As I said above, a crisis can result in change. Here are three changes proposed in the legislature that, if passed, would be good for the state.
The first is the bill that would mandate online merchants to collect sales tax. Florida is staring at a $2.7 billion deficit due to Covid. One of the main reasons is that sales tax collections are down due to pandemic fears about shopping at brick-and-mortar stores. We are in a distinct minority of states that have not enacted legislation to require collection as outlined in a 2018 Supreme Court decision regarding internet sales.
Most of us do shop online. It is easy and fast. I would never say that physical stores should have an advantage because they are owned by local people. At the same time, I would never say online merchants should have an advantage either. Collecting sales tax from everyone is appropriate.
The next crisis spurring change is how Covid has affected our schools. While in Martin County, there are only 20 students unaccounted for, there are 87,000 students that are missing in the entire state. However, while we know where Martin County’s kids are, that doesn’t mean that they are taking classes with the school district. Many are now home schooled, enrolled in Florida Virtual, and in private or charter schools.
This may be the time that the legislature begins using more vouchers to give parents choices regarding where their kids attend school. We have been fortunate in Martin that our schools are open. In many places, they are not. The current system of public-school districts may be antiquated in providing a quality education to all students. There are several voucher bills in the legislature. Let’s see if we can give the entrenched educational interest a reason to do better.
The third innovation would be that there are bills moving through committee that would provide some immunity to lawsuits because a customer or employee caught Covid. How you would prove that someone caught Covid in a particular place would be a mystery to me, but any lawsuit, even a meritless one, costs money to defend.
Tort litigation makes everything in this country more expensive. But there does need to be a way to make sure that businesses and employers are not exposing workers and customers to possible harm when they are aware or should be of a dangerous situation. Not every bad thing that happens is the fault of someone. We have become a nation of blamers and grievance.
If this legislation is a way of bringing a little sanity back, then it is a good thing. To read more go here
AFFORDABLE OR ATTAINABLE HOUSING MAY BE AN IMPOSSIBILITY
A new project came before the Stuart LPA that promises to have the rent for 20 apartments calculated at 80% of the AMI in perpetuity. Today the cost is $1041.00 per month for a one bedroom. The developer is doing this in exchange for the ability to increase density, reduce the parking requirement, and other variances. Is this affordable or attainable housing?
It is not for anyone making minimum wage. Even at $10 an hour, it would be hard to handle the expense. If you have a couple of kids, it becomes impossible to really pay your rent.
Stuart and Martin County creating housing for the working poor is an impossibility. Only Washington and, to a lesser extent Tallahassee, have the funds needed to provide subsidized housing. Which is a real and growing need. How to help is the question.
The Florida legislature set up something known as the Sadowski Trust Fund years ago. They even gave it its own funding source, the Document Stamp Tax paid at real estate closings. What they did not do was require the money to be used only for this purpose. Since 2003 the state has raided the fund every year and placed the money into the general fund.
The Sadowski Fund has two parts, State Housing Initiatives Partnership commonly known as the SHIP program which is 70% of the fund. It goes to help low-income residents in a variety of ways. The other 30% goes to the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) which is a low interest loan program to build affordable housing. So what?
Even if a developer wanted to take advantage of the SAIL program in Martin County, where would the housing be built? Since it would be rental, the ad valorem would be lower for this type of housing than a regular development not making local government want to embrace the concept. There also is an absence of zoned property for multi dwelling pretty much anywhere except Stuart. And Stuart is running out of space.
As a county, we decided that we did not want to encourage building long ago. No one wants to see government-run housing. It hasn’t worked. This problem is not going away and won’t until we allow more building and the feds, and the state come in with a real voucher program so that people can be housed throughout the county.
A GOOD IDEA. SO, WHY NO TAKERS?
I do not usually write about the Children’s Services Council, but I decided to attend the last meeting.
At the meeting, James Campo one of the board members and a Sewall’s Point commissioner, made a motion that the governor’s appointees should attend the 4-hour ethics class that is mandated for elected officials. No one seconded the motion and it died.
Some of the board are already representatives of other elected bodies. County Commissioner Sarah Heard and School Board Member Li Roberts sit on the council, so they already must take the course. The members of this board oversee a substantial amount of taxpayer dollars. I am surprised they are not already mandated to take the course.
Another thing that came up was the actions of a nominating committee. It was to be composed of three members of the board who would find candidates for officer positions. There was disagreement between board members regarding their findings, but two things struck me as odd.
The first is that how could a subcommittee of a public board meet in private? According to the Florida “Government in the Sunshine Law” Manual, Page 21 specifically states: “WHAT TYPES OF DISCUSSIONS ARE COVERED BY THE SUNSHINE LAW? • Selection and screening committees: • The Sunshine Law applies to advisory committees created by an agency to assist in the selection process.”
The second thing about this nominating committee was that the chair stated that he had contacted other board members regarding whether they were interested in positions. If that were true, would not that be a problem? It is my understanding that such a conversation is not allowed under Sunshine. What is the big deal about just having the members nominate and elect the incoming chair and vice-chair at a regular public meeting?
The purpose for the Sunshine Laws is for all board deliberation and discussion to happen at an open and advertised meeting. Conversations between board members are prohibited when board business is discussed.
Campo would never be chosen as Mr. Congeniality, but I do think he has the best interest of the voters at heart. Attending something as easy as a 4-hour course is an appropriate idea. The rest of the board should have given this issue more thought. At least they could have expressed their reasons for not supporting the idea. I cannot think of any, and it looks like they need it.
By Tom Pine
I believe our Martin County government is using the consent agenda to hide where they are spending millions and millions of our tax dollars.
The definition of the consent agenda are items considered routine and can be enacted by one motion. There will not be a separate discussion on these items unless a commissioner or a member of the public so request at which the item will be pulled from consent and considered following the approval of the balance of the consent agenda.
The definition of the consent agenda seems very simple and straight to the point. Except that’s not what happens at Martin County commission meetings.
The meeting of December 8, 2020 the “Clerks Warrant” disclosures of $18,501,018.44 in expenditures of taxpayers’ funds between December 5, 2020 and January 15, 2021 without identifying the purpose or the payee.
The meeting of February 16, 2021 the “Clerks Warrant” disclosures of $9,875,937.55 in expenditures of taxpayers’ funds between January 16, 2021 and January 31, 2021 without identifying the purpose or the payee.
These are supposed to be routine payments. Yet there is over a nine-million-dollar difference between the December 8, 2020 meeting and the February 16, 2021 meeting.
It’s hard to understand how routine payments can vary so widely over just three months.
Tom Pine’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.
By Michael Syrkus
As many of you know, I am an enthusiastic advocate for agriculture. “Fresh from Florida” agricultural products are at the top of my priority list for further support and development.
Through my advocacy, I have built a network of great friends in many different agricultural sectors. I have friends who raise cattle, swine, and poultry. I know many farmers that produce honey, wheat, and vegetables.
Last week, I was honored to join a close friend of mine to work with him on his boat, pulling in Spanish mackerel (commercially). Boy did I get a lesson! I learned 2 things that day:
- Commercial fishing is no joke. We averaged 60 plus pounds per hour, working with only rod and reel (no netting). Constantly battling waves, fighting the fish, and actively luring in the catch of the day will wear you out.
- Agriculture is everywhere, and as the old saying goes: “If you eat, you’re in agriculture.”
At 9 am on that day-I had to actively circle the lot to find a spot to park the truck. Thanks to my experience in construction, I was able to thread my friend’s truck and trailer into a spot that surely would have gone empty by many. Sandsprit Park was the place to be! Apparently, this is a daily occurrence.
Once docked again the experience of sorting fish by size and weighing them in at the commercial docks in Salerno is something, I think everyone should experience at least once in their life. I most definitely plan to go out again.
While Martin County may have a thriving (15th in the state) cattle production business, as well as fantastic farm to table agritourism, and plenty of crop fields…never forget the fish. Whether charter fishing or commercial, the men and women who go to sea to ensure fresh, wild caught protein have earned our admiration.
As a county built around our fishing industry, we must remember our roots. Be an active member in preserving this heritage (and support your neighbors). Shop for local fish, eat at local restaurants, and thank your local fishermen.
Michael Syrkus’ opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.
HERBIE’S HOBE SOUND
By Herbert Howard
Peggy’s is moving! Back to Hobe Sound!
I ran into Peggy of Peggy’s Natural Foods at a chamber event and she explained that she started out here in Hobe Sound. Her current venue is in the Publix plaza just north of Cove Rd. They will be moving out of the Publix plaza because Publix wants to expand. Humm, have you noticed that there is an awfully lot going on with Publix these days? (They are building another one in Hobe Sound too).
Peggy Ranger is originally from North Dakota! Minot, ND to be exact. They have a saying in Minot, “Why not, Minot?” She met her ex-husband who was a Florida boy at the air force base located there. Evidently, he had an answer to “Why not, Minot?” It was “Because there’s Florida.” She returned with him back in the ‘70’s.
While he started an A/C business, she became a teacher. She observed kids eating a lot of junk. She found her calling, quit the teaching gig and became a certified, licensed nutritionist. She started Peggy’s Natural Foods greeted with much pessimism in 1982. She persevered, as we will do when we find our life’s calling.
And today she is expanding, complete with a drive-up window. Peggy’s is relocating to the new Martin Landing plaza just by the Race Trac gas station. Peggy knows this is the right spot. She thinks all the vendors complement each other. And, she feels Hobe Sound has “grown up” and will welcome her offerings which range from supplements to produce…keto and gluten free…even organic wine!
The best part is that “Take it off Tuesdays” discount day is going to morph into “pick your day” to take it off. That will be convenient for forgetful people like me.
Peggy is not afraid of expanding even during Covid. She credits her staff for her confidence. And, she has always believed that “our job is to overcome obstacles, not let them defeat us”. (You don’t survive North Dakota winters without a strong survival ethic, I guess).
I asked her for some general health advice to which she replied that during Covid keep up your immune system with Vitamins D and C. Otherwise, she likes to get to know her customers so she can be specific as to their particular needs and “where they are in life.”
So, come on out to her opening on March 31st. You can register through the Chamber or just pop in any time that day. Peggy will take good care of you. I will see you in the organic wine isle.
Herbert Howard’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint
By Frank McChrystal
Another joint meeting of our local leaders took place on February 4th. The Martin County Commissioners, Stuart City Commissioners, Martin County School Board, and Indiantown Council Members congregated to pontificate the usual development updates, growth trends, student enrollment updates, and inter local agreements progress. It was an unremarkable meeting, and the general vibe could best be described as strange bedfellows playing high stakes poker.
Every joint meeting conjures up my vision of what local leaders should be. I hope my vision isn’t too lofty. The leaders I envision get the big stuff right. They know there is no gray area, only black and white. On Feb. 4th, I hope there was 100% compliance with the basic tenants of leadership I have in my vision. I hope my vision isn’t too lofty.
The leaders in my vision hate corruption. They know there is no such thing as a little corruption. They know there is no “I’ll do it just this one-time corruption”. These leaders know exactly what corruption is and they stand tall against it, always.
The leaders I envision hate dysfunction and inefficiency. They seek out dysfunction and inefficiency at every level and squash it. They understand their main goal is to be great stewards of the public’s funds.
Great leaders hate corruption and dysfunction. When great leaders see corruption and dysfunction and say nothing, they understand they are complicit. Great leaders despise corruption and dysfunction, and when they see something; they say something. “Go along to get along” is vile to any great leader’s spirit.
2020, what a great year! It was the year that produced the long overdue “great awakening.” We the people have been awakened to the corruption and dysfunction at every level of government. We have always been suspicious, but now we are sure. We the people aren’t just awakened. We are sickened.
And it’s different this time. We are at least 80 million strong and we are awake, alert, and orientated.
I have a dream. And in this dream, 100% of the leaders in that Feb. 4th meeting at Blake Library measure up to my lofty vision of what a leader is. In this dream, the rampant corruption and dysfunction in government magically stops at the local level. I have a dream.
Frank McChrystal’s opinions are his own and may not reflect Friends & Neighbors viewpoint.
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The first letter is from Audrey Capozzi re straws:
As a card carrying Libertarian, I see no sense in banning plastic straws since we no longer dump our waste in the ocean. Or do you have some inside information more than is commonly accepted by the public?
If people are throwing them overboard from boats, they are outside the county limits in most cases, so the citizens targeted are landlubbing taxpayers having dinner at a restaurant.
The practice is that of a statist – that is, limiting freedom and liberty.
We all know who the world’s polluters are – China, India, etc.
The second letter is from Christine Taub regarding the Jensen Beach Mooring Field:
As a frequent causeway bridge walker I am curious to know what has happened to the floating docks at Commissioner Smith’s pet project. The two end docks had lifted on to each other and were in need of re-alignment – seemingly not such a difficult repair. However, a crane and a barge were brought in and now all of the docks are gone. Hope they were still under warrantee! Just wondering.
The dock that was built was not up to standard with the DEP because of wave or weather actions. The contractor had to remove it. The contractor will use it somewhere else so at present not a cost.
The engineer and/or architect that designed the dock passed it off to MC engineering who approved it for soundness. The county feels that the engineer/architect should have checked to make sure they should have known the specs expected by the state.
They are currently in negotiation with all parties to see if somebody should compensate for the error. The county feels that they have partial responsibility since they approved the design. The design of course was structurally sound. If a settlement cannot be reached, then the county’s insurance policy kicks in.
The mooring field needs the dock in order to function, so it needs to be built. There already are funds that the county expended to build the field. If anything, it is something that is akin to going over budget.
The big question is should the mooring field had been built at all.
And another on the field from Dave Bigler of Jensen:
I drive across the Jensen Beach Causeway nearly every day, sometimes more than once.
I have observed the construction of the Mooring field on the south side of the causeway. It seems to me that millions of dollars have been spent and it has not opened. Recently, it appears that the contractor is removing what has been installed.
What is the situation? Will this facility ever open? If and when it does, what will the status be for the boats moored on the north side of the causeway. I thought that the Stuart News might tell us what is going on but that does not seem to be the case.
The Mooring Field is one more boondoggle. You may find the taxpayers association doing a paper on that in the near future.
And a third letter regarding the fields from Gail Byrd:
I was on a Committee for the Jensen Beach Mooring Field so many years ago, I believe it might have been year +- 2000.
I disagree with Mr. Smart’s opinion on all facets.
For many years the vessels anchored in the area would break loose and hit the shoreline of the Jensen Causeway. There were derelict vessels left to waste on the river bottom. Their anchors dragged on the sea grass beds.
Permanent anchors protect the sea grass beds. Although, I can’t quote what regulations protect further anchoring. There are regulations that do so.
A mooring field is managed for pump outs, has accommodations for bathing, etc.
Maybe Gil Smart should visit the dockmaster at the Sunset Marina located at the City of Stuart. The economy of the area is definitely improved with the residents of the mooring field.
Kathy Fitzpatrick, Martin County Coastal Engineer, would be the expert on the advantage of a mooring field.
The next letter is from Geoff Norris regarding LNG
Cecile Scofield is absolutely correct in blowing the whistle on the highly dangerous rail tank cars that are planned for shipping liquified natural gas along the east coast of Florida (LNG Nightmare, Friends and Neighbors Sunday Morning, February 14th 2021). This type of rail tank car has been in service for half a century or more, and has been linked to several catastrophic and sometimes deadly explosions. These monster tank cars are 65ft long and each transports more than 30,000 gallons of liquefied propane or other hydrocarbons under a test pressure of 340 pounds per square inch (for comparison, a human being with “high” blood pressure is probably less than 3 pounds per square inch).
The reason these pressurized containment tanks are so dangerous is because in a derailment or other rail accident that might rupture the pressurized tank, the liquified gas can form a BLEVE – a boiling liquid expanding vapour explosion, which is a very real nightmare for firefighters called to the scene of a tank car derailment. A BLEVE from a single tank car can cause a ball of flame to expand a quarter mile or more in radius, and metal debris from such explosions have been documented to be hurled half a mile or more. More than 40 years ago, a propane tank car derailment occurred in the City of Mississauga (just west of Toronto, ON) which led to the evacuation of more than 200,000 residents fearful for their lives.
Use of these dangerous tank cars on the Florida east coast railroad must be stopped.
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And from Lisa Humbert who can answer a question from Herbie’s last piece:
Just a quick note regarding your question of who Betty Bush might be…no relation, that I know of, to the Presidential Bushes. She lived on the mainland. She had a son named Jack, with whom I went to school, first at Benjamin’s, and then Jupiter High.
She was a crusty Jupiter resident who ran a small newspaper that competed with the Jupiter Courier. I believe it was called The Beacon; not positive. I think I remember that she had something to do with the restoration of the depot in Jupiter. Again, not positive. Anyway, she was a very colorful individual. It might be fun to find out more about her.
I enjoy your publication.
And from RJ Pozzi who is upset at the Martin County Taxpayers:
Friends and Neighbors,
I have two topics of concern and frustration with the MCTA and BOCC.
Having attended the MCTA roast and Awards dinner, I struggle with the clear and evident collegial and comfortable environment a Watchdog Group has with those that mean to Tax them! The height of irony was awarding a plaque and Flowers to THE TAX COLLECTOR! It was like an episode of Twilight zone. I’m my opinion a Taxpayer Association should have an adversarial relationship with the bureaucrats, civil servants and elected officials. Please lay out the MCTA’s real mission because it doesn’t add up.
The MC BOCC has used the mask mandate debate and uproar to further insulate themselves from public comment at their meetings. Already they dont respond to the citizens commenting unless its to acknowledge the fawning from the citizen commenter, anything negative or asking for accountability gets ignored for the most part. Around two, three years ago they implemented a “code of Civility” as a first step to Censor the public comments of We The People. A broad and ambiguously worded Code. And most went along because it “sounds nice”. Next they corralled We The People at meetings that was at a convenient time to the Staff and Commissioners not We The People. Effectively the BOCC unilaterally censored those citizens who work regular hours and cant make 9 am on Tuesday or Friday Meetings. Increasing their desire to insulate themselves from dissenting opinion, they terminated the reading into record at the meetings the Public Comments emailed in from those who could not attend. No Zoom is Not equal access. Yes many comment are hard to listen to especially when the wrong County Staffer reads them into record but equal access must be the standard in a Constitutional County and it Local Government. Unless Marin County is a Constitution Free Zone. I missed those signs!
And Tom Steele about masks:
Funny how you didn’t feel making everyone wear masks wasn’t government overreach, given FL Statue 876 specifically prohibits the wearing of masks in public.
What you are referring to is a statute that states if you are committing a crime you cannot cover your face to elude identification. That has been litigated many times and that is the interpretation of what you are speaking of.
From Walter Javorsky regarding South Sewall’s Point Road:
What can you tell me about the new speed limit change on South Sewall’s Point Rd to 25 MPH?
I think that this is getting ridiculous.
They lowered the speed because of construction.
However, the town may be looking to lower it permanently after gathering information and more study.
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COMMISSION MEETING FEBRUARY 16, 2021
There are only a few items worth mentioning.
There was a thorough presentation regarding discharges and coral reefs. The presentation was a joint effort by the Florida DEP, the county, NOAA, and Harbor Branch. It is amazing how everything is interconnected…the Lake and discharges, the reefs, and the lagoon. To see the presentation, go here
There is no secret that Commissioner Ciampi has been a champion of the Equine Rescue & Adoption Center (ERAF) located in Palm City. It is their mission to save horses whose owners are not caring or cannot care for them. They have received money from the county before. This is a more formal way of becoming a vendor like the Humane Society and the Wildlife Rescue.
It appears Ciampi worked closely with staff to move this RFQ along. It would be the place where animal control would drop off horses, cattle and other livestock including pigs to be cared for. The sheriff has used their services in the past but not in the past several years. It was intimated by ERAF’s director that the sheriff strongly recommends that the livestock owner contact the organization so enforcement proceeding wouldn’t be needed.
By state law, the county must have an agreement with someone for personal animals. In Martin County, it is the Humane Society. Martin County is a bit more unusual in that it helps fund the medical needs of wildlife when they are hurt by using the Wildlife Rescue organization. Ciampi’s argument is what about horses and livestock?
He was in the minority on this one. Chair Hetherington couldn’t buy it especially when it came to pigs. Commissioner Smith had always opposed the spending of tax money as has Commissioner Heard on this matter. Ciampi made a motion to fund to the tune of $100,000. It died for lack of a second.
It seems the commission’s action was justified given the fact that the county spends nothing on providing shelter to the homeless. Is a pig or horse more important than a man or woman? Why are tax dollars being used to mend the wing of a bird instead of having a dry place for a kid to sleep? The same can be said for a dog or a cat, I guess.
Priorities are important. In Martin County, dogs and cats are worth tax dollars along with egrets and hawks if they should be hurt. All other living things have no place to be cared for here. I am not so sure I agree but given our limited resources, it probably was the correct decision.
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COMMISSION MEETING FEBRUARY 22, 2021
Because of Covid, the government has brought some innovative programs to the cities. The city’s consultant presented a possible Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to alleviate economic problems caused by the disease. The grant which does not require any match needs to benefit low to moderate economic communities of under 50,000 people. A minimum of 70% of the grant must be to the benefit of those people who are low to moderate in income.
While it could go for individual assistance, the staff’s plan is to buy Gary Plaza on MLK and turn it into a jobs training facility and business incubator. The city itself would not run programs but partner with qualified entities to do so. One partner that comes to my mind would be Indian River State College. There are others, and it does not have to be just one though it should be organizations that have a track record.
This would be a big undertaking for little Stuart. The city would be doing it right by being a facilitator but not the operator. Sometimes commissioners want to reinvent the wheel and in trying to do so accomplish nothing. Commissioners are politicians and they have a deep desire to never say no.
I hope the commission does not intrude on who should provide the instruction and the mentoring. It needs to be someone that the city manager and his staff can work with. The commission is policy, and the staff is operations. The policy is the decision to seek the grant for this purpose. The operating of city services is up to staff to do.
You can see the presentation here
THE GREEN MARKET ONE MORE TIME
For as long as I have been involved with Stuart, the Sunday green market has been a problem.
The city receives $2000 a year. The market charges each vendor a minimum of $25.00 per day. There are 40 to 50 vendors per week. So, on a bad week, they pull in $1000.00.
Sure, they have expenses, mostly what is paid to the manager, but what about the rest of the money? According to the license agreement, the city is supposed to see the books. The city was told for years that it was a non-profit. It was not true. With city prodding a couple of years ago, they tried to form a 501(c)3 but were denied because they were not a charity. They ended up being a 501(c)4, which is a social organization.
I can’t quite understand why the city continues with this stuff. If the commission feels they want a green market, then why don’t they just put it out to an RFP or RFQ. Let the person or organization that will pay the city the correct price will win the contract. We know that $2000 a year is not the right price.
A green market should also serve a civic purpose. That can be spelled out in the bid. Last week, according to the current market manager, only one vendor was selling produce out of 45. That needs to change.
Commissioner Bruner envisions a market with many more vendors. I am not so sure that Stuart can accommodate either all the space necessary or that there is business for more than 50 vendors. We just don’t have the population. So, let us have the market decide the location (either current or in the park itself) and which vendor to use.
The commission is comfortable with staff bringing back an RFP.
This reminds me of the county and its insistence that the annual fair can only be run by the self-named Martin County Fair Association. That is just as nonsensical as keeping the so-called Stuart Green Market. There is nothing magic in a name or organization. Both events should go to the organization best able to perform.
You can find a short presentation here
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SCHOOL BOARD MEETING FEBRUARY 16, 2021
CTE stands for career and technical education. CTE promotes and supports middle and high school programs that provide technical educations for students for 21st century non-college jobs. In the old days, it was known as vocational education.
Public schools throughout the country have tended to go away from more practical hands-on classes that were meant to train students to be auto mechanics and carpenters. However, there certainly continues to be a need for that type of education. I am not quite so sure whether a regular high school is the right place for this education today.
We do need practical nurses, cooks, auto mechanics and an entire range of vocations where the practitioners do not need to know much about Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales or the Jacobines. That doesn’t mean those students shouldn’t have read the Reeve’s Tale or know that there was a French Revolution. There is such a thing as a basic education that should be universal for all students including those in vocational studies.
So, when a school official such as Dr. Millay states that he could add an additional nursing classroom at each of the high schools, I think we miss the point about what is needed. Mrs. Powers said that “we can’t be everything to everyone.” Sometimes in trying to do too much, we end up doing everything poorly.
Why in America are we tied to keeping kids in school until age 18? For those who want a technical career, they should be in a program by junior year where they can be learning subject matter for their intended occupation (e.g., science or math) in the morning and being in apprenticed jobs in the afternoon in the work force where their training can be subsidized by the district but with real world experience.
Schools cannot provide the same level of job training that doing the jobs can. Schools will never have the same up-to-date diagnostic computers to train an auto technician. The same goes for most occupations. Schools could serve as more of an employment agency for those students while still providing the academic underpinnings needed for their intended occupation.
As Mrs. Defenthaler added, there needs to be a focus on community partners. The worst thing education can do is try to teach these kids methods that are obsolete. What better place for practical and current knowledge than the private sector?
Mr. Anderson stated that Mrs Gaylord, the last elected superintendent, did a great job of bringing back the district from chaos. Anderson is right. Without the calmer and more professional atmosphere that Gaylord fostered, anything that the first appointed superintendent does would not be possible.
John Millay has brought some great skills and educational background. His report you can find here It shows how he is moving the district forward. As Defenthaler stated, there needs to be community partners and Millay has jumped at bringing more of them into the fold.
BUDGET WORKSHOP #1 FEBRUARY 23, 2021
In 2021, the taxable value of real estate for the district will be about $26 billion. Over the next 5 years with current trends, the value will rise to almost $30 billion. In year 2007/2008, the school board had $43,886,882 in tax collections. Today the amount is $36,484,159 for capital outlays.
A couple of things happened to make collections less. One was the Great Recession of 2008 which crashed values. The second was when the state reduced the millage allowed for capital improvements from 2% to 1.5%.
In effect, they gave the taxpayers a reduction which they took full credit for and it came directly out of the school board budget. That is about a $175 million loss over more than a decade. This is a reason why some outlays for roofs, chillers and other capital items could not be done. Remember, you can only use capital money for capital repairs and operational income for operations.
I am not going to go through every page of the budget presentation that was shown. It is lengthy and it is attached. A couple things stand out. One is the cost to bond for capital improvements such as the two new elementary schools is cheaper than what was anticipated when the sales tax was passed. The bonds will be paid off at the end of the special sales tax period in 2025.
The second is that they are expanding programs in career and technical education. This will allow more kids to come out of high school with certification that they are ready to enter the work force. It looks like training in welding, nursing, and HVAC will be expanded.
The board wants to see data to make sure the expenditures are cost effective. As Ms. Defenthaler said, she wants to see the ROI for this work. The next budget workshop will flesh out more details.
The entire presentation can be found here
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COMMISSION MEETING FEBRUARY 23, 2021
Chief Ciechanowski gave her yearend report for the police department. This is where most of the town’s operating budget goes so the residents should be apprised of the results. Some of the highlights: they conducted 1037 vehicle stops, 1090 vacant home checks, and responded to 48 disturbances and 15 domestic disputes.
This and other statistics including ongoing projects and grants can be found here
STORM WATER CONTROL
When should you require homeowners to spend significant amounts to store more water on their properties? That is what Ordinance 432 is looking to answer. This item goes back to June of last year when Commissioner Kurzman brought the subject up at a workshop. Resiliency is a new code word, and the town does have flooding issues that are not going to end on their own.
Commissioner Tompeck, an engineer, could not understand the formula for the determination that was in the ordinance. He thought some of the enforcement language should be tightened up also. Kurzman wants to make sure that as much water as possible is retained on the landowner’s property. Commissioner Campo said storm water was the number one problem for Sewall’s Point.
According to the code that is in effect now, substantial improvement of a property is defined as an improvement valued at more than 50% of the value of the house. There was much discussion between the commissioners on this point. Kurzman wanted it to take effect upon sale. He is the most vocal on this matter, but it is not prudent to kill sales of homes because of this. Imagine a home buyer having to tear out landscaping to create a place to hold water even if no other renovations are planned.
An agreement was made to accept the ordinance on first reading with changes and move the ordinance forward to second reading. The tweaks that the commission have suggested would be a change in the calculation language and triggered by a change in the exterior footprint of the house by 10% or more.
It passed 5-0.
MARATHON & SPECIAL EVENTS
Until this year, the Marathon of the Treasure Coast was operated as a non-profit. Commissioner Fender was a founder and under his leadership, it grew substantially to be a premier event. It is a qualifier for the Boston Marathon. The event is now for-profit, and while Fender no longer is involved in operating, he has a financial interest.
There will be 8 police officers needed that the event would pay for. The commission voted 4-0 to let the event occur with Fender abstaining and filing the appropriate forms.
Sewall’s Point has no permitting of special events. Berger had brought this up when her tenure first began, but the commission did not want to discuss it at the time. There has always been an assumption that staff would take care of it as long as it was less than 500 participants. In this day of litigation and liability, that may no longer be possible.
Berger wants to bring back information from other municipalities on their permitting process. Fender was spot on when he said that if a permit was needed, then there would be the needed liability insurance with the town named by the event organizer. Sewall’s Point needs to act like a city with a police force. It may be beginning to do so instead of acting like a gated community with a security force.
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As Indiantown explores the possibility of no longer being part of Martin County Fire/Rescue, the Martin County Taxpayers Association (MCTA) recently completed a paper on the subject.
MCTA was determined to look at what it would mean for both Indiantown and Martin County if the village was no longer part of the district. They used published numbers from Martin County government in coming to their conclusions. It does not appear to be a good outcome for the county, Indiantown’s largest taxpayer, or most of all for the residential taxpayers in the village.
At best, the homeowners of Indiantown will save pennies on their tax bill. FPL, which pays nearly 87% of the current MSTU within the village boundaries, may be unable to remain without adequate Fire/Rescue coverage. Without FPL, the Village does not have adequate resources to have a government.
On February 27th Indiantown will have a workshop where its consultant, the manager, and the council will brainstorm whether to proceed or not. Whatever the council proposes, MCTA will make another and final analysis of this issue. What everyone should know before such a momentous decision is made is that once Martin County Fire Rescue leaves the village, it is unlikely to return even if this decoupling is not successful in the future.
The paper can be found here
COUNCIL MEETING FEBRUARY 11, 2021
It appears Indiantown is looking to completely divorce itself from Martin County.
The village manager is proposing to hire NUE Urban Concepts to develop a Fire Fee, Park Fee and Mobility Fee. These fees would be applied to any new construction within the village. They are village impact fees. The conversation, however, would leave one to believe that these fees would take the place of county impact fees.
Impact fees are an impediment to development. The county has not in all cases used the fees collected on a project to alleviate the direct impact the project will have to the surrounding area. This is a universal struggle. Impact fees need to have a rational nexus to the project being charged the fee.
Mobility fees are a twist on road impact fees because they consider all intermodal transportation features such as bikes, walking, and even golf carts. What all these village fees do not, is take the place of county impact fees. Once these various studies are completed, the village may have the ammunition to challenge the county in using its fees to service Indiantown development.
That is a difficult situation and will undoubtedly mean litigation between the two if pursued. Is it worth the fight and can the village afford it? What do they hope to gain and what do they have to lose?
Indiantown can institute its own impact fees once these studies are completed and ordinances are passed. The county’s impact fees will still be applicable. If there is no interlocal agreement for the village to collect the fees when processing permits, then it will be up to the county to do so. Since the builder or developer will be doing everything out in Indiantown, they will have no contact with the county. If the village doesn’t even notify them that there are county fees, then the developer may be in for a surprise when the county liens the project.
If the developer does not want to pay those fees because they do not believe a rational nexus exists, the issue will be between the county and the individual. Stuart recently signed an agreement with the county to continue to collect their impact fees but at a reduced rate. That is possible, but it must be worked out between the village and county.
If the village is to collect impact fees, the necessary studies will cost $52,500 and $215,250, respectively. You can find the presentation, NUE letters, and an excellent booklet from Florida DEO explaining mobility fees here
What has really gone well for the village is the loans and grants for the water utility. The entire amount of the purchase price has been reimbursed by Florida DEP-State Revolving Fund. That is more than $8,550,000!
There are still millions more that must be obtained to make the needed improvements. The village’s team headed up by Daniel Margo of Aclus Engineering is pursuing other grants and loan opportunities. If Indiantown can bring this off and ultimately, I think it will, future development and current residents will be in a much better position.
To see the entire presentation, go here
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COMMISSION MEETING FEBRUARY 17, 2021
Commissioner Hall stated he would not seek re-election. This will be his last meeting. Hall was celebrated by his fellow commissioners. He will also be stepping down from the finance committee.
Both Mayor Pidot and Commissioner Heck intend to file by the March 1st date to run in the March 16th election.
The entire audit report for the year ending September 30, 2020 was presented. It was given a clean report. As Pidot said it is a real business. You can find the letter of opinion and audit here
CONSERVANCY & ROAD PAVING
The weather tower that the conservancy wants to allow University of Florida to construct at Blowing Rocks Preserve is still trudging along.
The commission has been working on it for some time. Each commissioner has visited the site. They have all weighed in with their opinions. There are conditions for approval that have been drafted. Now the Impact Review Committee has written that they should see this item also.
Mayor Pidot and the commission have really done everything that the committee would have done anyway. Pidot stated that the committee would be necessary if this were attached to a residential property. The commission will move forward by allowing the mayor, the town attorney, and staff to finish up the conditions that are needed.
Heck voted no because he believes that the weather station strays from the original intent of the preserve when dedicated. The item can be found here
The South Beach Road interlocal with the county for repaving is still unresolved. The county wants to cut down trees of more than a 4” circumference back from 6 feet of the roadway. The town has worked out 3 feet with them indemnifying the county if an accident occurs because the trees were not taken.
Apparently, there are not very many trees once the exceptions are taken into account. The entire report can be found here
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I am an unabashed believer in free markets. That doesn’t mean that markets should be unregulated. In international trade, we have the WTO agreements. In domestic markets, we should be using the anti-trust regulations more to prevent monopolies. Regulation should not mean trying to protect companies and individuals from competitive forces.
The idiocy of tariffs and content laws bring us to the government deciding winners and losers. That makes all of us poorer. Businesses and industries should fail and be allowed to die. Using the excuse of saving jobs never works in the long run. The jobs lost are usually the most unproductive ones.
That is why our government should be helping people and not corporations. It is the government’s responsibility to do so and not fostering that responsibility off to business. The most recent example of this is the moratorium on rent collection.
Interfering in contracts between parties (and a lease between a landlord and a tenant is a contract) only leads to a shift in economic circumstance. Not allowing owners to be paid for the service provided to tenants can lead to those homes being lost anyway. A moratorium is not forgiveness…it only kicks the can down the road.
A better solution would be to help the tenants who cannot pay their rents. This can be done through vouchers or direct payments to the owner. If the government wants the moratorium, then a payment plan can be worked out between the state and tenant for repayment of the debt. At the same time the property owner receives the income necessary to pay his bills.
To read more on this and markets go here
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GET THE WORD OUT Friends and Neighbors of Martin County are your eyes and ears so that you know what is going on in Martin County’s municipal and county governments. I attempt to be informative and timely so that you may understand how your tax money is being spent. Though I go to the meetings and report back, I am no substitute for your attending meetings. Your elected officials should know what is on your mind.
ARTICLES OF INTEREST
From The New York Times that this could be Biden’s chance to save the Everglades:
Vox has a piece on the history of the Dining Room:
The Capitolist writes that even Florida Democrats are speaking out on the “60 Minute” hit job on DeSantis
Heather McDonald writes in City Journal about NYC the rising crime rates:
And from Rich Lowery in Politico Magazine regarding Republicans should be looking at DeSantis as the model:
Lastly from Lessons From History the worlds oldest languages that are still spoken:
Only one this week from the Visual Capitalist on the world’s richest families:
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