Tom Campenni

Friends & Neighbors is designed to give you the information that is happening within our County. My goal is to inspire you to get involved and make a change to make Martin County the best it can be.

There is lot’s to do!
– Tom

 

News And Views

Friends-and-Neighbors-of-Martin-County-news-and-views

I

 

INDIANTOWN AND FIRE

 

MSTUs, Municipal Service Taxing Units, were established to provide municipal services to unincorporated county areas. In a perfect world, before these services would be necessary the ever-growing area would incorporate and become a town. In Martin County, it is the other way around. Citizens in communities feel as if their area is neglected by the County so they form a municipality. Voila! The Village of Indiantown is born.

 

In unincorporated Martin County, the Martin County Fire/Rescue Department provides emergency services. Currently, the municipalities of Ocean Breeze and Indiantown receive service from the County. Sewall’s Point procures it from the City of Stuart. The County’s Fire Rescue MSTU provides funding for station operations such as personnel but also administration, fleet maintenance, capital for replacement vehicles and new stations.

 

Indiantown currently has a County facility known as Station 24 within the Village that provides primary service to the Village plus the surrounding unincorporated areas. One of the key components of having adequate protection is having what the County calls “move ups.” For example, if Station 24 is responding to a call happening in unincorporated Martin and Indiantown needed a response at the same time, then other apparatus would be sent from another station such as Tropical Farms.

 

Currently, Station 24 has a larger component than other stations with 7 staff per shift plus floaters when needed. There are also 2 ambulances, 2 brush trucks, and a tanker in addition to the engine. The other station standards are 5 staff per shift with one ambulance and one engine.

 

Areas covered by County Fire/Rescue currently meet ISO (which determines insurance rates) criteria. Industry criteria for a structure fire is a quint (ladder truck) and engines with adequate personnel depending on the size of the event.

 

The Indiantown Incorporation Feasibility Study reflected a per capita charge for the purchase of Fire Rescue instead of an MSTU based on property value. A per capita charge is a ridiculous assumption that fails to pass the most basic economic test. Most of Indiantown’s taxes are raised from FPL. FPL has several operations that need fire protection including a coal-burning plant. There are no residents or per capita to pay for that. The airport also needs special equipment, and once again, there are no people living at the airport.

 

Perhaps at some point in the future, if Indiantown has a public safety department, it could sign an agreement with the County to offer some protection. Jupiter Island’s officers are triple certified as law enforcement, firefighters, and EMTs (Emergency Medical Technicians). The County provides a Paramedic and advanced life support equipment to them.

 

The MSTU that is currently charged pays for 11 stations that form a system to provide adequate coverage for the unincorporated area. The City of Stuart, with its 7 square miles plus Sewall’s Point, has 2 fire stations in order to have adequate coverage. The Village of Indiantown needs to consider these facts when deciding.

 

As a City Commissioner, I fought against consolidation of the Fire Rescue Services. It did not make economic sense for Stuart taxpayers. Stuart’s Fire Rescue has been around longer than Martin County. There is an existing cadre of dedicated professionals with equipment and stations already in place. If the department did not already exist, Stuart Fire/Rescue would be cost prohibited from being established to give residents adequate protections.

 

When two departments cover for each other under the doctrine of mutual aid, there is a cost involved. You can be sure that Martin County will charge each time they respond because the Indiantown department is not available. Finally, what will Indiantown do if its largest taxpayer, FPL, goes away?

 

2

 

BRIDGEVIEW

 

At the Stuart City Commission Meeting on October 28th, there was the 2nd reading of the partial annexation on the Kiplinger property at the foot of the Veterans Memorial Bridge. As you will see in the emails reproduced below, I thought that the entire parcel should be annexed into the City. That sentiment was held by Commissioner Merritt Matheson.

 

The chamber was packed with residents from Riverland in opposition to the annexation. One resident understood what Matheson was trying to accomplish by his opposition. Namely, that he believed, if the City was going to make the project feasible (and it is a good project), then the rest of the parcel should be annexed regardless of what would be the eventual use. The City would give any developer many more opportunities under its regulations than Martin County.

 

The final vote was 4-1 with Matheson against.

 

Tom,

I read your fascinating blog every issue, top to bottom, and I always find your views thoughtful and thought-provoking. Keep ’em coming…

I was pleased to see you write, under the heading Bridgeview, that the new apartment plan for our family’s site on Kanner at Indian Street, north of the Veterans Memorial Bridge, is a “good project.” It certainly is, because, as you note, it will increase our area’s supply of attractive rental units for young professionals, empty-nesters and others. 

But your account repeated a misunderstanding–mostly in the mind of Commissioner Matheson–about the status of a different parcel our family owns on Kanner just south side of the bridge. It is not under contract to the apartment developer, and therefore it was not part of the annexation application that the city commissioners approved 4-1.

Our family company still owns that south parcel, and we haven’t yet decided on its best future use. Contrary to impressions left by Mr. Matheson and your blog, no promises have been made to Martin County or anyone else about its disposition.

It will soon be the last undeveloped corner of that important intersection, and therefore it could have significant value as a retail site or small office building, consistent with its present county zoning.  

Or it could be left as pristine open space, with piney uplands transitioning to mangrove swamps on the river. Since it adjoins Martin County’s Kiplinger Nature Preserve, a 157-acre treasure along and within the St. Lucie River, it might make an appropriate addition to the Preserve, with more parking for “bridge walkers” and new trails to the river. But to repeat: No plans have been made for this parcel.

My family has owned this land for six decades–since 1959, when Kanner Highway was a two-lane country road with nothing on either side, Indian Street was lined with flower and vegetable farms, and a new bridge over the St. Lucie was a futurist’s pipe dream.  

Needless to say, the Kiplingers have never been out to make a quick buck, and we usually find a socially appropriate use for every property we own.  

Thanks, Tom.    — Knight Kiplinger

 

And my response to Mr. Kiplinger’s e-mail:

 

Knight:

 

Thank you for the kind words. Both your email and this response will go into the next Friends & Neighbors.

 

As you are quite aware, I believe that your Pineland Prairie should be emulated by more developers in the County and the state. Your family has been a true conservator of lands in Martin County. I do agree that the Kiplingers have nothing but the best intentions.

 

When the purchaser of the property brings his site plan for development on the north side of the bridge, I will probably support it if it is what I believe he has in mind. The Stuart City Commission when this moves forward will have many in the chamber urging them to reject the project. Most of the protesters will be unincorporated Martin County residents from Riverland. There will also be those that will speak against the project because they speak against every project. Few if any will speak in favor and tell the Commission that this is what is needed.

 

The splitting of the parcel between the City and the County feeds into the cynicism that people have regarding how Martin County develops. Some see the reason the City annexes property is so a larger development can be built than if the property had remained in unincorporated Martin County. Given that this cynicism is so prevalent it would have been better to annex the entire parcel now than to possibly annex the southern portion later. There was no reason for the entire parcel not to be annexed regardless of the eventual use of the southern part.

 

I am willing to accept your statement that a decision has not been made regarding the southern property. That at present you will not give the County this property as conservation land. That would make it only more perplexing why you did not want the entire parcel to be annexed into Stuart. The realm of possibilities is so much greater which would include the southern portion being placed in conservation.

 

This decision not to annex can’t be because the City would not allow more intense use of the southern site. If you did decide that it should be placed in conservation, then the City would benefit from it as would all residents in Martin County. The tax consequences for all concerned would remain the same.

 

For the good of Stuart’s future, the Commission should have made sure that the entire parcel was annexed. I believe that it was a mistake to annex only half a loaf. The Commission is perceived as the ones that will do anything for the development community. While their counterparts at the County have the residents believe they are on the side of the environmental angels and would not allow such damaging development to occur on their watch.

 

Last night the Stuart City Commission continued to foster that very impression. They should have realized if they were going to take the heat, the long-term benefit for the City should have been better. Only Matheson knew that they should negotiate and not acquiesce to a demand. The ability to say no can have a much better result for the citizens.

 

3

 

COUNTY BUDGET MADE SIMPLE

 

The County’s population last year grew by about 2%. The budget grew by $62.7 million. There are 22 new positions in the 2020 budget. Martin County has 72 parks and had 23,706 emergency calls. The Sheriff’s budget is over $70 million of the nearly $500,000 million budget.

 

These and other interesting facts are highlighted in a 2-page PDF that the County has put out. It has so many facts, it may entice a few people to go to the County’s website and peruse the entire budget. Many people think that a government budget is nothing but boring tables of numbers. That really is far from the truth. The County budget has pages of narrative that put their income and expenses into an understandable perspective. The same goes for the City of Stuart and Indiantown.

 

If you want to start your budget understanding in a simple manner just go to the handout produced by the County at this link:

 

https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn%3Aaaid%3Ascds%3AUS%3Ac07d1d76-7570-4b21-8b67-254ae3bf8b86

 

BELIEVE IT OR NOT

 

No one can accuse me of not believing in more housing and density. That is why I was surprised that the Board, of which I am a member, were forced to send a proposal for greater density back to staff because it was incomplete at the November Stuart CRB (Community Redevelopment Board) meeting.

 

For years, the motels on Federal Highway by the bridge have been in disrepair. They have been a source of police and code complaints. I stayed there 25 years ago for a night and it was bad. I can’t imagine what it is like today.

 

There are 19 hotel units. The developer wants to convert these units to apartments. In order to do that, he needs a change in density from 15 units per acre to 24 units per acre. In the request presented, there was no site plan, parking plan, landscape plan, or renderings of what the redeveloped units will look like. Without any of this, what we were asked to do was grant the developer the right to place 24 units on that site without any conditions.

 

Spot Zoning is where a parcel is given special treatment that is contrary to the current zoning for the parcel and the surrounding parcels. If we as a board were to permit 24 units while everything around the site is 15 units without any site plan etc., the City would have just made that parcel more valuable. By doing this, shouldn’t the City receive some benefit?

 

The second problem is that behind the parcel is a neighborhood with homes and families and businesses. Without a site plan and a complete application, the developer can change his mind regarding rehabbing the existing structure and scrape the site and build a 4-story apartment building without setbacks, adequate parking, or a bush anywhere. Is it fair to that neighborhood?

 

Some may say that the neighborhood is against affordable or workforce housing. I heard a little of that during public comment, but the main reason is they want to see what is going to be in their back yards and whether those apartment residents will be taking their limited street parking. This is not about what type of housing but rather the quality of life in our City.

 

The code and the rules say it should be the CRB and ultimately the Commission that decides what our City looks like within the CRA not staff. Recently, there has been too much of staff trying to push through projects without proper vetting by boards or the residents. I will continue to advocate for greater density. What I won’t do is allow developers, with the acquiescence of staff, ignore good planning. Maybe the City planners should be more than order takers and do their jobs.

 

WHERE MARTIN STANDS II

 

I can’t think of a bigger waste of time than the County/City/School Board Meeting held quarterly.

 

The information presented is by rote and could just be sent to the individual boards. Every once in a while, there will be some grandstanding by some elected official to the amusement of the audience. With something of substance rarely happening, perhaps it may be time to stop the inordinate waste of taxpayer dollars to have this dog and pony show. We don’t pay extra for the elected officials to attend, but the staff members present are all being paid to sit in the Blake Library’s meeting room in case they are needed.

 

How about a new approach? We now have 16 elected officials (soon to be 15 officials once the superintendent is appointed). Each of the elected boards could appoint one of its members to sit on a committee that would meet monthly to discuss joint initiatives. Each committee member would bring policy concerns from its board. They then would be able to report back at the individual board’s meetings about what had been discussed.

 

Working together is great but these unwieldy and time-wasting meetings need to come to an end. By forming a board of elected representatives, the lines of communication can remain open, but all the other rigmarole can be dispensed with. 

 

Friends-and-Neighbors-of-Martin-County-Letters-To-Tom

I urge those that are reading this newsletter to send an email expressing their opinions on subjects. When a reader sends one, it will be included if I find it relevant and I have adequate space. I may edit the letter because of length and clarity. You don’t have to agree with me to have your letter in Friends & Neighbors. All you must do is send it to

tom@tomcampenniforstuart.com

  

The first letter is from Audra Bell regarding Palm City Road

 

Good morning, Mr. Campenni:

 

I understand the need for the speed table(s) on Palm City Road; however, I live in one of the corner houses on PCR & Manor Drive.  That Table they put in is WAY too high.  Every few cars that pass, I’m hearing cars bottom out from INSIDE my house. It’s nerve wracking to say the least.  People just DON’T drive 25 mph down the road.  That will never change, no matter how many speed tables or speed traps the police set up.  I agree that something needed to be done, especially since that corner is also a bus stop.  But REALLY?  Did they need to raise the speed table so high that the residents now have to listen to car axles squeaking and tires screeching from crashing over it every few minutes?  

 

Not even sure what the answer is.  Lower it?  Put up blinking lights before the table?  Not sure, but the city planners definitely screwed it up yet again. ~ Audra Bell 

 

Our next email is from Todd Campbell regarding development

 

Tom,

 

Thank you for your email and keeping me up to date with the activities in development of Martin County.

 

I’m a current resident of Indiantown and have a business in Fort Lauderdale. I have been in Mortgage Banking for 35 years along with buying selling and investing in real estate throughout my career. I am a hobby farmer who raises cattle in the Martin County area. As you know there’s a tremendous amount of people moving into Florida and after living in the south Florida area for many years you can see the impact on the infrastructure and the congested way of living in counties that have been overdeveloped. Dade Broward Palm Beach and St Lucie counties have too much development and too many people. 

 

I strongly suggest keeping Martin County as conservative as possible with minimal development. The biggest need in the State of Florida is affordable housing. There needs to be some investment in providing some forms of affordable housing either by new construction or development of existing parcels.

 

There are multiple subdivisions that have already been developed with multiple empty lots with minimal activity.  The emphasis should be to develop these lots and improve existing homes and multifamily. The requirement of one house per 20 acre throughout Martin County should be held in place until the existing unfinished subdivisions have been partially completed. 

 

There should be more emphasis on adding more retail medical and other types of businesses in the Martin County area.

 

Feel free to give me a call and we can talk about our perspective’s thanks for your time!

 

Todd Campbell

 

This is from Paul Rodecki regarding a project that is moving forward on Mapp Road. I have only printed his email and not those from others cited. If you want more information you can speak to Catherine Riiska at Growth Management that is apparently handling Grand Oaks.

 

Tom,

 

Thought you may be interested in this brewing “fiasco” …………   it regards a proposed development across from the Justin Wilson Park on Mapp Rd in Palm City.

 

The writer “Jerry K” is an engineer who lives on Sandpiper, and is quite rightfully concerned.  Seems that “big money” talks louder than the citizens….. go figure!   I too have a vested interest in the outcome, as I live on SW Mooring Drive, and have also voiced my concerns about Storm Water Drainage for this project.

 

I send this to you in case you’re running out of things to discuss!   If you’ve got much more important things to discuss……. well, so be it.

 

Thanks for your newsletter, and thanks for your time in reading this.

 

Best, Paul Rodecki

 

Tom Pine wants to speak on the subject of growth in Martin County also:

 

Editor
>
>                               We have seen this dog and pony show before, it never ends good for tax payer.
>                               In the mid 1990’s the powers to be in Martin County wanted to increase the size of Whitman Field [Martin County Airport]. To accomplish this feat the county hired an airport director that would do whatever it took to get the job done.
>                               A presentation with photos was given to the commissioners for them to approve the extension of runway 12 / 30. The commissioners approved it in a 5 to 0 vote.
>                               Sometime after the county approved the extension and work was moving forward it was discovered that the photos the airport director used were out of date over two decades. The old photos left out one major issue just west of runway 12 / 30 there were 31 homes. If those homes were included in the original presentation they would have had to of had an environmental assessment.
>                               After the truth came out two of the commissioners apologized for not doing there do diligence on the runway extension vote, that told me that three commissioners didn’t care what it took to get runway 12 / 30 extended.
>                              The Browardization of Martin County will be a multi-pronged attack. First the majority of Martin County Commissioners will do what they can to water down the Martin County Growth Management plan. The second step, on February 7, 2011 a new Parks and Recreation Director was hired right from Broward County. Yes this is the director that initially removed all the trash cans from our beaches and our parks, they have since been replaced. He also has plans in waiting for major changes to the water park that he presented to the Martin County Commission in 2018. The best way to move forward with the Browardization of Martin County is to hire supervisors right from Broward County.
>                                The Browardization of Martin County will not only see increased traffic on our roads and higher density in our neighborhoods we will also see major increases in our taxes. Water parks and mooring fields are just the beginning.
>
>              Tom Pine

 

 

And from Frank Puleo from the Florida Club regarding road construction on Kanner Highway. I passed it on to the County Administrator.

 

Hi Mr Campenni, My name is Frank Puleo a resident at the Florida club.

I’m writing to you of a safety concern at our entrance. 

1st.    The entrance is unmarked very hard to see or find especially at night.

2nd.   Local drivers are speeding through this area oblivious to the                       cars trying to enter the hwy.

3rd     It is impossible to enter the hwy and get up to speed because of the condition of the entrance, bumps etc. 

4th      I have personally witnessed 3 near miss rear end collisions.

It is only a matter of time before we have a horrendous wreck in front of the Florida Club.

I am very concerned for my fellow residents in the community.

The entrance needs to be marked with flashing lights so other drivers realize there are vehicles entering the highway. The speed limit also needs to be lowered as well to insure safety.

 Please have an experienced officer observe this situation before someone is either severely hurt or killed! 

Thanks so much for you’re concern and I look forward to hearing from you. You can contact me through email.

Regards 

Frank A Puleo

 

And last from Ron Aussner regarding Pelican Café:

 

 

Tom,

What is with the Pelican Cafe deal?  Is the City of Stuart turning into a welfare city? Putting the lease out for bidding when it expires would be beneficial for the taxpayers and bring it in line

with what other tenants are paying for city owned property for rent. Or get out of real estate business altogether and sell the property. Be a government and do what they were elected for. 

MartinCounty

Friends-and-Neighbors-of-Martin-County-Commission

Martin County Heading 2.

COUNTY COMMISSION MEETING NOV. 12TH

 

During public comment, Stephen Leighton asked the County to continue waiving customs fees for his charity which is sending flights with supplies to the Bahamas. The question is should Martin County taxpayers continue to subsidize one charity over others. Is it legal to do so?

 

The Customs office that many wanted to open here has costs associated with it that must be paid. The fees charged pay for the operation of that facility. The Feds, who are in charge, aren’t waiving anything for the County. As a point of reference, the Bahamian government has charged customs duty on every flight entering its country.

 

Staff stated that, if the fees are waived for the twice-weekly flights, the cost would be nearly $40,000 over the six months remaining on the rental agreement for space between Leighton’s organization and the County. That does not include the airport facility which the charity receives for free, or the County employee that is assigned to that facility.

 

We are talking big bucks here. Should our tax dollars be used for this purpose? Is the role of local government to assist in foreign disaster aid to another nation? While staff (including the County Attorney) cautioned the Commission, they seemed inclined to continue with the largess.

 

Instead of the Commission agreeing to do so or instructing staff, BOCC Chair Ciampi told Leighton and staff to “work it out.” What exactly does that mean? If it could have been “worked out,” then the Commission wouldn’t be involved. Politically, the Commission wants to accommodate a group with powerful friends, but they are afraid that there may be push back from taxpayers and voters.

 

It is not up to staff to set policy. It is the Commission’s responsibility. Staff should not be placed in this awkward position because Commissioners are afraid of making a public decision. This is one reason why citizens have a jaundiced eye toward politicians. If the BOCC believes that Leighton’s charity should be entitled to this benefit, then instruct staff to waive the fees which will be picked up by taxpayers. Don’t make the bureaucrats your fall guys.

 

SALERNO SEAFOOD FESTIVAL

 

Once again, we were treated to the organizers and supporters of the Salerno Seafood Festival making their points for continuation during public comment even though this year’s event is not in jeopardy.

 

The organizers have a valid point that the Seafood Festival draws people from all over the region and elsewhere to Port Salerno. It has become bigger and rowdier in the past few years. To some, that is good and to others (especially those living there), it is not. However, no one is making any changes to this year’s event. It will go on as planned.

 

Chair Ciampi was visibly annoyed at Commissioner Smith for pushing seemingly to have the festival continue as is with another day tacked on for the future. There was no public notice that this would be discussed so the comments were one-sided in favor. Commissioner Heard, whose district encompasses Port Salerno, was not at the meeting because she was on jury duty.

 

Wisely, Ciampi stopped any further action. It makes perfect sense to wait until after the festival and have an agenda item in February to see whether the residents feel differently. The organizers are supposedly having new measures instituted during this year’s event to alleviate their concerns.

 

What this dust-up has brought to light in my mind are two issues. What is the public benefit of this event? Supposedly the funds raised go to charity. How much does it cost to put on, what is the revenue and how much and to which charitable organizations do the benefits go? How about some transparency…

 

Second issue is the contract that the Salerno Dock Authority has with the County to operate the docks throughout the year. Who are these people and why are they entrusted with a public facility? Is this like the old golf course group that thought they had their own country club? The golf course was operated right into the ground. Are these fishing docks being handled in a similar manner? I want to know more about it, who is benefiting and what is the public benefit? Stay tuned… 

 

FAIRGROUNDS MOVES FORWARD?

 

Does a simple Comp Plan amendment to enable water and sewer to be brought to the site of the new fairgrounds have to be complicated? In Martin County, of course the answer is yes.

 

The Town of Jupiter Island filed an objection to the amendment. Was it because of a disagreement with the fairgrounds’ relocation? Was it because the Town doesn’t want to see any development? The reason was because they wanted to be the ones providing the utility service.

 

The County and the Town have agreed to not decide that as part of the Comp Plan Amendment. Utilities may be a fight for another day. The Village of Indiantown is entering negotiations to buy the private utility currently servicing its municipality. It would only make sense for the Village to service the fairgrounds. A letter was signed between Jupiter Island and the private utility that is mentioned in the settlement. I am trying to get a copy. Perhaps it would shed some further light.

 

Will the fairgrounds relocation move forward? I hope so! There is nothing preventing a signed lease between the Fairground Committee and the County. Like so much, this too is to be continued. 

City-of-Stuart

Friends-and-Neighbors-of-Martin-County-Stuart-City-Commission

City-of-Stuart Heading 2.

OCTOBER 28th CRB/CRA/COMMISSION MEETING:

 

After years of getting to this point, the CRA and Arts Council presented a plan to formally have an Arts District in Stuart.

 

The district will be known as “The Creek.” It has several art-type venues already within its boundaries. No zoning or code changes were enacted. Nothing has changed except a name. “The Creek” sounds cool…doesn’t it?

 

This is a marketing ploy. Will there be changes within its boundaries? I sincerely doubt it. I could be wrong, but I don’t believe a designation alone does much. Businesses that were going to open there would open their doors regardless. Perhaps it will bring a critical mass of art galleries and music venues that are needed in order to have sustained activity.

 

Until Stuart resolves its conflicted identity, no amount of branding will have much of an effect. The City has less than 17,000 people and skews older and poorer than what would be necessary to have a group able to support a real urban arts district. Right now, historic downtown does not have Stuart residents as customers but rather depends on County, regional and other tourists to stay open.

 

I am in favor of an arts and entertainment district. How about a real one instead of a Potemkin district like downtown? Success would mean there are residents of the district that give it life with street activity not just occasionally but constantly. Without a change in that direction, nothing much will happen.

 

Our CRA is good at signposts and little parks for a day or two. They are content with banners and flower baskets. A CRA is meant to redevelop its area. “The Creek” is an idea in search of a program. It will have festivals. Stuart already has hundreds of events each year. But nothing changes. And Stuart will remain a quiet little place that has a tax base that cannot keep up with expenses.

 

The District boundaries can be viewed at:

 

https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn%3Aaaid%3Ascds%3AUS%3Ac36492ab-497c-4120-b005-7428779ff4ae

 

 

OCTOBER 28TH COMMISSION MEETING

 

The combined meeting of the CRA, CRB Boards, and Commission followed by the Commission Meeting seemed perilously close to being out of control. Public comment turned into debates. Speakers went on for longer than their allotted five minutes. It was chaotic at times.

 

Whether it is the CRA Board, the Commission, or any other appointed board, it is a public meeting of that board. It is not a public meeting with the audience. They are allowed public comment, and it should be heard by the board members. What it is not is a question-and-answer period. Nor should the board members speak to those commenting.

 

It is up to whomever is chairing the meeting to keep order. It is not a social or a community get-together. Perhaps the City should borrow the County’s structure of having the Manager inform the person that his/her time is up. It is quite effective at the county’s meetings. The Chair of the School Board reads a long statement before their public comment, perhaps a shorter version should be read at the City meetings.

 

Sometimes the public has a problem trying to follow what is going on. Exhibits may be missing. Explanations are not coherent.  I am not the only one that feels this way. The Martin County Taxpayers Association had an auditor at this meeting. I thought his take was interesting. The report is as follows.:

 

Re:       SCC Report

 

Date:    October 28th, 2019-Morning

 

Call to Order.

 

5:35 PM.

.

Commission Action.

 

  1. Pelican Café Lease.

 

City Mgr. Dyess spoke in favor of approval.

Vice-Mayor Clarke made a series of comments referring to specific page items in the Agreement, but unlike the BOCC Meetings, the material wasn’t presented on screen, thus the audience could not follow along with her dialog. Commissioner Meier then observed rhetorically that they were being asked to approve the lease prior to any building plans were made public. Nonetheless, and with no public comment, the motion to approve passed 5-0.

 

Ordnance First Reading.

 

  1. Hope Center for Autism.

 

Presentation covered the move from the Indian St locale to the proposed new location on SE Willoughby. Their present student load is 48 from Pre-K thru 5th grade. There are 52 on the wait list. All made short statements of approval and motion to proceed passed 5-0.

 

 

Ordnance Second Reading.

 

  1. Zoning Text Change re Front Yard Fences ( R-2 Zoning District ).

 

No public comments and no substantial commission comment. Motion to proceed passed 5-0.

 

  1. Annexation of 15.88 Acre Property on NW Corner of Kanner Hwy and Indian St.

 

Again, the presentation was not supported by the “Exhibit A” data referenced in the agenda document, hence was hard to follow. Public comment from several residents of the adjacent Riverland community spoke against, conjuring up descriptions of four story buildings, and road access, but were reminded that the question at hand was annexation, not site plan details. Motion to proceed passed 4-1 with Comm. Meier against.

 

  1. Single Use Plastics and Polystyrene Products.

 

No public comment, nor serious discussion by the Commission, and a motion to proceed passed 5-0.

 

  1. Prohibition of Plastic Straws Within City Limits.

 

Again, no public comment nor serious discussion (it was observed that this ordnance carried fines, which were unspecified) and Motion to proceed passed 5-0

 

Adjournment.

 

The meeting was adjourned at 7:25 PM. 

PELICAN

 

The Pelican lease was settled not with a bang but a whimper.

 

When the Commission last met, the Dalys were insistent that it go before the Board to have the lease negotiated in public. The City Manager should have never allowed that to happen. It is his responsibility to bring a final product before the Commission. He can be advising them as to the state of the negotiations and the terms throughout. The Manager could even report to the Commission in public at a meeting.

 

There were terms that the Manager and his staff wanted in the lease. They were important and I am glad the Commissioners agreed. The main sticking point was the Dalys’ demand to be able to transfer the balance of the lease, which could be up to 20 years, to another buyer. The Dalys’ demands to negotiate directly with the Commissioners should have been ignored.

 

Meier & Matheson, along with the rest of the City’s Commission, believed that the City residents should not allow someone to sell the right to a City lease. Each lease is specific to the individuals the City is negotiating with. Congrats to all.

 

BRIDGEVIEW ANNEXATION

 

The Commission voted 4-1, with Matheson opposing, to approve the partial annexation of the Kiplinger property on Kanner Highway on both sides of the Veterans Bridge. Knight Kiplinger’s email explains his view and my response are in the News & Views Section.

 

STRAWS & PLASTICS

 

The ban on single-use plastics on City property and plastic straws throughout the City was approved 5-0.

 

At the joint meeting of County/City/School Board, the County had determined to use the carrot instead of the stick. They will encourage less use but not outlaw such use. A political punt has been achieved.

 

Look for lawyers’ letters to start coming to the City once stores such as Publix learn of the ban. There may have been a shot of success if the County had joined the ban. But with only “little old Stuart” as the Mayor would say in the breach, I am not so sure even plastic straws will be perpetually outlawed.

 

COMMISSION MEETING NOV. 12TH

 

At the last LPA Meeting, the Board decided 4-1 to deny the Trillium Apartment project which is proposed to be located next to Walmart. Li Roberts who voted yes did so because it was housing. She was not thrilled with the project either. She made her objections known at this meeting when she spoke during public comment.

 

When does a Commission override its LPA or any voluntary board? That is a difficult decision for a Commissioner. It appeared to weigh heavily on Matheson and, to a lesser extent, on Meier.

 

Except for Roberts, the LPA didn’t think it was a good idea to change the land designation from commercial to residential. They didn’t believe that people would buy a home next to Walmart. Should those opinions be factors to an LPA member? If a developer wants to build townhomes next to a business, should the LPA substitute its judgement for the landowner? Isn’t that why we have markets?

 

If the roles were reversed and a Walmart wanted to be placed next to a residential development, then the government should think before agreeing to allow a zoning change. The opinions of residents do matter. They bought their homes next to a residential-zoned vacant property. They would expect that future development would be similar.

 

This is not the case here. Too often the government wants to dictate to the market. That is not its job. When they do become enmeshed in the economics of a project, failure is all too often the result.

 

The proposed 76 units are not going to be luxury housing. In fact, in the long run, many will probably be bought by investors and rented. All the units are three bedrooms/two baths, and, with a selling price of about $250,000, they are being called “attainable housing.” The developer and staff suggested people could walk to Aldi or Walmart, which is true since they abut the project. It was even intimated that employees of Walmart could live there. That is hard to believe unless four or five get together and then rent a unit.

 

The Commission did not delve into the project’s specifics. There were no suggestions or conditions that they imposed. Matheson mentioned he didn’t like gated communities in Stuart but then made no attempt to remove the project’s gate. Leighton motioned to accept the project without conditions and Clarke seconded. It passed 5-0

 

This is a run-of-the-mill project that adds housing but little else to the City. It isn’t even very dense. In Port St. Lucie, this project would be considered insignificant. Should it have been approved? The answer is yes. I wish, though, that the LPA, development staff, and the Commission had forced the developer to make it a better project using conditions.

 

The developer’s presentation can be found at:

 

https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn%3Aaaid%3Ascds%3AUS%3A782bc4ca-fcfe-4758-954b-1f0f41384d42

 

 

NEW TRAIN BRIDGE

 

If I told you that there was a possibility of having a new train bridge spanning the St. Lucie in downtown, would anyone say it was a bad idea? The answer is yes, and Commissioner Leighton is the one that said it.

 

Virgin Trains has asked that local governments support its efforts to find federal grant money to design and replace the current bridge with a new one. The new design will have clearance of 18 feet, allowing over 90% of the boat traffic in that part of the St. Lucie River to transit at any time, as opposed to the current span of 5 feet. The City was not being asked to sponsor anything, use any of its tax dollars or administer the grant. So why the problem?

 

It is no longer a possibility that local governments will stop Virgin Trains or curtail the freight rail traffic from continuing in Martin County. The County itself has signed an agreement dropping its lawsuit, a move I supported. Virgin may fail because of economics, but it won’t fail because a new bridge isn’t built. Those transportation dollars that the railroad would be seeking are already appropriated for transportation projects. Congressman Mast would need to support the grant request.

 

So, is there something more here? Why the hesitancy to do what is best for Stuart and Martin County? Mast justifiably won’t sign on publicly unless local governments express support for the bridge. It is my understanding that Martin County doesn’t want to pass a resolution unless Mast sends a letter stating his support. It is well known that, for some odd reason, Martin County never signs an agreement or passes a resolution until all other parties have done so first.

 

Could the hubris of five County Commissioners be standing in the way of not only the best interests of downtown Stuart but also the hundreds of boaters who live west of that bridge? There is no other way for those boats to get to the inlet. Even if Virgin Trains went away tomorrow, this is an infrastructure improvement that would be huge for both the commercial and personal marine industry. What gives?

 

This is not about trains or, as Leighton claimed, spending tax dollars unwisely. State and local tax dollars are not being requested. This is a needed infrastructure improvement to a hundred-year-old failing bridge. Are politics and political contributions involved? Is it going to be the case of no one doing anything and then everyone points the finger at the other person? That tactic means no one is ever held accountable.

 

In the end, Leighton made a motion to not sign the resolution which was seconded by Clarke. It failed 3-2 with Meir, Matheson and Bruner voting no. A motion was made by Matheson seconded by Meier to approve the resolution. It passed 4-1 with Leighton dissenting. Clarke can be on all sides of an issue.

 

A disclosure…I spoke at the Commission meeting in support of the resolution.

 

If you are a boater in Palm City, you need to urge your County Commissioners to get on board with a resolution supporting the bridge. If you are connected to the Marine Industries do the same. If you are a Realtor, you should make a phone call to the Commissioners at the County administration building. Let them know that they cannot aspire for campaign funds or other offices by ignoring what is good for the majority of our residents and businesses.

 

And make sure to include Mast in your communications. Without his public support, nothing will happen in Washington.

 

This is not about endorsing the train. It is about the quality of life in Stuart and Martin County. A new bridge will only enhance that quality. Don’t let either hubris or political calculations and contributions get in the way.

 

Martin-County-School-Board

Friends-and-Neighbors-of-Martin-County-School-Board

Martin County School Board Heading 2 text.

NOVEMBER 5TH WORKSHOP

 

The proponents, led by Director Nancy Turrell and the Arts Council, advocating for obtaining the old high school building from the District were out in force. On the face of it, Turrell made a good presentation for why the School Board should turn the building over to them for their future home.

 

There was a lack of specifics, but this wasn’t the time for specifics. It was a vision of the future that looked to Boynton and Delray for inspiration. Which is funny, in some respects, since we want to emulate those communities when it comes to public and philanthropic expenditures for projects such as this but not when we speak about increasing density or making Stuart a more urban setting. How do you sustain one without the other?

 

The vision to spend millions of either taxpayer or philanthropic dollars on creating an Arts Center in an environmentally sick old building is expensive. Is the old high school historic in any way except that it is old? The outside architecture is run of the mill. Inside, the place has no redeeming qualities except that it is old. Historical doesn’t mean old…and that is one of Martin County’s problems. It can’t distinguish between the two.

 

The School Board recently bought the Stuart News Building on U.S. 1 for their new headquarters. That building will no longer be paying taxes. The School Board recently agreed to work with Boys and Girls Club in the rear of the high school property to build a new complex. That won’t be on the tax rolls either. The current home of the Arts Council, the Cultural Courthouse, is owned by the County and that isn’t on the tax rolls.

 

As the current home to the School District, the old high school pays no taxes and, if the Arts Council does manage to obtain it, it will continue to pay no taxes.  As government in the County, City, and District continues to expand and grow, how do we afford it? How do we afford more and more nonprofits that pay nothing either?

 

We already have a Martin County Cultural Center, the underused Elliot Museum. It has space for concerts, showings and other art events. If you go into the museum, you can see that it is not being used to the best of its potential. Why can’t the Arts Council and Elliot work together for the benefit of the taxpayers and to be better shepherds of philanthropic dollars? Perhaps then the School Board could sell the parcel, and something can go back on the tax rolls.

 

Ms. Turrell’s remarks and PowerPoint can be found at the links below. I urge all of you to look because they do present her case well.

 

https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn%3Aaaid%3Ascds%3AUS%3A077cb437-a6b8-45f0-9b1b-637c44a8f983

 

https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn%3Aaaid%3Ascds%3AUS%3A74f54c3a-9dc0-4214-91e2-5d2fc9a58c3f

 

MILLAGE UPDATE

 

It seems some taxpayers don’t understand why the School Board retains as a reserve 5% of its budget. Chair Li Roberts has written the following to explain the policy. As usual, it is thorough and explains it better than I ever could have.

I’d like to take a few minutes to discuss the Voter-Approved Half Mill Funds and the Operating Account of the Martin County School District.

Please recall that the School District has two basic accounts – Operating (which pays for all salaries, benefits, utilities, administration, operations, maintenance, services, materials and supplies) & Capital (which pays for repairs, maintenance, renovations, technology, buses, vehicles and new construction).  On August 28, 2018, the generous, supportive voters of Martin County approved an additional 0.5 mills on their property tax bills for four years to add funding to the Operating Account.  On the ballot, clear and transparent language was provided that this funding would go to five categories of expenses:  (1) school safety and security for all schools, (2) mental health programs, (3) recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers, (4) professional development for teachers and staff, and (5) academic initiatives.  It is estimated that for the four years over $11 million each year will be collected that will ONLY be used in these five categories. 

At a School Board Workshop on June 26, 2018, the school board publicly discussed and evaluated suggestions from the public, district employees, the superintendent and board members to determine which ideas fit into one of these five categories.  The Board then agreed upon which recommendations would be funded for the first year, with some items being funded for more than one year.  At this time, the Board agreed that over 77 percent would be committed to recruiting and retaining highly qualified teachers for all four years.  The Board confirmed this commitment with a unanimous vote at the Regular School Board Meeting on July 17, 2018 (Item # 18.10).  It was a priority of the Board to provide clarity to the voters BEFORE they voted how much of the money generated from the additional half mill would be used to recruit and retain our highly qualified teachers.  The actual terms and amounts for teachers were agreed upon with a Memorandum of Understanding with the collective bargaining unit and approved by the Board at the Regular School Board Meeting on September 18, 2018 (Item # 18.01).  The Millage Stipend amounts are based on years of teaching experience and are $1,800 (for 0-5 years), $5,000 (for 6-9 years), and $7,800 (for 10+ years).  Last year’s teachers that returned for this school year were paid their Millage Stipend earlier this fall.  Thank you to all the voters and taxpayers who willingly showed their support and understanding of the value of our public schools in Martin County by making this possible. 

As with any major undertaking like this, there are always questions about the details.  We are always happy to answer those questions and provide clarity.  When you look at the document attached to the July 17, 2018 Regular School Board Meeting Item # 18.10 titled “DRAFT Martin County School District Operating Initiatives Worksheet”  – available for viewing here https://go.boarddocs.com/fl/martin/Board.nsf/files/B2ESFS6F609E/$file/DRAFT%20Martin%20County%20School%20District%20%20%20Operating%20Initiatives%20Worksheet.xlsx  – there is a line above the colored boxes that says $11,200,000 – 5% Fund Balance of $560,000  = $10,640,000 Available.  Several people have asked what that means.   Please allow me to explain. 

State law specifies that each Florida School District maintain a fund balance (for funds not classified as restricted, committed, or nonspendable) at a level of three percent.  This law can be found in Florida Statutes 1011.051 – Guidelines for general funds.  The state has determined that it is necessary and prudent that school districts have funds available to address normal contingencies.  Districts like ours that are fiscally conservative adopt policies that exceed the minimum state requirement.  In Martin County, we have a Board Policy 6210 – Fiscal Planning that specifies that “the School Board shall strive to maintain a fund balance in its operating funds equal to five percent (5%)”.   

The statement on the Worksheet is our disclosure that five percent of the revenue from the voter-approved half mill will be set aside and held in the Fund Balance to comply with our policy. As this money rolls out of the Fund Balance, it can only be used in the five specified categories that were on the ballot and approved by the voters.  And, the percentage that the School Board specified for teachers would apply to these dollars as well when they come out of the Fund Balance.

I hope this helps clear up any confusion and adds clarity.

Christia Li Roberts, School Board Chair

NOVEMBER 7TH WORKSHOP

 

When I was in high school, administrators and teachers were looking to keep marijuana out of the school. It would have been laughable to suggest that students needed to be administered pot as medicine. Times have changed.

 

A directive from Florida’s Education Department has demanded that local districts come up with a policy on how medical marijuana is going to be administered to students. If the local boards do not have such a policy by the end of the year, they risk losing funding for programs. All the while, we need to remember that marijuana is still illegal under federal law.

 

The District’s staff has decided the policy should be that care givers (not a District employee) should be allowed to administer medical marijuana to their charges. It can’t be in smokable or patch form. We’ve come a long way when the state bureaucracy will ding the district if they don’t allow marijuana.

 

A complete policy will come back to the Board at the next meeting for a vote.

Town of Sewall's Point

Friends-and-Neighbors-of-Martin-County-Sewalls-Point

Town of Sewall’s Point Heading 2 text.

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend this meeting due to Stuart having its meeting at the same time because of Veteran’s Day. The audio was not ready in time for this newsletter. I will listen when it is published and report if there is something of substance.

 

Village-Of-Indiantown

Friends-and-Neighbors-of-Martin-County-Indiantown-Village

Village of Indiantown Heading 2 text.

Here is a pet peeve I have with elected Boards in general and this one specifically.

 

We hear over and over how the Board Members are not experts and must rely on their experts to know how to vote. That is a ludicrous statement. The elected official is there to decide many matters…even those that are complex. That is why we have a representative democracy and not a pure one where all decisions are left to every voter, almost none of whom are experts either.

 

Is it hard? You bet it is. But, no one forced anyone to run for the job. Making choices is what it is all about. It is not about blindly following the recommendation of the Manager or consultant or Attorney. Yes, they have much more expertise on certain subjects than the Board. That doesn’t mean that the Board acquiesces on every decision to what is recommended. If a Board does, then why are they even needed?

 

Board Members need to pursue independent research. There is nothing wrong with speaking to other community stakeholders besides constituents. The last thing I want to hear from an elected official is that deferring to the Manager, staff or consultants is the wisest course of action. Listening is part of their job. Independently deciding what to do is the most important part. If they can’t do better, someone else should.

 

SPECIAL MEETING NOVEMBER 7TH

 

It looks like the Council will be pursuing exclusive negotiations to buy the privately owned water utilities plant.

 

In my opinion, procuring the plant is the right thing to do. I have questions as to whether they are going about this in the best possible way to achieve the Village’s objectives. Once again, there were no reports or supplements attached to the agenda package so that the public could look at the evidence before the meeting. Where was the Kimley Horn Report? The only attachment was the qualifications of the consultant, Gerry Hartman, something we have already seen.

 

How will it be funded? Hartman said funding would come from an Enterprise Fund. That fund has not yet been established because there are no rate payers at this point since there is no utility yet. Gibbs-Thomas asked that a clarification be included noting that the taxpayers won’t be funding it, but of course they will because the rates to buy the services of the new Village utility are paid by the users…who are the taxpayers.

 

There may be loans and grants, but they aren’t completely free. There may be some forgiveness of principal, but there will be interest. This is not a free ride for Indiantown. Once again, the Vice Mayor, relying on her experts, said that Mr. Hartman, the Consultant, knows what is best. Does he? Is the Council’s understanding of the road they are going down complete?

 

What happens if the loans they take out default? What happens once the Utility is purchased if the Village doesn’t have enough money to pay for all the new infrastructure needed? Once acquired, does the Council realize that the utility (e.g., the Village) may be fined or even prosecuted if there is a spill or a leak? How much can the rate payers afford?

 

But wait they have their experts… the experts that will be long gone by the time any possible problems occur.

 

COUNCIL MEETING NOV 14TH

 

Prior to the meeting, I had been told by several people in the audience that this was going to be a contentious evening. What does that mean? I was curious to find out.

 

At first, I thought it was about the money being spent by the Village. Maybe a mini taxpayer revolt. The last meeting had a few people upset over the utility negotiation. When would the disruption start? Would it be during public comment? Well, not really. Scott Watson spoke regarding the utility, and he did so in measured terms. Maybe later in the meeting the bomb would go off.

 

The consultant writing the Land Development Regulations, Calvin, Giordano and Associates, gave a presentation regarding what had occurred to date. They stated that the Martin County Code, which the Village is still following, is too complicated for Indiantown. I tend to agree with that statement.

 

The Consultant then turned to the Council and asked each a few questions. The Council was not prepared for this. Should they have been? At the end of the presentation package, it did mention these questions. Perhaps a one-on-one conversation with each prior to the meeting would have been better. Each Council member could have time to think and speak with the consultant to formulate better responses.

 

Here were their responses to this question:  What are their expectations?

 

Gibbs-Thomas: Martin County’s LDRs are too complicated they should be

                            tailored to Indiantown’s needs

Stone: Listen to the stakeholders

Hernandez: Easy to understand

Clarke: More streamlined for people to be able to understand

Dowling: A unique code for a unique place

 

All their responses to the questions were just as unique.

 

To read the presentation:

 

https://documentcloud.adobe.com/link/track?uri=urn%3Aaaid%3Ascds%3AUS%3Aaf2c680f-01df-4ba8-a29f-3846cd1c6882

 

There were no big fireworks. No angry people uttered a word. On first reading, a charter amendment to have elections for individual seats passed 4-1 with Dowling dissenting.  As part of that charter change, personnel policies would no longer be the purview of the Council but be under the Manager instead.

 

The Council adopted a resolution to allow the Village to opt out of the Interlocal Agreement with the County for participating in trash collection yet still be able to bill it on the tax bill.  They approved contracts for a little over $400,000 for paving maintenance and landscaping. The Village Manager announced hiring two more employees, and not a single Council Member asked where the funds are coming from for any of these expenditures.

 

By the end of the meeting, no fireworks had occurred.

 

Town of Ocean Breeze

Town of Ocean Breeze Header 2 text.

MEETING NOVEMBER 11TH

 

The meeting began on a bittersweet note. Longtime incumbent Ann Kagdis was defeated in the election. She received a plaque of appreciation from the Council. It was a nice gesture from them. Ann was gracious in her acceptance. The time had come for a new face to assume a chair at the Council table.

 

The Clerk read the results of the November 5th election. There were 23 absentee ballots and 66 machine-cast ballots for a total of 89. The results were as follows:

 

William Arnold 75 votes

Kenneth De Angeles 64 votes

Kevin Docherty 63 votes

Ann Kagdis 30 votes.

 

It was obvious that the voters thought it was time for a change. William Arnold wants to keep things going in the same direction. He will have a different style than Kagdis but sometimes style is important. In the next few years, there may be other newer residents who believe it is their turn to be on the Council. They will bring new ideas and represent new areas with new residents.

 

The Council elected De Angeles President for another term. Richard Gerold was elected Vice Chair.

 

Congressman Brian Mast spoke to the 50 or so people in the meeting. Since it was Veterans Day, it was more than fitting that he was there.

 

He mostly recounted the congressional committees and subcommittees he is on, which are mainly water related. Mast has done a remarkable job, along with the Governor, in moving our water concerns along. From repair of the dike around Lake Okeechobee to other water-related projects, he has represented his district. He mentioned that, even with Dorian approaching, the Army Corps did not have to put one drop of water into the St. Lucie River.

 

The next meeting will be December 9th at 10:30     

 

Final Thoughts

Final Thoughts Heading 2 text.

After 60 years, Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone still has diehard fans. Many of the episodes are about the protagonist being stuck in a time warp. The world has passed the person by. Modernity is too scary to contemplate so they hearken back to a simpler time. Sometimes the episode will allow them to have their wish but there are unintended consequences.

 

Some Stuart and Martin County residents remind me of those Serling characters. Nothing should ever change. We want everything to remain the same. New is bad and old is good.

 

We shouldn’t forget and ignore our past. It is important that we remember and cherish our history. But it is history and to think that change should never happen is to try to ignore everything that has gone on in the past hundred, fifty or twenty years. To have a vital community, we must embrace the present and look to the future.

 

Development is not bad if done with planning and foresight. We need to make sure that the development does not promote sprawl. Just to say we shouldn’t have new businesses or residents is suicidal. The City and County will not be able to pay for needed government without spreading out the cost across more people.

 

Living in the Stuart or Martin County of 1950 or 1970 or 2000 is not feasible. Like a character in Serling’s series, there will be unintended consequences if attempted. We will no longer be able to have babies born here or have dedicated elected representatives to our community because they will be living in Palm Beach or St. Lucie Counties. There is a way to have smart and steady growth which preserves what is best.

 

To read more:

 

Caught In The Past