Town of Sewall’s Point
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The January 23, 2022 Edition
SEWALL’S POINT MEETING JANUARY 12, 2022:
We have all heard the expression about shooting yourself in the foot. The Sewall’s Point Commission does it over and over. They are once again without a town manager and a town finance director now that both have tendered their resignations. And the town accomplished it without any assistance from others outside their community.
The meeting started off with the commission discussing Michelle Berger’s contract once again. Her contract has been a point of discussion since September 14, 2021, when she sent the commission a memo with information including salaries in other municipalities. HERE
Since then, the commission has continuously kicked the can down the road until last month when they began discussing a new contract during the December meeting. 90% of the terms had been worked out when Commissioner Kurzman had a medical emergency and Commissioner Campo left for another engagement.
The three remaining commissioners thought it better to wait until the full board resumed. They could have picked up where they left off but instead chose to take more public comment and then discuss nonmonetary terms that had already been agreed upon.
In the interim between meetings, a resident who had never spoken to Michele or had any interaction with her collected a petition with 167 names for her ouster. That is a lot of residents, but what was it based on? Apparently, rumors included plans to bar school busses from the town’s roads or placing a supermarket behind town hall. There is no rational response to suggestions such as those.
I imagine that there were some legitimate complaints. She can, at times, be brusque when people are used to hand holding. Yet when she was carrying out commission decisions, she received the blame as if she were acting independently from the commission for their decisions in such matters as the tax increase and investigating the county septic-to-sewer options.
The commission finished the contract, the terms were voted on and, in all probability if it had been left there, she would have accepted the contract. Then the commission discussed whether they had confidence in her which, to any rational person, would be approaching the matter backwards.
However, the commission finally came around and acknowledged their confidence in her…though not unanimously. It was not enough for Berger, and she did not accept the contract. Her resignation letter can be found here
There will be a meeting on January 20th to discuss the town’s options.
SPECIAL COMMISSION MEETING JANUARY 20, 2022:
The town has a major challenge going forward.
It will be a 3-to-6-month process in finding a new manager. Sewall’s Point is also looking for a permanent finance director. That position is selected by the town manager. Berger is still the manager until January 31st, she has selected Holly Vath to be interim finance director.
Holly has worked for the town before and has also been employed by Stuart and Ocean Breeze. She is a consummate professional and I was glad that the commission did not contradict Michele. The charter gives the manager the right to hire and fire staff. The commission should not be involved.
The commission then turned to hiring an interim manager. There are three people that expressed an interest. Matt Benoit, the former city manager of Jupiter, Dan Hudson, who was the city manager of Stuart and has worked at the county, and Paul Nicoletti, former city manager of Stuart. All three would be very able.
Benoit has quoted $11,500 per month, Hudson $75 per hour for 30 hours per week or $9,750 per month, and Nicoletti $12,000 per month. Torcivia, the town attorney, said that the position should be that of an employee and not a contractor according to tax people in his firm. If the commission goes that route, then some benefits may have to be provided.
I do not know Benoit but both Nicoletti and Hudson are used to large staffs. They are very able to discuss any topic and will make themselves available to the residents. They have both worked with Joe Capra, the engineer, in the past and have knowledge to manage the projects underway at a 30,000-foot level. I doubt whether they will do grant management as Berger did. That will probably fall back to an outside consultant.
Commissioner Campo is very insistent that the interim manager take the lead on finding a new manager. I do not know whether any interim would take on that responsibility. I imagine that Nicoletti and Hudson would recommend that either the ICMA or a search firm be retained.
There was some talk about opening the new manager search process to the residents’ participation. That is not a bad idea. However, that would add time.
The quickest way to do that would be for this ad hoc committee to be formed and each commissioner appointing one or two residents. There would also have to be the attorney attending to keep everything legal and the clerk to take notes. This would be a sunshine committee open to the public with all their deliberations.
This process is going to cost many thousands of dollars. The interim manager, interim finance director, additional legal costs for the attorney’s time, additional advertising costs for public meetings, advertising costs for the position, background checks, and perhaps a search firm and other search expenses. Of course, during the search process, they will save the pay of the manager and finance director.
No one should forget that the commission in trying to save a few thousand dollars in negotiations with Berger has cost the town much more in money, continuity, and disruption. Not a good return on investment. And most importantly Berger was not fired but chose not to renew her contract.
The next meeting to interview and pick an interim manager will be next Wednesday, January 26th at 6 pm.
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The January 9, 2022 Edition
The next meeting of the commission will be January 11, 2022.
2022 will be a continuation of last year for the town.
First, there is the renewing of Manager Berger’s contract. In most municipalities, this would be a no-brainer. It would be here as well if the contract had not been portrayed by some as a battle between a greedy manager and tough-minded commissioners.
Berger was hired at a compensation rate that was low for a full-time manager. She took it because it was her first job in that capacity, and it gave her experience. She has not received a raise in the two years she has worked for Sewall’s Point. In that time, she has re-organized and hired new staff. It has become a cohesive unit. The police chief has also become an ally after a bit of a shaky start with Berger.
The commission must weigh whether Berger is worth a raise and how much it should be. The alternative would be the disruption to replace her and possibly lose other staff members and the cost of about $20,000 for the search. It will also be a minimum of six to nine months to find her replacement.
The other continuing town problem is a clear plan for the future. It is not the staff who is unable to implement policy. Instead, it is the commission that has a real problem passing consistent policy with adequate direction so that it can be followed.
There will be continued schizophrenic commission behavior on capital improvements. And I am not so sure that a community vote on sewer will be definitive for very long. 2022 will be another year of Ying and Yang.
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The December 19, 2021 Edition
SEWALL’S POINT COMMISSION MEETING DECEMBER 14, 2021:
This was another meeting where a level of animosity between residents, staff and board was in the air.
There is no excuse for some of the outlandish statements occasionally made by people. I often wonder where they get their facts from. For instance, the manager’s contract is a good example of fact versus fiction. Taking a few minutes to look at the expiring and the proposed new contracts which are part of the agenda would demonstrate that what many speakers said during public comment was not true.
I am not saying they intentionally lied. What they did not do was verify the facts but relied on Facebook posts and took it as confirmation of what they already believed. One example of this was someone saying the manager was going to receive 3 months of time off. The formula in the contract called for a total of 160 hours or 4 weeks per year.
In the past decade, fiction has become reality for too many of us. It is like we are living in an alternate universe…one that we create to bolster our opinions. This was a meeting that proved this out.
Septic to sewer is a good example of misinformation that was also heard during the meeting. What town officials have said is that Tallahassee wants to see as many coastal towns as possible hook up to a sewer system. They are providing many millions of dollars in grants and low-cost loans to do so. The federal government is also pushing for this. There is no mandate that it be done by 2025. However, it is the belief of many government affairs experts that at some point the state and federal money will run out and it will be the town’s burden.
Will it be a mandate? Many of the same experts believe so. But that is irrelevant. I know of no instance when anyone at the town stated at a public meeting that it had to be done by 2025. What was said at a meeting was Martin County and the municipalities must have their new storm water plan by that date.
As to the manager and her contract…some believe that she should work for less. If you expect a full-time manager, then it costs money to have someone with that skill set. Berger does have that skill set.
Could she operate in a bigger place with more employees? The answer is absolutely. She was a senior VP for the southeast for a major company and at the same time a city council member of the then 8th largest city in Florida, Port St. Lucie. She has a master’s degree in public administration. So, she is eminently qualified to be Sewall’s Point’s town manager.
Since coming to the town two years ago, she has put into place systems that guarantee the smooth running of town hall. The clerk, building official, and finance director are her hires, and as Commissioner Kurzman stated, they are all better than those who held the positions before. The budget for operating town hall is less than before.
Whether she should receive a raise, health care, etc. is a negotiation between the commission and Berger. She is not bound to accept the town’s offer as the town does not have to employ her.
Berger was not at the meeting due to illness. The contract discussion was handled by the town attorney, Glen Torcivia, who is a pro. Along with the mayor, he tried to keep the commission on point. For the most part they did. Unfortunately, Campo had a prior family engagement and had to leave. Kurzman became ill and left.
With a three-person commission, they could have continued. They wisely decided it would be best for every commissioner to weigh in on this important matter. The matter was continued until the January 11th meeting.
The original and then revisions of the contract can be found here
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The November 21, 2021 Edition
SEWALL’S POINT COMMISSION MEETING NOVEMBER 16, 2021
This was also Sewall’s Point’s re-organization day.
Mayfield said she believed in everyone having a turn as mayor. However, Campo had said he did not want to serve, and Kurzman could not because of his business. She said that since both Fender and Tompeck had full time jobs, it would be hard for them. She stated she was willing to do it again.
Campo nominated Tompeck for mayor and Fender seconded. The vote was 5-0. Campo then nominated Kurzman for vice-mayor which was seconded by Mayfield. The vote was 5-0. During the meeting, Campo congratulated Tompeck on his retirement.
Mayfield was a very good mayor, and with all his government experience, Tompeck should do just fine.
SEWALL’S POINT SEWER WARS
There is no denying that people are split on whether there should be sewers or not in the town. Several angry citizens expressed their displeasure.
Sometimes it can be a bit confusing as to where commissioners and residents stand. There could be $1 million in state funds for resiliency for South Sewall’s Point Road. Representative Overdorf told then Mayor Mayfield that he would introduce a bill for $800,000 for sewers for South Sewall’s Point Road. She went ahead with it and asked at the county delegation meeting.
Mayfield believed that she had authority to do so because of recent commission action. Fender thought it was part of what was already approved. Kurtzman said that it was placing the cart before the horse without the promised referendum.
Campo then stated that people’s rights have been taken away. He suggested that the manager should have known better (I do not understand what that has to do with the discussion.) and that the role of mayor is basically the parliamentarian. It is not a strong mayoral position. How did the ask go forward without paperwork?
Mayfield said that money was to be used for planning and design so that an accurate plan with costs could be presented to the public for the referendum. Tompeck stated that you need to have an engineering study to know what residents will pay per hook-up.
Fender is in favor of the referendum, but only after all the information is available. He also asked about future residents and are their choices to have sewer or not was being limited.
Kurtzman said he would give a good conservative number like $12,000 cost per hook-up for the referendum. What happens if a person thinks that is too high and then votes no but the cost is $8,000. That person voted with faulty information. He/she would have been happy at $8,000.
Fender made a motion to go forward with the state money that was seconded by Tompeck. The vote was 3-2 with Campo and Kurzman dissenting.
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The November 7, 2021 Edition
SEWALL’S POINT WORKSHOP & MEETING OCTOBER 26, 2021:
Bonnie Landry presented several elements to the proposed comp plan. Most were a rehash from the last meeting. The discussion was needed to fulfill requirements for the steps mandated by the state.
She asked that everyone read the elements presented and send their comments to her so that changes can be made. In many respects, there is leeway on how the data can be used and interpreted. So, changes that the commission, staff, or the public want to see can be incorporated.
A comp plan is a big picture document. It outlines the concepts the town feels important. It is with LDRs that the town gets specific about how those goals are interpreted. Probably the land development regulations will have to be rewritten so that they conform with the comp plan.
The mayor brought up hosting a coffee gathering to speak to the residents about the plans for sewer expansion. Manager Berger said she, Tompeck, and Engineer Capra met with the county, and they will give $2500 per ecu to hook up. She also said since Sewall’s Point is in the county’s service area, Martin County would not allow Stuart to provide the service.
The discussion became one where the commission rehashed different types of systems including the aerobic one that was spoken about at earlier meetings. Capra noted that there are no funds available except for traditional sewer systems. He went on to say that the commission could continue to speak about things they have already done or move ahead and obtain state and federal grants that are readily available now.
Commissioners had a gripe session about how they get nothing from the county. Among their complaints were that the county should be eager to pay to have the system installed, and that the county can spend millions on golf courses and cafés but cannot help in this instance.
During the regular meeting, there was a de-annexation of a property. According to what I understood, parcels are in both the county and town. It should have never been part of the town.
It is only coming to light now because the owners may want to develop the entire property. Ingress and egress are done through unincorporated Martin County. The vote was 5-0.
The mayor brought up the manager’s contract. Her extension goes through January. She wanted to know whether she should arrange a presentation with a consultant. Tompeck said he wanted the manager’s review and negotiations to be objective and civil. The town attorney wanted to know whether the commission had a desire to see a salary comparison that he had done recently for another client. No one said anything.
During commissioner comments, Vice Mayor Campo (who was not there for the workshop) said he had become an empty nester. His last child was off to college which has freed up his time to have other pursuits. He wants to expand his business and will be travelling to visit his kids that live in other places. He will not be available for either the mayor or vice mayor position during the re-organization meeting next month. He went on to say he will serve out his term and is proud of his accomplishments.
James should be proud of his time in office. While I may not always agree with him, he has been sincere in his anti-tax stands. Campo has been a fiscal conservative which is much needed on any elected body. He still will be on the commission, and if he chooses to run again would be hard to beat.
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The October 24, 2021 Edition
COMMISSION WORKSHOP OCTOBER 12, 2021
Bonnie Landry presented what had transpired so far with writing the comprehensive plan. She had convened a focus group of residents.
What I knew instinctively but still was surprised to hear was that only 2% of the town was commercial property. Almost the entire rest (except government owned properties) is residential and thus subject to exemptions and homestead caps. That most definitely limits sources of town income.
Though Sewall’s Point has limited parkland, there are 600 acres within a three-mile radius which also includes county and Stuart facilities. There was support for ancillary dwelling units for extended family. 97.1% of the housing is single family with 94.1% being owner occupied. The town is surrounded by water therefore is susceptible to resiliency issues.
The commissioners had some very good questions and observations with Mayor Mayfield especially delving into some elements of the plan. Unfortunately, Commissioner Campo was absent. Some of the observations and facts would have been helpful to questions he has asked in the past.
If I were a Sewall’s Point resident, I would move heaven and earth to support the annexation of the Dolphin Bar property. It is a large piece of property abutting the town. In its present form, it would add to town revenue but if they ever develop the parcel to its highest and best use, it could be a windfall.
The agenda item can be found here
Landry’s presentation can be found here
There was also a discussion about what to charge for the use of town facilities, especially the chamber. Both Commissioners Fender and Tompeck felt it was good to have documented procedures. There were no final decisions, but staff is to comeback with hard numbers and recommendations. I did not hear anything about insurance requirements which should not be forgotten.
Last, there are three bridges in town. Island Road Bridge may be the oldest. Engineer Joe Capra addressed the commission because the homeowner’s association wanted to do landscaping on the approach to the bridge and was seeking town permission.
Capra turned the discussion to maintenance. Once again it goes back to capital improvements and then how to maintain the assets. And the conclusion, was there is no money to do so. A perplexing problem that is not going away anytime soon.
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The October 10, 2021 Edition
SEWALL’S POINT BUDGET MEETING SEPT 9, 2021
Staff has still not figured out how to please Vice-Mayor Campo yet.
It may be impossible no matter what they do. In this case, they did not give him the budgetary information he wanted. Manager Berger and her staff argued that what they provided was the same or better than before. It may be better, but it wasn’t the same according to Campo.
A commissioner should get the information requested in the format he/she wants. It won’t matter in what format they present budget information to Campo, he is going to vote no. That is a given, but he is the guy elected. As Campo continues to stress, the two things the commission is responsible for are the budget and hiring the manager.
Today, Sewall’s Point is better run that it has been in the past. Much of that is because of Berger and her staff.
It is not staff that is getting in the way of moving ahead with needed work, it is the commission because they have not spent the money needed on their infrastructure through the years. They are going ahead and allocating funds for the completion of one project costing $4.5 million in a capital budget of many millions. The commission for doing this is portraying themselves as belonging in the next edition of Profiles in Courage.
They voted to raise the millage to 3.268. The increase will be to service the debt on the South Sewall’s Point Road improvement. There is still no money anywhere for maintenance of that improvement or any other completed project.
Four commissioners took the “brave” baby step of going forward. James Campo voted no which was a forgone conclusion. Public comment echoed his belief, so perhaps it was more than just a baby step taken by the rest.
Campo is looking more and more like the odd man out on the board. Despite that, he should be given all the information he requests in the format that he prefers. Although he is unlikely to say yes to any tax or spending increase, but why give him an unrelated reason to vote no?
SEWALL’S POINT BUDGET MEETING SEPTEMBER 22, 2021:
The last in a long series of meetings on the budget brought the town no more unity than before the process started.
The budget for operating expenses is less than last year in most categories. The entire increase above the current millage rate of 2.87 is devoted to funding the completion of South Sewall’s Point Road. Apparently, that is not good enough for everyone on the commission and in the public. The crux of the problem is the need to define the town’s mission.
When they hired Berger, I heard the commission say that they wanted a functioning town government rather than what they had had. One of the things that the town has been lacking was an up-to-date comp plan. The state has written the town putting it on notice that it was not in compliance with state law. Several commissioners complain about creating a new comp plan because of the costs. There are steps that must be taken to have one by law. That requires money.
The town’s past building official was mostly MIA. The current one has brought in revenue and has the town inspecting…just look at the additional revenue in the town’s coffers. The current clerk has modernized the office. While it was getting better under the interim clerk, the disfunction in that department had been there for years. I knew something was wrong when a couple of years ago, it was the commissioners who had to search their official emails to satisfy public records request.
For the first time in a long while, the town has a certified financial government official instead of what passed for the town’s financial records person in the past…and they were paying a fortune. Campo had complained for years, and rightly so. I heard a public comment asking why there should be an auditor in addition to an employee? It is the law…and it is just good practice to have someone checking the books.
Berger took on an impossible job. She probably did it because she was new to this position in government service. Has she made some mistakes in approach that a more seasoned person would not have? Probably she has. Yet how many managers would also be the janitor and clean the town hall bathrooms?
Besides few experienced people are going to spend the time it takes to run a town and remain within the law for the salary offered. Berger has done research on projects in response to a commission request only to have the commission balk when it entailed spending money. CEOs do not like to spend time chasing their tails.
I have heard commissioners speak against the fire contract with the City of Stuart. I do not believe one of them has read it. Unless the “negotiators” of Sewall’s Point think they could do something that Indiantown could not…they are currently paying about 300% less than what they would under the county MSTU. While the Sewall’s Point taxpayer would pay that fee directly to the county and it would not go through the town’s books, it still would be a substantial increase to the constituents.
Perhaps it is time to look at the police department. Law enforcement is expensive. Maybe they could outsource to private security? Sewall’s Point wouldn’t be quite the same. Yet it is becoming quite apparent the taxpayers want to have everything but pay nothing.
The new tax rate of 3.2688 was moved by Tompeck and seconded by Fender. It passed 4-1 with Campo dissenting. The budget was approved 4-1 with Campo dissenting. You can find the budget and a complete town payroll here
Berger also said she does not want to have the town move forward regarding septic to sewer until there is a referendum. The commissioners believe the same thing. So, this will be where the next fight begins. I have a feeling that the governor wanting sceptics replaced (especially in places like Sewall’s Point), there will be mandates within the next few years from Tallahassee.
SEWALL’S POINT MEETING SEPTEMBER 28, 2021:
Staff went through what ARPA funds can be used for. It is a good idea to review that while the funds can be used for water and sewer projects, they cannot be used for matching funds or to pay for projects already under way.
Then it came time to discuss the RFP realtor agreement for 7 Heritage Way. When it last was before the commission, the commission led by Campo said that not enough realtors applied because it was overly complicated. There had been only one respondent and he had left out what he would charge. There was another application by KC Daniel’s office, but it was only an advertisement for some lots he auctioned for Stuart.
Campo brought up that Stuart City Attorney, Mike Mortell, spoke highly of Daniels. K.C. Daniel is a good auctioneer. Mike Mortell is a good attorney, yet I cannot believe he endorsed any one person for another city to choose.
Glen Torcivia, the town’s attorney, brought this back because he wanted clarification on whether the town commission wants to re-zone the property to residential from a government classification. Campo now doesn’t even want to rewrite the RFP, which was his original idea. He wants to get it out there as fast as possible. The rest of the commission is not in such a rush. They want to re-write the RFP and hold off on releasing it until the property has been rezoned.
Campo believes that the K.C. Daniel, an auctioneer, was not scored fairly. He made a motion to select him. It died for a lack of a second. Fender and Kurtzman believe, along with Mayfield, that the town could use the lot as greenspace. Tompeck probably has the right balance, it will have a beautiful house on it that will pay property taxes.
Fender made a motion that was seconded by Tompeck to have the O&M insurance qualification reduced and to have it rezoned before going out.
Kurtzman led the discussion on moving forward regarding sewer to septic on South Sewall’s Point Road. The Supervisor of Elections will send a ballot to every South Sewall’s address. The expense would be capped at $8000 per homeowner. That was the same price as North Sewall’s Point Road paid. Both Stuart and Martin County utilities may be interested in being the utility. Tompeck would be the commission liaison.
While hookup would be voluntary until a septic system failed, Tompeck and Berger believe that within the next 5 years, the state will make conversion mandatory. That would be especially true in coastal communities like Sewall’s Point.
Lastly, I want to say that Mayfield has come a long way this year. She runs a good meeting and has gotten to the point where she does not take guff from her other commissioners or the public. However, in one of the votes at this meeting, she wanted to be called last so she could tailor her vote.
This was a regular occurrence with past commissions…it’s wrong! Bringing it back does nothing for the integrity of the commission. Voting should be random.
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The September 5, 2021 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING AUGUST 24, 2021:
The primary focus of this meeting was financial.
There was discussion from Vice-Mayor Campo regarding having more detail when going through the budget numbers. The last item of the evening was an explanation of personnel cost. So far in this cycle, the budget has been presented in the same detail going back several years. If a commissioner, or for that matter a member of the public, wants to see detailed numbers, then those detailed numbers should be available.
Staff should make a commissioner feel fully informed about what they are voting on. This level of detailed information is a good way to do so. 90% of elected officials will not bother to read most of their packet, so making a simple presentation is easiest for them. Others want to wallow in detail. However, having the information available is the key.
If you want to wallow, here it is.
The commission had asked their attorney to construct an ordinance to make sure the .39 millage increase would be dedicated to financing the capital project. Tompeck was very much in favor of limiting the money to funding borrowing for South Sewall’s Point Road. Fender wanted to make sure that it would sunset once the loan was paid off.
Berger mentioned that the new road would require some maintenance especially the new drainage aspects. Campo strongly disagreed and felt that it was staff overreach. Kurzman piped up that there is expense to maintain these capital improvements especially baffle boxes.
A review of the current budget shows that they do not have enough money to maintain the infrastructure the town has now. For example, if a homeowner spends $100,000 on landscaping and then has someone cut the grass once a month and nothing else is done, the homeowner has just wasted $100,000. The same thing applies to the town’s infrastructure.
The town attorney explained the difference between an ordinance and a resolution. The ordinance becomes part of the town’s legal code. A resolution sets policy. He thought they would be better doing a resolution. It was kind of hard to tell, but I believe most commissioners thought the same.
Fender believed that if there is any money left at the end of the project, it should go to other capital projects outlined in the comprehensive plan. He was alone with that belief. The attorney will bring back a budget resolution and a separate resolution that the .39 mill increase can only be used for South Sewall’s Point Road construction.
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The August 22, 2021 Edition
COMMISSION WORKSHOP AUGUST 10, 2021
It didn’t seem that the mayor and other commissioners appreciated Vice-Mayor Campo’s speech at the last meeting regarding his reasons for not voting for an increase in the maximum millage.
Campo is philosophically opposed to any tax increase…ever. I do not agree with him, but he has been consistent in his stance. Occasionally, he may tease that he could support an increase if the stars, the moon, and the planets lined up in some galactically impossible orbit. In other words, Campo will not vote to increase taxes ever. Any of his fellow commissioners that think otherwise are deluding themselves.
He has taken a rational political stance that he is quite comfortable in espousing. Campo said as much at this meeting when he stated his constituent base are those residents who do not want to pay more. Yet instead of sticking with the merits of that case at the last meeting, he read comments that impugned the reputations of the village manager, her staff, the outside engineer, and to a lesser extent the mayor.
So, it was no surprise that Mayor Mayfield placed on the agenda an item to refute one of his accusations regarding a state grant that Representative Overdorf was to obtain in Tallahassee. Overdorf is no friend to home rule, and he actively works against local governments’ interests. When it comes to bringing home the bacon, he does that quite well.
Mayfield took exception to his comments that the manager and staff let the paperwork become tangled. She was on the calls, and in fact the filing was supposed to be handled by an outside grant writer, Amy Adams. Overdorf said that the grant requests were confusing and the $900,000 was never submitted.
Mayfield’s written comments and the email backup can be found here
Then came Commissioner Tompeck’s turn to voice his criticisms of Campo’s remarks. He was first disappointed that the millage discussion was hijacked by Campo about items not germane to raising taxes. He believed it was political posturing and not good governance.
Tompeck took exception to Campo’s criticism of Joe Capra, the town engineer. For some time now, this and previous commissions were so interested in keeping taxes low that they have used up the reserves and relied on grants to do necessary work like South Sewall’s Point Road. As a nonresident, it has seemed that the town is more interested in using everyone else’s money to get things done. Then as we saw at the last meeting, some Sewall’s Point residents living in houses worth hundreds of thousands of dollars claimed that they only have small, fixed incomes and could not afford an increase.
Tompeck went on to state that he was very disappointed that Campo thought spending money on providing a new comp plan was not needed even though the state requires it. It did go out to RFP and only one bidder replied. Tompeck said it was an unfair criticism to continuously call Manager Berger “inexperienced.” He said she has more than shown she has a vast knowledge on how the town should be operated.
He also went on to say it isn’t Capra’s or Berger’s fault about “extras” for South Sewall’s Point Road. The work had to be continuously shifted to accommodate grant funding and due to the commission’s fault in not providing adequate funding.
According to Tompeck, the nub of his criticism of Campo was that he stated that he was for capital projects. Yet he went on to say that you cannot be in favor of these projects if you do not vote to fund them. He went on to reiterate all the talk regarding boardwalks, fishing piers, and even the undergrounding of utilities will not happen and to say otherwise would be disingenuous.
His remarks can be found here
Commissioner Kurzman went next, and his remarks began with a letter of credit. He stated that Berger had inquired about one at Seacoast back in April of 2020. At that time Campo was against it because of a $5000 charge for points and possibly $5000 in legal fees. Berger had the bank waive the points so there could only have been possible legal fees.
No decision was made. Kurzman stated correctly that he had been in favor of securing the line of credit. If the line had been secured, the town could have taken advantage of lower construction costs than they are paying now. He also mentioned a State Revolving Fund Loan at .5%. He made a motion eighteen months ago, but no one seconded, and it died. At a half of percent, it would have been nearly free use of money.
Kurtzman went on to state that Campo had questioned whether Berger had checked to see that the town was collecting the correct gas tax. He stated that Sewall’s Point’s share was 2.25% of the tax and wanted confirmation that is what they are collecting.
Kurtzman stated that Campo had made a comment about the Building Official having a new truck. Kurtzman reminded all that the cost of the truck was paid for out of the increased permit fees being collected due to the official’s vigilance. He has collected $500,000 in the last six months. Building-related fees can only be used to fund that department by statute. The truck cost the town no Ad Valorem taxes.
He went on to say that South Sewall’s Point Road is not over budget. The commission voted to add a mobile generator to the project. Further, there had been no road work that had to be redone. His written remarks can be found here
Campo reiterated some of the same statements that other commissioners had just rebuked him for. He distributed an email in which he wrote to Berger that Senator Harrell had warned him about the animosity between grant consultant Amy Adams and Berger. Berger wrote back that she would ask Mayfield since she was on the call. Both emails can be found here
For some reason, Campo is also unhappy because only two real estate firms responded to the RFP to represent the town on the sale of a vacant lot. Florida Statute requires the town to go out to RFP for real estate services. In order not to go out to bid for a period going forward, the RFP was for all real estate representation not just the sale of this one lot. Campo believed that it was too complicated and that is why only two firms responded.
As I have written numerous times, government is not like being in business. Shortcuts are frowned on and in some instances illegal. You just cannot choose your best friend to get the job. I understand that to the uninitiated it looks cumbersome, but it is to prevent taxpayer dollars being siphoned off. That is why you have your attorney involved. This RFP was written by the attorney.
It appears that at the meeting where the commission asked Berger to find a firm, they were all supposing that local firms would work for reduced rates or for free. That was naïve on their part. Sometimes Campo and other commissioners still have not realized that they are not running a convenience store. Just because the town is small does not mean a wink and a nod will do it.
The entire RFP can be found here
It appears to me that Berger and Campo do not have a good relationship. She apparently does have productive relationships with Mayfield, Tompeck, and Kurzman. Her relationship with Fender is situational but very workable. It is obvious that those four do not feel that Berger has dropped the ball or done anything inappropriate.
How can there be such a disconnect?
SPECIAL COMMISSION MEETING AUGUST 18, 2020:
There was public comment about the flooding that has continued to occur on Mandalay. It is obvious that work and capital expense must continue to be raised, appropriated, and spent. You cannot have people’s property continuously flooded. It is absurd to think that this can be done at a leisurely pace with only grant funding.
There was a change order for $125,000 to address the various property owners’ concerns and damages due to the South Sewall’s Point Road project. The money for this has already been put aside so the commission was just approving the disbursement.
Commissioner Kurzman made a motion to allow staff to spend up to $150,000 to repair any damage or make any necessary changes so that residents would not have to wait until the next meeting to have the work approved. It was seconded by Commissioner Tompeck. Commissioner Fender stated he could not vote for the motion because he thought the commission should approve every expenditure. While that is admirable, that does lead to delays.
Kurzman said that he wants to have the project completed as soon as possible and that individual property owners should be able to have things corrected quickly. The commission only has voting meetings once a month which is the time they can vote on things. It can take a month or more to have the money appropriated. The vote was 3-1 with Fender dissenting and Campo absent.
You can find the Consor Memo that outlines the $125,000 appropriation here
Manager Berger told the commission that the State Revolving Fund contacted her about a loan. This could save the town a bundle of money instead of going to a private lending institution. The last time they were contacted the loan interest amount was .5%. She will be looking at that as a good option, I believe, once the final millage and budget are set.
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The August 8, 2021 Edition
SEWALL’S POINT COMMISSION MEETING JULY 27, 2021:
This was the meeting when big things were going to happen…big things never happen in government.
Listening to the public comment, a few things jumped out at me. First those that were not directly impacted by the flooding on South Sewall’s Point Road are not willing to pay another dime toward correcting the situation. Those who do live on Mandalay and other affected areas are very much in favor of tax increases to pay for the projects.
No matter how some in Sewell’s Point, and for that matter Martin County, consider the town on par with Jupiter Island or some unincorporated neighborhoods like Sailfish Point, the town is not. More than one speaker spoke about living on a fixed income as if they were part of the ALICE population. You never hear that complaint from residents of those communities.
Then there were the rumors like the town was going to hire an event planner. Some speakers harkened back to the time when there were no paid staff except the cops. They noted that everything ran smooth then. You know…when Florida was a backwater with 6.5 million people and Martin County’s population was 25,000. Government was a very different animal. Today, the legislature and governor would never allow counties and municipalities to operate the way they did back then.
Again, I heard the old phrase “to run like a business” from speakers. I once said the same thing. If there is one thing I have learned, it is that government is prohibited from running like a business. There are more safeguards to protect the use of public funds. That usually makes things more expensive. The real difference is that government doesn’t have an owner calling the shots but many interest groups trying to influence the outcome. It is very inefficient, deliberately.
Vice-Mayor Campo made it quite clear when he said he would not vote for a tax increase. In fact, he voted no to the communication services tax on 2nd reading at the meeting. He mentioned some not-so-accurate facts in his reasoning. He stated how the manager was doing a good job, damning her with faint praise. Then went on to list a cavalcade of her mistakes that I thought was for the most part inaccurate.
Campo is never going to vote to raise any tax at any time. He is as close as a disciple to Grover Norquist’s no tax philosophy as there is in Martin County.
With Campo’s vote made plainly known, the possibilities for the rest of the commission to act narrowed considerably. They were forced to vote for, at most, a 3.268 millage rate if the 4 voted in favor. Under Florida law to vote for a larger tax increase, the vote would have to be unanimous.
Commissioner Fender went through some verbal gymnastics to agree with Campo yet said he would vote for the increase. He had some notes and graphs that he used, but I am not so sure that he accurately put together the pieces detailing what the rest of the county pays in taxes. He, like Campo, mentioned parks and other amenities that there is just no way for the town to fund.
Tompeck was quite clear that all this increase does buy is the current South Sewall’s Point project completion. It does not include any contingencies on this project. It certainly does not include any of the other things mentioned in the Treasure Coast Regional Planning study. He accurately claimed that for commissioners to say otherwise is disingenuous.
Kurzman has become a very thoughtful commissioner. He believes this project is important. He explained why South Sewall’s Point should be completed. In his opinion, the town is broken and is not thinking about short- and long-term consequences. With a 4-1 vote, the South Sewall’s Point Road will be completed and that is better than doing nothing.
Mayor Mayfield wants the increase. She wants to pay for the infrastructure needed. Mayfield made it clear that you must maintain what is being built. She is not for letting things slide. She sounded as if she would be at home on Jupiter Island or Sailfish Point.
The increase in millage will go to fund a loan to complete the work. Probably, the loan will have a term between 10 and 15 years. Will they be able to borrow more for other projects if the makeup of the commission changes? Actions are narrowing the town’s ability to have more options in the future and quite possibly for future solvency.
Besides public works the town faces other funding problems now and in the future. The commission was in executive session over labor negotiations with the police union. How long is an independent department feasible?
In a few years, they will either renegotiate with Stuart for fire protection or rely on Martin County Fire Rescue and opt in to be part of the county’s MSTU. Currently, they are paying Stuart almost 3 times less than their taxpayers would pay for county protection. No matter who is providing the service Sewall’s Point taxpayers will be paying more.
A motion was made by Tompeck and seconded by Kurzman for the 3.268 maximum rate. It passed 4-1 with Campo dissenting. During the two budget meetings in September, the final rate will be voted upon.
You can find the agenda item with charts here
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The July 25, 2021 Edition
SEWALL’S POINT SPECIAL MEETING JULY 13, 2021:
During his comments, Vice-Mayor Campo mentioned the new state law that forbids anonymous code enforcement complaints. The bill was introduced by Representative Oberdorf. Campo stated that it was now against the law for the town to process any complaints that are reported to the town without the complainant’s name being attached. He thought it was a good idea.
I am of two minds on this issue. I can see that this can be a form of harassment. If a person does not like his next-door neighbor and calls in unfounded complaints, that can be stressful to the non-guilty property owner. On the other hand, if the next-door neighbor is a bully and you are afraid of him/her, then the only way to report a perhaps dangerous situation would be anonymously.
Here is the real issue. The state has decided to stick its nose into local governments’ business once again. The Florida Constitution gives local government home rule…unless the legislature infringes on that right. It was clear when the constitution was adopted, legislative interference was supposed to be the exception and not the rule.
The complaints may have been anonymous to the homeowner who was the object of the complaint. The code enforcement officer knew. If, after a time or two, the complaint was seen as just a form of harassment by the officer, nothing was done. If it was a legitimate complaint that resulted in a violation being issued, then was not the town better off to have the property owner come into compliance?
Unfortunately, the “Lords of Tallahassee” cannot stop meddling in local affaires. Why not investigate the unemployment computer system that was not working last year. The state should look to state problems and leave local concerns to the locals.
In 1975, a documentary film was made about a mother and daughter that lived in a crumbling mansion known as “Grey Gardens” on Georgica Pond in East Hampton.
The mansion was in an exclusive neighborhood. It had been their home for more than fifty years. “Big Edie” Bouvier Beale was the matriarch and aunt of Jackie Kennedy. Her daughter, “Little Edie” Bouvier Beale, was Kennedy’s cousin.
The mansion had deteriorated over the years because there were not enough funds to maintain it. For numerous periods, the electric and gas were shut for nonpayment. As time went on, the duo slipped into an alternate reality. They dreamt about the parties and balls that once had been and how they would return. The mansion finally became uninhabitable. The women continued to live more and more in a fantasy world.
Sometimes I think that this town is doing the same with the commission playing the part of the Beales. For years, the town’s infrastructure has been subject to numerous commission discussions. There are needs such as storm water, sewer, and road repairs that must be addressed.
The town has spent down their reserves yet cling to the cry of the lowest millage rate in Martin County. As if that alone is enough to make the reality go away.
They have asked for grants from the state, feds, and other sources. Like the Beales, the commission was hoping that somehow all would be right. In the Beales’ case, their relatives Jackie and her sister Lee Radziwill came to the rescue and stabilized the mansion so that it would not be condemned.
Campo wants to place a hand cuff on the staff so that they will not take any tax increase and spend it on additional staff. Kurzman talks about the need but is looking for a way not to raise the millage to 4 mills. Mayfield is a bit in shock that the commission will not move forward with a definitive plan.
Commissioner Fender is looking for more information before voting on a direction. Manager Berger cannot give any more without having a course of action. I cannot figure out Commissioner Tompeck’ s position.
Kurzman said something about what a lousy deal the town had made with Stuart for fire/rescue service. If Kurzman bothered to do a little math, he would see that the $517,000 Sewall’s Point paid the city last year was a pittance. If they had stayed with the county MSTU at 2.7 mills, the town’s property owners would have paid $1.9 million for fire/rescue.
Berger gave the commission the bottom line. When the current phase of South Sewall’s Point Road is done, nothing else will move forward. They have no other funds.
By the end of July, the commission will have to vote by law on a maximum tax rate for next year. It is my guess that the staff will come back with a few loan scenarios. A majority of the commission may say we need to do what is necessary to keep the projects moving forward. Raising the millage to support the loan to do more than just the minimum will require a super majority.
Some Sewall’s Point residents may think that infrastructure repair and maintenance is not important, but they are wrong. If the storm water and the raising of the road is not done, the flooding of a few months ago will be a daily occurrence. There also is a problem when septic systems are flooded, and fecal material is seen floating to the surface.
And those that think the staff is somehow doing something nefarious with any funds are as delusional as the Beales. Staff just wants to do their jobs and go home. They do not live in the town. At some point, they will get other jobs or retire. Town homeowners are more tied to the outcome.
Berger and her staff are constrained with any additional spending. It looks to me that they already have those cuffs on tight. Any additional revenue collected will be pledged to service the projects and/or debt that the commission has approved. It will not go into some slush fund.
The “mansion” is sinking into the Indian River. Will the commission allow it to continue?
You can find staff’s presentation here
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The June 27, 2021 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING JUNE 22, 2021:
The lot owned by the town on Heritage will be placed for sale. Vice-Mayor Campo believes the town has no use for the lot, so he was the one who made the motion to dispose of the property. Commissioner Fender seconded the motion. Commissioner Kurzman asked that the motion be amended to include a suggested minimum of $600,000. There is going to be an RFP to find a realtor.
Kurzman and others believe that realtors will flock to list the lot, perhaps even for no commission. There is a large oak tree in the middle of the property which some were worried would need to be cut down to make the lot buildable. The manager thinks it would be $100,000 to move the tree. It was decided the new owner would deal with it.
Commissioner Tompeck wants the proceeds to be dedicated to a specific project. The only one that expressed a hesitation was Mayor Mayfield. I think she has a point. In the last few years, the commission has managed to spend down an unallocated reserve of about $2 million. That money has not been used frivolously. Yet this was in lieu of a tax increase for operating expenses.
The lot is the last piece of the “family’s inheritance.” I wouldn’t be so fast to dispose of it. Whether they get full price or less, it does not matter. The $600,000 asset will not buy much in the way of the millions needed for infrastructure.
What are they going to do next is the question? Will this board have the political will to do what is necessary to fix their roads, sewers and other infrastructure or continue spouting the line, “we have the lowest tax rate in the county.”
The motion passed 5-0 with Mayfield voting in solidarity with her fellow commissioners.
SPEAKING OF TAXES
The commission approved collecting the communications services tax at 5.1% which is the maximum rate. The current rate being charged in the town is 3.12%.
At the workshops, all five commissioners to varying degrees want to have the roads, sewer and other infrastructure projects done. They all agree that infrastructure is important. Somehow when it comes time to fund those projects, the commission doesn’t follow through. I guess this was the manager’s attempt to begin to force their hands.
It appears to me the commission is divided into two distinct camps. One has Kurzman, Tompeck, and Mayfield who want to move ahead to build the infrastructure and find responsible solutions to fund it. The other faction consists of Campo and Fender that give lip services to the improvements but somehow always find a reason not to vote for a mechanism to pay for those improvements.
Staff laid out scenarios for what the tax rate and amount collected could look like next year. The taxable value for next year is estimated to increase to $735,571,989. If you continue with the same millage rate of 2.87, the town will bill $2.1 million in real estate taxes. They estimate that they will only collect 95% of that or a little over $2 million. Fire/rescue and police will run over $1.7 million dollars.
No other expenses are in that figure including payroll for non-uniformed employees. Because of the lack of commercial properties, there are few places from which to draw income. The population is small so shared revenue from sales tax to gas tax is not a large funding source. Without borrowing and tax increases, the town cannot finish the infrastructure projects, and before long will be challenged to pay for everyday operating. While nothing was voted upon, the commission agreed that they would not use the roll back rate or reduce taxes.
Campo stated that real estate values have not gone up substantially. Perhaps prospective buyers look at the infrastructure and head for other places. Would you want to buy a house on the water and then every time it rains your property looks as though it is part of the lagoon?
You can read the presentation here
There was also a discussion regarding breaking out the amount paid for fire/rescue protection. The town’s attorney explained in a letter that an MSTU or MSBU can be used in connection with contracting with the county for services. He also said they can be created to pay for the contract with Stuart with the consent of the county.
It seems to me unlikely that the county would allow an MSTU to be created so that Sewall’s Point could pay Stuart. In this instance, the city and county are competitors. The contract price with the city is much less than what the county is obligated to charge if providing the service.
The attorney did say that the town could use a special assessment to break out the fire/rescue contract amount on the tax bill. They could also use that means to bill for the improvements to infrastructure and their operation. What does that accomplish? Several commissioners did say that it would hoodwink taxpayers.
I do not think that is true because taxpayers would still be paying the same whether it is all collected under ad valorem taxes or broken down into parts. What it does do is bring more transparency to the process. It also shows potential lenders that there could be a dedicated funding source for their loans which they like.
Like so much else nothing was decided. To see the Glen Torcivia’s letter explaining the various methods of taxation go here
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The June 13, 2021 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING MAY 25, 2021:
This was the meeting where Manager Berger was looking for the commission to make decisions. When it comes to pulling the cord, not all commissioners are ever ready to do so.
The first decision was whether to have FPL give an engineering estimate to put the utilities on South Sewall’s Point Road between Ridgeland and Ridgeview Road underground. This is where there is an expanse of Banyon Trees. I think many of us, regardless of where we live, have seen the utter disregard with which FPL trims trees around their lines. It is not the way an arborist would choose.
This may be money well spent in tree happy Sewall’s Point. Berger has gotten the FPL ballpark estimate price down to $225,981 and, with ancillary costs, the town engineer is estimating $300,000 for the entire project. It is currently in the CIP. FPL requires $1400 deposit for engineering costs to give an exact estimate that must be signed within 180 days. The $1400 is applied to the costs if the town moves forward.
As usual there were the cries of not enough available information to decide. But Mayor Mayfield moved the ball down the field and the motion passed 5-0 to spend the $1400.
In the last workshop, there was consensus on raising permit fees by at least three commissioners. A motion was made by Commissioner Kurzman and seconded by Commissioner Tompek to raise the building fee to 1% and the technology fee to .08%. It passed 4-1 with Commissioner Campo dissenting.
FIGURING OUT HOW TO BILL FOR FIRE AND OTHER SERVICES
Berger wants to create a separate taxing line to pay for the fire/rescue contract with the City of Stuart. By doing so, the general fund would be available to pay for other things such as debt service for capital projects. The mechanics of separating the fire contract expense out is an issue that she has asked the board to let staff explore.
Presently, the contract with Stuart costs $517,000 per year it will increase each year for the remainder of the contract. If Sewall’s Point had elected to remain with the county for fire/rescue, the Sewall’s Point taxpayers would pay a MSTU of 2.7 mills on the town’s taxable value directly to the county. That amount would be $1.9 million. So, the Sewall’s Point taxpayer has a great deal.
The town commissioners, especially Campo and Fender, often tout that Sewall’s Point has the lowest millage rate in Martin County. The prime reason is that the taxable value of the real estate is high as compared to Stuart. There are many properties in the city that pay no taxes whatsoever and many more pay less in taxes than what it costs to provide municipal services to their property.
When comparing the tax rates of Sewall’s Point to Jupiter Island, the latter is slightly higher, but the level of service provided is much greater. However, the taxable value of Jupiter Island real estate is almost five times as much for many fewer residents. The point is that a particular millage rate does not mean much unless it is taken into a broader context.
In my opinion, taxable rates are a “red herring” without the understanding a foundational underpinning of a particular government. Sewall’s Point must now face what to do about decades of burying their proverbial heads in the sand. Berger is trying to get them on track.
To recommending what to do next, Glen Torcivia wrote a letter to the commissioners outlining how they can have dedicated fees for different services. In his 5-page letter to commissioners, he outlines Florida law. A county has more leeway than a municipality in determining how to charge taxpayers for different municipal services. Unless a municipality is opting to contract for services with a county, then an MSTU or MSBU cannot be charged.
Currently, the town purchases waste removal through Martin County. Passing an ordinance and signing an interlocal agreement with the county to have Sewell’s Point residents charged the MSBU for that service by the county is correct. However, it is important to note that the millage rate is capped at 10 mills for any municipal service provided.
A municipality can have its own special assessments to pay for and maintain capital improvements. The two requirements are that the assessed property must derive a special benefit from either the improvement or service and it must be apportioned among the properties that receive the service. This works fine for things like water mains. Connections to a million-dollar house or a ten-million-dollar house cost the same. That is why properties pay on the ERC method.
With something like fire/rescue, it becomes more difficult. While it is possible to differentiate between commercial and residential properties, doing so based on assessed value is trickier. For instance, the fee could be based on square footage. The assumption would be that the bigger the home, the more it would cost. Fees do not consider tax exemptions that MSTUs do.
The question being posed at the meeting was to instruct staff to explore other possibilities for charging residents beside the general fund. The motion to proceed was 4-1 with Fender dissenting. One thing is clear that the prized millage rate of 2.87 cannot continue to remain if the town is going to pay for and maintain the necessary services and maintenance going forward. There will be many 3-2 votes from this commission in the next months on whether to move forward.
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The May 23, 2021 Edition
HONORS FOR A CHAMP
When you decide to give recognition to someone, you do it because you respect the individual.
The political elite and everyday citizens of the town, county and region attending suggests to me that this ceremony is not an empty honor. In the case of Lou Savini, it meant even more. He was due this gesture of respect and we turned out on a Friday afternoon to make sure he knew that. There were present and past law enforcement personnel, elected officials, and most importantly the people that he served in Sewall’s Point.
I didn’t know Savini when he was a cop, detective and “boss” in Nassau County, New York. I didn’t know Savini when he was Chief in Sewall’s Point. I met him when I spoke at an event that he chaired for a retired law enforcement organization. He was gracious, gregarious, and impeccably dressed.
I later found out that he always was a sharp dresser…a throwback to a time when people knew how to comport themselves. At 90 he still has it. As he was delivering one-liners in his remarks, he mentioned comedian Henny Youngman. For a brief time, I managed a building in New York where Youngman owned an apartment, and Savini is funnier.
Lou, along with his wife, daughters, many grand and great grandchildren, should be proud of this accomplishment. They say that to be a great cop you need to have a sense of timing just like a great comedian. Lou Savini is good at both. He also was the kind of cop you knew would play it straight whether you were a citizen or a criminal. There was a code to follow with both. He just cared that the citizen did not suffer at the hands of the criminal.
COMMISSION WORKSHOP MAY 11, 2023:
Sometimes things get better as they proceed. In this third round of Kim Delaney’s presentation to the commission, it was near perfection. Delaney’s first presentation on her strategic capital projects blueprint was spotty and the information was not always conveyed correctly. This time she had the commission focused on producing an outcome.
She gave them the bottom line. Of the short-term projects (2-10 years), the town’s projected costs were $9,375,000 of the $30,875,000 total project cost. The question really to be answered was how Sewall’s Point is going to pay for it.
During the discussions that ensued between the commissioners, there was some movement of projects from short term to mid-term (11–15-year time frame.) Yet ultimately most of what is on the boards to be done needs to be done now.
Commissioner Kurzman kept reminding the commission that things must be maintained once they are constructed. This is something that has not been done in the past. Most of the funders today want to see money dedicated to maintenance in the grant proposals. It makes no sense to spend millions constructing a project if it isn’t going to be maintained.
Once the discussion got down to how to pay for the infrastructure, it didn’t seem that every commissioner had read their agenda package. There was also confusion about what is the difference between an impact fee versus that of a maintenance or permit fee. Impact fees are levied on new construction. There are no provisions for impact fees for the town. There are impact fees due Martin County on new construction within Sewall’s Point.
What the town has done is charge building permit fees which are more expensive than in other Martin County jurisdictions. Building permit fees do not go into the general fund but must be used by the building department for operation or for programs having to do with that department. Besides the 2% there is also .4% road assessment fee. That fee is used for maintenance of existing roads.
Kurzman wanted to double the road maintenance fee to .8% which would equate to approximately an additional $12,000 per year to help in resurfacing roads. Along with Commissioner Tompeck, who is someone that understands government as the utility director in Fort Pierce, knows that maintenance is important. That is why both support a storm water maintenance fee.
The town will be spending millions, mostly in grant dollars, to build a storm water system. There needs to be a way to maintain such a system and to assure those entities giving the dollars that the system will be maintained. To institute such a fee, there needs to be a study done to know what to charge per ERU (Equivalent Residential Unit.)
Commissioner Fender, who at this meeting and at every other meeting usually states that there just isn’t enough data or as he likes to say “looking for the delta” to decide. For this decision he said there was no need for a study. He could just add up the costs spent in the past and have his answer. Any costs spent in the past would be immaterial to maintaining a new storm water system even if adequate funds were expended to maintain the current inadequate system.
Commissioner Campo surprised many when he said a case could be made for doing everything on the short-term list and accomplish it within five years by borrowing the money. There were more than a few caveats he added including no additional staff being hired even to manage the millions in projects being done. He also stated that he was not endorsing this but only saying a case could be made. There is plenty of wiggle room there when it comes up to a vote.
Berger also suggests that a special assessment line be created to pay the fire/recue contract with the City of Stuart instead of having the money come from the general fund. The current fee is $517,000. If the town were contracting with the county, property owners would pay 2.7 mils per $1000 of value to a separate tax bill item.
That would make some sense since as the contract fee is increased, the general revenue mil rate would not need to be increased. It serves as a pass through and keeps the general millage down.
The above will again be discussed and perhaps voted upon at the next regular meeting. I think there will be some 3-2 votes coming up. Are these projects needed? The majority of residents are tired of flooded roads and overflowing septic systems. Should a wealthy coastal community ignore the environmental impact of doing nothing in the name of having the lowest tax rates around?
At some point, even the swankiest property becomes a slum if the infrastructure is not maintained and improved. Do you tell brokers that your home cannot be shown if it rains for fear of road flooding? If a community is going to compare itself to Jupiter Island, it must be willing to spend money like Jupiter Island. Otherwise, there is no comparison.
You can see Kim Delaney’s presentation here
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The May 9, 2021 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING APRIL 27, 2021:
The annual audit for the year ending September 30, 2020 was presented. The Town received good grades for its bookkeeping. There were no grades given for whether the town is heading in the right direction.
There was no opinion as to whether money is available for the numerous projects that must be done. Nor was there a discussion of where the money is going to come from to do those projects anywhere in the report. For an audit is a rearview look. It is not a planning tool.
You can see the entire report here
There was a discussion about how to best use the federal dollars that are coming. Manager Berger recommended that they could use it for cash flow while waiting for grants. It would essentially move projects along. She also gave a list that where the money could be used:
- A storm water fee study $50,000
- $30,000 to fix and maintain storm water infrastructure that has not been maintained.
- $80,000 to harden town hall
- South Sewell’s Point sewer legal legal fees estimated to be $250,000
- $50,000 for a trailer with a portable pump and generator to be used when roads flood.
The total cost is about what would be received by the town in federal funding.
These were just the manager’s ideas, and nothing has been voted upon yet. I am sure many other things could be thrown into the pool. Next year’s budget will be worth watching.
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The April 25, 2021 Edition
WORKSHOP MEETING APRIL 13, 2021:
This was a workshop that contained several items, but I want to concentrate on two.
The first goes into some detail on what a budget amendment is and why it is needed. It uses the amendment that will be presented at the next meeting.
At a past meeting, a few of the commissioners were upset regarding the booking of revenue not yet received. The Government Accounting Standards Board (GASB) Statement 33 provides guidelines on how to do just that. It is for Imposed Nonexchange Revenue (property taxes and fines) in the period when use of the resource is required. For revenue to occur on the modified accrual basis, the criteria should be met, and revenue should be available. “Available” in this context means that the government has collected the revenue during the current period or expects to collect it soon after the end of the period.
When you budget, you are using expected revenue and expenses. The 2022 budget will be created using GASB standards. Obviously, what will be voted upon by the commission will be in anticipation of the future based on past results. A budget is a future projection of the town’s spending plan.
Throughout the year, adjustments need to be made to the plan. These are called budget amendments. It is not some sleight of hand but an attempt to “true up” the numbers. Budget amendments, as far as government is concerned, must balance. There needs to be a funding source for the expense. That funding source may be a transfer from the reserves, a grant, or other sources. In all cases, the amendment must conform to the requirements of GASB.
The money that is being spent has usually been approved by the commission already. What is being done in the budget amendment is the authorization to pay for those things already approved. In the current amendment, there are such items as road construction, playground, and septic to sewer. The town has already said yes to spending the money. Now they are striking the checks.
You can see the budget amendment HERE
BLUEPRINT FOR CIP
On the last go round when Kim Delaney from the Treasure Coast Planning Council gave her presentation, it was not very impressive. This was a vast improvement.
She went through all the things such as resiliency and septic to sewer that Joe Capra, the town engineer, has been saying for some time. There was a list of projects categorized by time frame that should be done. There were those that were underway or should be done short term (2-10 years), mid term (11-15 years), and long term (16-20 years). The project list is HERE
Delaney then discussed how to pay for those projects. Once again both she and the town manager explained that Sewall’s Point cannot expect to have grants and the county pay for all the infrastructure. There needs to be some money from Sewall’s Point residents in the game. There also is the ongoing maintenance that must be funded once the project is completed.
Funding can include a MSBU (Municipal Services Benefit Unit) for the town’s portion of the septic to sewer conversion. That would raise $7.8 million of the $17,300,000 needed. The cost would be $78.00 per residential property owner. That $17.3 million divided by the number of ERC (Equivalent Residential Connection) is $26,534 per household. After grants the cost will be $14,500 per connection. $12,000 will be paid by the MSBU. The homeowner when he connects will pay $2500.00. You can find the slide HERE
Commissioner Kurzman stated that some people cannot afford that. While we should have compassion, there is no constitutional right to own a house. One of the reasons that Florida has such a screwed up real estate tax system is because of things like “Save Our Homes.” Laws like that pervert the market resulting in some people with the same exact home values paying different taxes by thousands of dollars.
Sewall’s Point has the lowest millage rate in the county. Even if they raised the millage by 2 points, they still would have the lowest. Many of these road and water projects must be done. The Sewall’s Point “house” is metaphorically falling around the town’s ears. What good is having a low millage rate if roads are under water? Septic systems are flooding the street and property with fecal product. Infrastructure is in disrepair and trees cannot be maintained.
This is all going on because the commission and, to some degree, the residents were more concerned with pickup truck weights than water quality or what times contractors can work rather than the resiliency of the community. It is all window dressing and no substance. When you pay a cheap price for a house sometimes it means you made a good deal. Other times it just means you bought a substandard house.
You can find the entire presentation HERE
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The March 28, 2021 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING MARCH 22, 2021
I knew it was going to be a bad night when there was a problem in naming the police lobby after long time former chief, Lou Savini. Who doesn’t love Lou!
After the current chief endured much questioning, the commission voted 5-0 to do so. It was a harbinger of things to come. Or I could say the lack of things to come.
The two bright spots were that Mayor Mayfield was able to keep the meeting moving while her herd of commissioners were moving in many directions.
The second was the ability of staff to answer questions posed by the commission in an accusatory manner. It appeared the manager did everything possible not to lose it. At least there was one professional sitting on the dais.
COMP PLAN WOES CONTINUE
Imagine a business owner that last updated his business plan in 1989 before he first opened. That is Sewall’s Point and its comprehensive plan.
I will agree that the town has little undeveloped land left. Many would ask then why do you need a comp plan? First it is required of every local government to have one by the State of Florida. The state has said the town will be in violation next month.
A comprehensive plan is more than about development. It is a blueprint for everything from resiliency to parks. The state has certain requirements that all plans must meet. Many of these can only be developed after extensive consultation with stakeholders.
There have been 450 changes in the law since the last plan was done. That guarantees that the LDRs and other codes will need some updates. What changes and how much it will cost is anyone’s guess at this point. To do the analysis is a job all to itself.
It was surprising then that Commissioner Campo didn’t want to approve going ahead with the comp plan because it is open ended. The price to do the comp plan isn’t open ended and to say he can’t vote the money to do so is like saying he can’t vote the money to fix the road here because he does not know what it costs to run the sewer there.
Not surprising the vote to proceed with the plan was 3-2 with Fender and Campo voting no.
Then it was time to introduce a budget amendment to pay for the contract and other approved expenses and income just received but unbudgeted. A budget amendment is needed when the items, either expenses or income, were not in the yearly budget that had been accepted. This is quite common.
Budgets are expectation based on solid projections and within general acceptable accounting principles approved by the Government Accounting Standards Board. The town’s Financial Services Director is a Certified Financial Government Officer. When commissioners begin to say that tree fines or building permits shouldn’t be listed in the budget, it clearly means they do not understand the municipal budgeting process.
After a recess, Tompeck moved a budget amendment forward with just the money for Landry to write the comp plan. It passed 3-2 with Campo and Fender dissenting. Tompeck ended up being the commissioner that wanted things to move forward. He along with Kurzman allowed at least the minimum to occur.
GRANT WRITING & GRANT MANAGEMENT
Then came the item of the evening that was nothing but confusing.
The current dual grant management agreement with CAPTEC and CCSI has expired because it’s two-year cap of $190,000 has been exceeded. There are two one-year renewal options. The amount that CCSI needs to continue for grant management services for the next 12 months is $459,500 and CAPTEC needs $232,000 for a total of $691,500.
That isn’t for construction. It is to manage the terms of the grants…the free money. If the contract is extended, then the town must take $691,500 from reserves. The unrestricted reserves would be reduced from $907,487 to $215,987.
If the contract is not extended, then there needs to be an RFP to award a contract for grant management. That will take time to do. Both Fender and Campo said they can’t move forward because they do not have enough data. Let’s face it…all the different parts and names of the project are downright confusing.
What is exactly is being worked on? Is it Phase 1 Part 3 or Phase 3, the HMGP grant, the Indian River Lagoon grant, or something in between? Tompeck, who runs Fort Pierce utility, gets it. While it is very confusing, a commissioner cannot just say he can’t make up their mind because he needs more data. Much of the money for these services is spent or is ongoing.
Tompeck made a motion to continue the existing contract until September with a scope and dollar amount that passed 5-0. Then Tompeck made another motion to develop an RFP that was seconded by Kurzman and passed 3-2 with Campo and Fender voting no.
Berger should hire a grant manager to work for the town. There will be plenty to manage for the next several years. It will be substantially less than the $690,000 in the coming year. They should pay CCSI for any work already done. If they wish to employ their services for grant writing, that is a different contract than grant management.
Going forward, each project should have a different name and number and with a spreadsheet attached showing how the project is progressing with dollar amounts. There should be no mixing of projects. What you can’t do is go around in circles.
I have written before about grants and Sewall’s Point. Grants are a tool and should be employed. But they are not the only tool. The town is losing its reserves. It is time to use every tool available to finish these projects and then maintain them. This will require tax increases and fees implemented.
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The March 14, 2021 Edition
WORKSHOP MARCH 6, 2021
Bright and early on a Saturday morning, the commission convened to discuss where to go from here. The problem is there is no here…here. In fact, there was a rehash of a rehash of the projects that have been around forever.
It kicked off with Sam Amerson of Martin County Utilities outlining the proposed sewer expansion. Again, nothing new just, the same thing that Joe Capra, the town’s engineer, has been saying for years.
Then Kim Delaney of the Treasure Coast Planning Council gave a presentation that I am not so sure of what. Most of it seemed to be a cut and paste job with the insertion of pretty pictures. She promises to come back in April with some concrete suggestions.
Bonnie Landry is now apparently on board to do the new comp plan at a reduced price. The commission did an interactive exercise that seems like fun but really is meant to solicit opinions from citizens. At some point, there will be outreach and the game will be played once again with the citizens.
The main point of this workshop was to ascertain how to pay for the needed improvements. Manager Berger and Delaney outlined the ways to do so such as an increase in taxes, bonding, Municipal Service Benefit Unit (MSBU) or by fees. Berger also added that the town’s reserves will be below what she believes is an acceptable level to attract a good rating in another year so bonding may not be an available option.
The town have been successful in obtaining grants, but when you build something, you also need to maintain it. Sewall’s Point does not have nearly enough in the budget to do so. The state largess to a community that has an income level substantially above most other communities in Florida is nothing short of miraculous. Yet, how many more millions should they receive over needier communities?
I heard much talk but once again no consensus. I heard several times that the tax rate hasn’t been raised in 5 years. That would be ok if maintenance and needed capital improvements were being done. They are not. The only thing that has happened in the past few years has been from the money received from the state.
Commission, it is time to put the fantasy that your taxpayers can enjoy this bucolic lifestyle and others will continue to pay for it to rest. You need to realistically discuss how your taxpayers are going to kick in. You are beginning to sound like you are completely divorced from the reality of governance.
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The February 28, 2021 Edition
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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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The February 14, 2021 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING JANUARY 26, 2021
The commission passed 5-0 an ordinance that removed the 500-foot distance requirement between businesses that sell alcohol. This is to help Harbor Bay Plaza attract other restaurants. It does not expand the areas that businesses can open. The commission is looking to make sure that the retail area in town remains viable.
Many people do not realize that watering lawns and gardens is regulated by the South Florida Management District. For some time, there have been restrictions that that limit watering to twice a week. This ordinance just codifies it.
There will be a period of education before the penalty phase. Commissioners believed that it is important for local ordinances to mirror the district’s requirements when asking the district for grants and funding. It passes 5-0. To see the ordinance, go here
DIFFERENT ASSESSING AND TAXING DISTRICTS
The commission agreed to hire Commercial Divers Services as the low bidder at $43,425.00 to repair the bulkheads and the Island Road Bridge. The motion to approve passed 5-0.
Commissioner Campo stated that in this and other instances most residents are not benefiting from these repairs and improvements. He asked whether assessments or special districts could be set up so that things that are internal to different subdivisions could be charged to the lot owners in the future.
The Town Attorney said there would need to be a consultant to ascertain whether it was possible and then a determination made if it would be financially worth it. Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch, who is currently on the SFWMD and is former mayor and commissioner, was in the audience and was not in favor.
Campo would like to workshop the idea. While I don’t think districts are the best way to go in the small town, I think the pros and cons should be discussed. If a past commission had not accepted the roadways and subdivision infrastructure, then those communities would be responsible for the upkeep and maintenance.
As an aside, I want to congratulate the Mayor Mayfield for running a very good meeting.
COMMISSION WORKSHOP FEBRUARY 9, 2021
It seems that every year commissioners wants to discuss the public comment portion of the meeting and how to change it. This year it was Commissioner Tompeck.
Tompeck ideas are the following:
Strictly enforce that comment cards must be submitted prior to the start of the meeting for
all items on the agenda.
Under Item II of the agenda, the public comments at the beginning of the meeting should
be restricted to agenda items not requiring public hearing. Public comments on nonagenda items should be at the end of the meeting. This prevents sales pitches or
advertising from slowing down the start of the meeting.
No responses from the Commission should be made during public comments. There was a case several months ago where you and the Commission tried to solve an individual’s problem which ate up 15-20 minutes of valuable time and wasn’t related to any business on the agenda. If a Commissioner wishes to reply to a public comment, that can be done at the end of the meeting under Commission closing remarks.
I think it would be worthwhile to briefly review the criteria for consent items, with the view of adding more non-controversial, low financial impact issues to the consent agenda.
With the new video and audio upgrades to the chambers, we should discuss the opportunities for residents viewing the meeting from their homes and the process for public comments. My recommendation would be for one-way viewing with public comments being submitted prior to the start of the meeting via email. There should not be separate public comments during each agenda item. I think this is the number one item that slows down the meetings. I find it terribly distracting when the Town Engineer is making a presentation and people are handing in comment cards to critique his presentation. Those comments should be made at the beginning of a meeting and no comment cards should be accepted after the meeting has started. Residents have the opportunity to review the packages prior to the meeting and can contact Commissioners with their specific concerns.
The others all agreed with the memo, but each commissioner had a critique. Tompeck apparently wants to speed up the pace of the meetings. The meetings are not being slowed down by the few people who comment. If anything, they are slowed by the commissioners who speak endlessly.
Public comment should not be looked upon by the representatives of the people as irksome though at times it can be.
The public should be given the opportunity to speak on every agenda item as well as on every motion before a vote is taken. In my opinion, asking the public to speak on a topic before the board has discussed it is not allowing them to speak knowing the entire item. During discussion, an item can change whereby a member of the public could have agreed with the original intent, but the item is now going in a completely different direction.
I go to more meetings than anyone in the county. I have seen procedures that are good and those that are not so good. I believe that the two best when it comes to public comment rules are Martin County and Stuart.
Both allow general public comment, and the public can submit cards any time before they speak even at times after they have spoken to the commission. Martin County has public comment at the start and end of meetings. Stuart has public comment at the beginning only but in general the meetings are much shorter. As to individual agenda items, both allow them during the item submitting a request card at any time.
Sewall’s Point is a small place. Perhaps once a year, there is an item that will have many people attending and wanting to speak. Commissioners need to listen to as many viewpoints in an open meeting as possible. It is usually three minutes well spent.
What commissioners should not do is conduct a question-and-answer session or debate with the commenter. They should politely listen and take the view expressed under advisement. People want to be listened to and they know that commissioners will not always agree. The important thing is for the commissioner to listen and the citizen to be heard.
Sewall’s Point has improved tremendously in the past couple of years regarding the running of meetings. I would hate to see it go backward.
ROADS AND GRANTS
One thing I have learned about supposed speeding on roads is that it is more a perception than a fact. That probably is the same for South Sewall’s Point Road where the commission may reduce the speed from 35 to 30 miles per hour. After much discussion and Chief Tina’s explanation on how FDOT decides about reducing speed limits, it was decided that there would be a speed study conducted by the police now while the speed is at 25 MPH during construction and when the road returns to 35 MPH after.
The Town Engineer explained that one of the grants that they have been waiting for will be coming but not for several months. That means the contractor on the South Sewall’s Point Road project will shut down. To begin again, it will cost the town about $145,000 because of startup costs. Unfortunately, this is a federal grant, and the town is not allowed to borrow or use its own money to front the project cost and then be reimbursed.
That is another problem of using only grants to do work on your infrastructure. But it appears no one on the commission wants to take a hard look at the cost of just using grants to facilitate capital improvement work.
The engineer’s presentation can be found here.
A NEW COMP PLAN
The Sewall’s Point comp plan is now over 30 years old. Since its creation in 1989, there has been nearly 500 changes in the statute that governs the requirements of what a plan needs. The update that was done some time ago was apparently not completed by a planner because it falls far short of what is needed.
To write a new plan over the next two plus years is slated to cost $122,000 in this year’s budget and $83,000 in next year’s budget. It is so expensive because the requirements are many and the information needed is specific to the individual locality. It would have been far cheaper if the plan had regular updates through the years.
When confronted with this, the commission was looking for all kinds of ways to not spend the money. How about grants? How about a fill-in-the-blank plan? “It is a shame that it will only sit on the shelf,” one commissioner said. “Let’s not do it,” was another comment.
Your LDRs must be in tune with your comp plan. There isn’t a choice. It isn’t an option. That is per Florida Statute.
If you have been reading this newsletter for any amount of time, you will have noticed that this town has not had the best management over the years. A good deal of that was because the managers either didn’t know, or care, or didn’t want to buck the commission. Since Berger has come on board, she is attempting to make sure the commission knows that these things are outstanding. It is up to them to choose whether they want to do what needs to be done.
This was put on hold while other options were being sourced. Sounds familiar. You can find the presentation and amounts for completing the plan here
Here is something else that never seems to go away…the manager’s contract.
The current one is up in October. Tompeck wants to know whether it’s time for negotiation. Campo thinks that Berger is great but still a neophyte, so he is not ready yet. He thought there should be some goals that must be achieved and then evaluated. He is not yet ready to commit to a longer time for her.
Having a term on the contract is in some way a red herring. The manager can leave, and the commission can terminate at any time. There are provisions in the contract and in statute for termination and severance.
As to whether there should be a raise in compensation or not and when, it should be discussed annually when the other employees are receiving raises. If the raise is not going to be in line with the rest of the employees, then the commission should appoint one of their board to negotiate on their behalf. Perhaps in Berger’s case since she was a new manager, there may need to be an adjustment in addition to a COLA this time. After this raise, it should only be the same amount as the other employees.
I think Campo has a point in making the evaluation more goal oriented. The easiest way to do so would be for each commissioner to give the manager two things for her to work on in the coming year. Then besides the regular evaluation, the commission can evaluate how far she progressed with their individual goals.
The question was asked if she wanted to stay. Berger answered in the affirmative. Mayfield suggested that they speak with her individually.
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The January 24, 2021 Edition
Mayor Mayfield pointed out a mistake I made in the last newsletter:
Hi Tom –
I hope you are doing well, and that you had a great holiday season.
Not a big deal, but I just wanted to clarify something your wrote in your January 10, 2021 newsletter. When discussing Resolution 897 regarding septic to sewer conversion, you state that I said it was a choice whether or not a homeowner hooked up to sewer until their septic failed. That is only true for North Sewall’s Point. As far as I have been told by Martin County Utilities, South Sewall’s Point (because it has more homes) would require a vacuum system, which because of its cost, would require mandatory hookup. One of the many reasons to try to acquire funding for the town to offset costs of such a South Sewall’s Point conversion!!
Thanks for your time, and I just wanted to make sure the information was straight.
P.S. I usually read your newsletter straight from the link you send in the email; this time I started through your home page. You have done a really nice job with your website! I really appreciate all the info, objectivity, and trying to keep Martin County residents in the loop. Keep up the good work!!
I will make a correction.
That will be some meeting when you decide what to do.
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WORKSHOP JANUARY 12, 2021
This was an abbreviated workshop replacing the one scheduled for January 9th that was cancelled.
The first part of the meeting was a discussion about where to find money to do everything that needs to be done. Mayor Mayfield wanted to explore where additional funds can be obtained besides real estate taxes.
Vice-Mayor Campo wanted to increase the road fee. Commissioner Kurtzman was looking at building fees. He stated that even if they were $150,000 for a house, it would be alright. Raising the franchise fee on utility bills was discussed. As was a stormwater fee.
Instead of commissioners throwing out ideas, staff should have prepared a presentation about what is possible. Impact fees can only be used for new construction and must directly benefit the project paying them. Road fees at .4% would add a minimal amount. Having permit fees so high would staunch any further new construction or substantial rehabilitation.
There should have been a chart presented which gave some idea about how much would have been collected if an impact fee had been imposed over the last five years. The same for franchise, sewar and road fees. That way the commission would have known if the amounts that would have been collected would justify imposition of a fee.
Town Engineer Joe Capra gave a presentation. Much of it was nothing very new. Finally, though, he came up with a list for yearly maintenance and then a CIP list with what needs to be done. You can look at it here
The list shows that the yearly total for stormwater maintenance is $295,000. Those are all level 1 projects. The storm water fee per month, if implemented, would be high. If the town continues its current path, then what is the outcome? The level 2 maintenance projects are for yearly roadway maintenance. That comes to $255,000. It assumes a 15-year schedule.
The CIP list has a level 1-10 ranking. The first 6 levels should be done. That comes to $38 million. Once the work is finished, there will be a yearly maintenance requirement. How many grants can one town receive? Not enough to do everything that needs to be done.
Kurzman stated that if the work had been done in 2005-2008, the cost would be 20% of today’s amount. Mayfield claims it should be discussed. Campo said this list is what he has been asking for and that they have come up with funding in the last 12 months.
Manager Berger wants to ask the state for $20 million. She went on to say that millage alone will not solve it. That is an understatement.
To see the presentation and back up go here
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The January 10, 2021 Edition
Commissioner Frank Fender wrote me because he didn’t think that I was clear in something I had written. Instead of placing it in the letter section, I believe it should be printed here under the Sewall’s Point section. Here it is in its entirety:
I hope all is well. I wanted to send you a quick note of thanks for all the hard work you put in on building your Friends & Neighbors newsletter and blog. It is clear that it is a labor of love and your design makes it easy to navigate and read. More importantly, you are providing a service to deliver information to our community in a professional and attractive format. Thank you again for all the effort.
I was compelled to write because I wanted to clarify a statement I saw in your November 22, 2020 Edition of the Sewall’s Point section. Upon reading this statement, “Fender stated that he does not believe in rotating the position as has been customary. While he didn’t say he wanted to remain in that position, it was obvious”, it was clear to me that either my words were misinterpreted or I chose the wrong ones, or both. Neither sentence reflects my position on our Mayoral transition process in Sewall’s Point. So I wanted to briefly clarify.
Tom, we rotate our Mayoral responsibility annually in Sewall’s Point each November, usually after the conclusion of an election. In years when there is no election, we maintain the process in November to keep a fresh and focused leader in the role. I completely support this process. What I said, or intended to say, is that I don’t believe that “everyone gets a chance to be Mayor just because they happen to be on the Commission.” In my view, we should be selecting a leader as Mayor each year who best represents the Town and can most efficiently and professionally carry out the duties of Mayor. Leadership ability is important. Over the years, as a resident of Sewall’s Point, I have heard people say “It’s his turn.” or “It isn’t fair. Why was he/she overlooked as Mayor again?” Your referenced point of my statement on the Dias was that it is not a rotation. It isn’t about being someone’s turn.
I also want to ensure that it is clear that I emphatically support Commissioner Mayfield’s election as Mayor. She will make a great one.
Secondarily, to your point about my “obvious” desire to remain in the role, I can tell you that I am proud of my accomplishments during my term. Personally, I was ready for the transition and could use a little rest. I suspect I may be asked to serve in the future, and if I had been asked to stay for another year, I probably would have agreed. But, no, your perception of my desire to remain in that role is overstated. I was excited to hand the gavel to Kaija and to enable some fresh new energy to lead. What may be driving your conclusion was my short re-direction to ask Commissioner Campo, an experienced member of the Commission and former Mayor, if he intended to express a desire for the role. It worked out well with Campo as Vice Mayor and Mayfield as Mayor. I couldn’t be more pleased with the selections and I personally feel that we have a strong and unified leadership team on the Sewall’s Point Commission.
Tom, thanks again for all you do. Just wanted to clarify your post. I hope you and your family have a wonderful holiday season.
Town of Sewall’s Point
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COMMISSION MEETING DECEMBER 15, 2020
This was the last meeting of 2020. It was only fitting that the purchase of land for flood control was the main topic.
The two properties under consideration were 78 and 80 South Sewall’s Point Road. Once again, commissioners asked the same question and received the same answers. The STA is needed. The outflow is needed. And it can’t be done without purchasing adequate property.
Yet without grant funding to buy the properties and make the improvements, nothing will be able to be done. What happens if no grants are forthcoming to make this all happen? Does the commission allow the flooding to continue? Does it allow for the disruption to these property owners to keep happening?
This is a microcosm of what is happening throughout the nation. Infrastructure is being placed on the back burner. In Sewall’s Point’s case, it may be because the commission does not want to borrow or bond to finish this. It makes sense to apply for grants, but there needs to be a financial plan that does not solely rely on a grant writer to be accomplished.
It will cost roughly $3 million to buy the needed property and do the work. If you look at the picture below, it shows that part of Sewall’s Point will be under water at the end of the century. There is much work to be done starting with this but in no way ending with this.
To see the complete presentation: here
Resolution 897 is another one of those resolutions that mean nothing but could prove useful. It says that sewers should be available to residents on South Sewall’s Point as they are on the northside.
It is not mandatory that property owners hook up as soon as sewers are available but hook up would be mandatory when their septic system fails. What it does do is give notice that when funding becomes available, the town wants sewer lines installed. When flooding occurred a few weeks ago, fecal material was found in the flood water because of septic intrusion. As a reminder, sewers add only a few hundred dollars per year to the average homeowner.
Someone mentioned that the City of Stuart now has sewer availability throughout. If they can do it, why not Sewall’s Point? Another mentioned that a referendum should be held. All fine points, but Sewall’s Point is not in western Martin County. It is on a peninsula between two bodies of water and on the Indian River Lagoon. Neighbors are close together and affect each other.
The mayor’s remarks said it best. She threaded the needle by saying it was a choice as to whether an owner hooked up or not until the septic failed. She also said that at some point mandatory hookup would be necessary. That should be planned as funds become available. The vote was 5-0 in favor.
To read the resolution and Mayfield’s remarks go here
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The December 13, 2020 Edition
A MESSAGE FROM THE MAYOR
By Mayor Kaija Mayfield
Tom asked me if I was interested in writing a short piece for his newsletter highlighting my priorities for the upcoming year, and I gladly obliged. I recently wrote a Message from the Mayor for our Sewall’s Point December newsletter that addressed similar topics, so the task seemed especially pleasant to take on. I also enjoy reading Friends & Neighbors of Martin County and believe it provides an excellent spot for Martin County residents to catch up on government happenings. So, thanks for the opportunity, Tom!
I was grateful to have been elected for another term as a Sewall’s Point Town Commissioner in early November, and I am also pleased to have the honor and privilege of being elected the Mayor of Sewall’s Point in mid-November, a position I will humbly uphold. There is much work to be done. I look forward to collaborating with my fellow commissioners to listen to our residents’ concerns and make progress on the projects that are important and necessary to keep our town safe, beautiful, and thriving.
One of these important and necessary projects is the road project currently underway at the southern end of South Sewall’s Point Road. It is the first step of a much larger project that will address the big picture of mitigating ongoing stormwater and tidal flooding. At the beginning of 2020, the commission identified stormwater management as the number one priority for the town. Building off the foundation of prior commissions, this commission is united and ready to move forward expeditiously and effectively.
While a significant focus will be on stormwater, please know that other issues affecting the town will be addressed. The improvement of stormwater drainage will directly affect and improve the health of our rivers, one of our town’s greatest assets. In addition, the prospect of sewer hookup in South Sewall’s Point (which would also affect the health of our rivers) will be addressed. Public Safety has always been a high priority for our residents, and the town will continue to support and facilitate the Sewall’s Point Police Department.
I am grateful for this opportunity to lead our wonderful town. I enjoy interacting and communicating with all our residents, always remembering that it is those residents whom the commission serves. We have a highly effective and hardworking staff who continue to improve our town, and who are also dedicated to serving our citizens. It has been a challenging 2020 for everyone, and I look forward to moving ahead into 2021 with humility, perseverance, and focus.
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The November 22, 2020 Edition
WORKSHOP NOVEMBER 10, 2020
The Commission learned that there are 35 homeowner associations in the town. According to their PUD agreements, those associations are responsible for maintaining various storm water and resiliency projects within their boundaries.
Many of these associations have neglected to do so. This is part of what is causing the flooding. Others think they are performing the necessary maintenance but are not. Joe Capra, the Town Engineer, and Manager Berger are going to begin the process of educating the associations.
What do you do about the neighborhoods where there are no active association, but there is still an obligation to perform this work? One commissioner suggested that the town do so. Berger rightfully stated that could be thousands of dollars of additional maintenance.
There was general agreement that the town institute a storm water fee. Most other places have one but not Sewall’s Point. How much would that bring in? Someone suggested $12 per month charged to the roughly 900 parcels which would add monthly revenue of $10,800 or a little less than $130,000 per year. That isn’t enough to maintain the current infrastructure never mind any improvements that will need maintenance.
That doesn’t mean it should not be studied. Commissioner Campo rightfully stated the fee levied needs to reflect the total amount needed to address the problem rather than something that must be regularly amended.
The town should perform a complete study of what needs to be done to resolve the problem including buying of land for STAs. Then it needs to price out the capital needs and the deferred maintenance. Once there is a dollar figure, the staff can look to either bond all these projects or borrow depending on what would be more advantageous.
There are several ways to finance and pay. They should all be explored. None of the borrowing should be added to the ad valorem town rate. Once the debt has been retired, the repayment mechanism then goes away. Levying real estate taxes in Florida is complicated. No two parcels of equal value pay the same. All other mechanisms should be considered first.
According to predictions as illustrated on the above map, much of Sewall’s Point may be gone in the next century. That may not alarm most of us who will ourselves be gone in 80 years. However, Sewall’s Point is experiencing unacceptable flooding today. Aren’t residents tired of having their lots, if not their homes, submerged. Even more residents must detour because of flooded roadways.
The time has come for the commission to be leaders. The work needs to be done now. More and more residents will be affected. Waiting for the availability of grants is no longer a responsible way of governing.
You can see Capra’s presentation here
Mayor Fender gave me a presentation that Jupiter Island did regarding seal level rise. It was reported on in this newsletter earlier.
You can find it here
COMMISSION MEETING NOVEMBER 17, 2020
This was the town’s reorganization meeting. The first order of business was to swear in the two re-elected commissioners, Frank Fender and Kaija Mayfield, along with new commissioner, John Tompeck.
Later in the meeting, it was time to choose the next mayor. Fender stated that he does not believe in rotating the position as has been customary. While he didn’t say he wanted to remain in that position, it was obvious. Mayfield stated that she did think everyone should have a turn, which is the same position she had last year when Barile wanted to remain as mayor.
Mayfield asked if Commissioner Kurzman wanted to be mayor since he would have been next in line. He couldn’t because of business concerns. Mayfield then put herself out there for the position. She was nominated by Kurzman and she seconded the nomination. It passed 5-0.
Tompeck nominated Commissioner Campo for vice mayor and it was seconded by Fender. That passed 5-0.
In years past, there was jostling for the various outside committee appointments. There was none this year. The following were appointed:
- Airport Noise Committee: Kurzman
- League of Treasure Coast Cities: Mayfield with Tompeck as the alternate
- MPO: Campo
- Treasure Coast Planning Council Alternate: Campo
- Martin County Tourism Council: Fender
- Council of Local Governments: Tompeck with Kurzman as the alternate
Congratulations to all.
A MASK RESOLUTION
Before Mayor Fender gave up the gavel, he wanted to push through a mask resolution.
It has no enforcement mechanism. It is one that encourages and strongly recommends masks, social distancing and washing hands. The police will not be telling people to mask up or keep their distance. In effect meaningless…but is it?
Other commissioners asked and made sure that it was a statement and nothing more. It was a present to Fender as his last official act. The motion to approve was made by Kurzman and seconded by Mayfield. It passed 5-0
Sometimes statements made are important. It can reinforce an idea. Maybe this will. I know there are many who will read this and say the wearing of masks does not matter. I think that is wrong. Martin County’s BOCC thinks it is wrong since they have a similar resolution. And now Sewall’s Point believes that masks matter.
The resolution can be found here
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Sewall’s Point Latest News From The November 8, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING OCTOBER 27, 2020
How much time and money should Sewall’s Point spend for FEMA reimbursement? This is the question being asked by staff to the Commission.
It appears when Hurricane Irma struck more than 2 years ago, the town was cleaning out outfalls but really had no proof which ones they were doing. That made it difficult to seek full re-imbursement. FEMA paid $17,000 for this and, overall, $350,000 to the town for Irma. This left what the town claims is $316,664 unreimbursed.
This is not like storm debris removal which can be proven. The Town has been denied 9 times. The next step is arbitration which involves attorneys. Mr. Capra, the town’s engineer, does not recommend going further. It is like throwing good money after bad.
Yet sometimes it is hard for Sewall’s Point’s commissioners to let go. They are so focused on saving money that they forget it may cost money to do so. Joe Capra will need to charge if he is told to go further as will the town’s attorneys. The recommendation of staff is to leave it be.
They must appeal the decision by November 10th. Commissioner Campo stated he has an expert who the manager should speak to immediately. I understand she did, and it was too late.
How much of the $316,000+ should have been paid by FEMA? I don’t know since some of it was regular maintenance. It probably would be foolish to spend another dime when the manager, engineer and attorney are not in favor of doing so.
You can read the denial and money spent here
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The October 18, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING OCTOBER 13, 2020
This was supposed to be a workshop, but Manager Berger advertised it as a special meeting.
Stuart Fire Chief Felicione gave an update on ambulance calls which included transporting of patients. That would fall into the workshop portion.
Then came public comment that would lead into the discussion for the night which was buying property to be used for water storage and/or an outfall as part of the Homeward Grant.
It appeared that some residents now want results. They are tired of waiting for years while grants are found and coordinated for work to be done and completed. I can’t really say that I blame them.
From public comment, the Board went directly into the discussion of buying property. There was a presentation given by Joe Capra, Town Engineer, which outlined options. He reiterated that they weren’t going to spend money until it was received. He was speaking about grant money which he is good at obtaining.
Outlining options (and there were several) is different from giving guidance on what to do. Which option will be the best from a water engineering standpoint? That was missing and has been missing. Telling Commissioners that they could buy this or that or both or neither means exactly what?
When I hear individual Commissioners say that I want Option A or I prefer Option D, I am concerned because this is not the way decisions like this should be made. If I go to a doctor, I want the doctor to diagnose the problem and tell me what course of action is being recommended. As the patient, I can then ask if there is a less invasive treatment or a different surgical solution. I can then make an informed decision. Just having a bunch of options given will not lead to the Commission making an informed decision.
Capra and Berger should have laid out a plan with costs and, using their expert judgement, recommended the best course of action. A Commissioner could have inquired about other possible solutions, and staff could have further explained why their recommendation would give the Town the optimum result.
In other parts of the country, there are Greek-owned diners with 20-page menus. There are literally hundreds of things to choose to eat. People are overwhelmed with their options. While it may be acceptable to have options in a diner, in this case a more narrowed focus would serve the Town better.
It is becoming apparent that residents whose properties are directly affected by the continuous flooding have had it. Other residents who need to take detours because thoroughfares are closed are just about as frustrated. A resident said that, at some point, having the lowest tax rate in the County for years may not be a blessing if her property value is dropping. A truer statement has never been uttered.
Commissioner Kurzman mentioned that a line of credit for a million dollars would result in a negligible tax increase of about $50 per parcel. Commissioner Mayfield agreed that may be a way to go. These are the two newest Commissioners and especially Mayfield, a CPA, represents how some younger residents may feel.
Commissioner Campo made a motion to negotiate with a resident who offered an easement to put in an outflow on her property if the STA was not constructed next door. It was seconded by Vice-Mayor Barile. It was the cheapest option. It didn’t appear that solution would accomplish much since there would be no place for retention to clean the water which could not be sent into the river using the outflow. The motion failed 3-2 with Campo and Barile voting yes.
Commissioner Mayfield made a motion for staff to negotiate a contract for the parcel in Option A. It was seconded by Kurzman. The law states that an appraisal is needed before the Town can buy property so I believe that the sale would have to be contingent on that. Finally, Capra said this is the option he likes the best. The motion passed 3-2 with Campo and Barile dissenting.
There still needs to be a way to finance the transaction even if the purchase would possibly be covered by a grant. At least they are tentatively moving forward. Within the next couple of months, the staff should put together a funding mechanism and present it to the Commission. Grants are necessary and offset direct costs. Yet with rising tides and water tables, Sewall’s Point needs the road work and storm water management to be completed as soon as possible. Otherwise the Town is staring at that Greek menu with too many options and never making a choice.
You can find the presentation with options here
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The October 4, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING SEPTEMBER 22, 2020
Sewall’s Point’s Commission has been focused on infrastructure and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Grants, waiting for grants, matching the grants, planning for grants is how any sewer or roads or sustainability improvements will be accomplished. I think, finally, some Commissioners are thinking outside of the box.
Dave Kurtzman is beginning to see the futility of this approach for accomplishing the many projects that are still undone. At this rate, it will be years before the projects are done. By then, some homeowners will find their homes may be flooding with regularity and some roads will be underwater most of the time.
Kurtzman brought up (not for the first time) that because of the availability of cheap money, borrowing may be the way to go. He said that interest rates are less than 1% and a revolving line of credit of $5 million would allow progress to continue regardless of how grants came in. Currently, there is a constant start/stop approach to these very necessary projects.
Going into next fiscal year, the Florida state budget is as much as $5 billion short. Grants are going to dry up. Does that mean that the Town stops work on Its infrastructure? Kaija Mayfield also suggested that looking into a line of credit should be considered.
No matter how good Town Engineer Joe Capra is at juggling grant money, this is not a sound fiscal plan. Along with Capra, the Town Manager needs to look at how construction costs are rising every year and the opportunity cost to the Town for proceeding on this same path or following Kurzman’s idea. If the cost of doing a project is going up more than the cost of the funds, then you should borrow.
The work on South Sewall’s Point Road is being done in phases and parts like all such work in the Town. The Town Engineer is looking for a property to buy to create mainly a path for an outfall but would not mind having an additional stormwater treatment area (STA). There is not an abundance of vacant properties in the area.
One vacant lot is 80 South Sewall’s Point Road. The developer who wants to build a spec house has said he would be willing to sell the Town a path for the outflow and part of the lot as a STA. The Commission was not ready to commit. This has happened before, and the Town has lost the opportunity by waiting.
Will it happen again? Maybe, but they need appraisals before pulling the trigger and must also worry about where the funds are coming from. Again, this demonstrates the need for that line of credit to be able to take advantage of any opportunity.
Let us hope that once the Manager lays out a plan, the Commission will adopt something more than the hoping for getting grants.
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The September 20, 2020 Edition
The Commission held a budget meeting and approved the millage and budget that has been discussed previously.
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The September 6, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING AUGUST 25, 2020
The Town cherishes its trees. Much of what is charming about Sewall’s Point is its bucolic setting. Many people who live in Sewall’s Point are passionate about their trees. The Town has one of the most extensive tree ordinances in the state. It is proud of being designated a Tree City USA.
There are more than 3400 Tree City designations in the country. Florida has 155 municipalities with that designation including Stuart. The Arbor Day Foundation, which came up with this designation to promote itself and trees, is always looking for more places to award the name.
Sewall’s Point though has been a tree-loving place for generations. The tree at 6 Miramar has been designated a Heritage Tree by the Town. The Heritage Tree Committee is part of the Town’s governing structure. If you want to nominate a tree to be in the program, then you fill out a form, drop it at Town Hall, the official committee will evaluate and then make a recommendation to the Commission for action.
On August 20th, a box truck that had ignored the sign warning of low limbs plowed into a limb of the designated Heritage Tree at 6 Miramar which caused significant damage to the trunk and tree limb. The truck attempted to free itself by rocking back and forth which only made matters worse. The entire Town staff sprang into action.
Tree surgeons and arborists were called. Three different arborists gave their opinions. Though it is a private tree over a public street, the homeowner did not appear to want to have anything to do with the tree. The Mayor was on the scene. Townspeople, including former Mayor and current SFWMD Member Thurlow-Lippisch, heatedly expressed their opinions as to what to do. At the meeting, the Commission decided to take a wait and see approach.
The tree limb was 11’8” from the roadway when the measurement was taken on a dry day. It probably is a couple of inches less when wet. According to the Town Manager’s report, the lowest a tree limb should be is 14’ not to impact the roadway and that is with exceptional circumstances. The Commission decided to wait for a further discussion before taking any action.
Manager Berger conducted tests to make sure that the two largest vehicles to use Miramar could pass under the limb. The Waste Management truck and the Fire vehicle both barely passed under the limb while driving exceedingly slowly on a dry day. The City of Stuart Fire/Rescue Department, which provides this service, suffered damage to one of their trucks a few years ago because of another low limb. They gave a list of these problematic spots to the past Town Manager. The Commission will discuss this at another time.
Some residents thought that if a limb from a Heritage Tree was impeding a rescue vehicle, the vehicle could just go around the block to reach the emergency…adding one to three minutes in response time. I guess if it is not you in jeopardy that is an easy thing to say. The Commissioners asked the Town Attorney if there was liability and he said no. I am sure he said no because to say yes would be publicly conceding that there was Town liability. There is plenty of case law to suggest that the Town is liable.
As to who is responsible for tree trimming, if the tree is in the right of way then the government entity is responsible. If the tree is on private property, it is up to the property owner to maintain the tree. If he/she doesn’t and it begins encroaching on either the right of way or a neighbor’s property, the tree can be cut back by the neighbor or the government to the property line even if it causes severe damage to the health of the tree.
The trees of Sewall’s Point are part of its character and charm. I do not think anyone would suggest that they be cut down or every branch be cut back from the roadways. There needs to be balance. It is up to the Commission to come up with a policy that gives the Manager the needed direction to ensure that balanced approach. The entire Town staff cannot be consumed for days with what to do because of an accident caused by something that should have been avoided.
The answer is not to do nothing. Nor is it to tell trucks to drive on the wrong side of the road or to go around the block. That is especially not doable for an emergency vehicle where seconds can mean the difference of life and death. Judicious pruning of even Heritage Trees will prolong their lives. The Commission needs to do something now.
Pictures of the damaged tree and the Manager’s report can be found here
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The August 23, 2020 Edition
WORKSHOP MEETING AUGUST 11, 2020
The Town is a beautiful spot surrounded by the St. Lucie River and the Indian River. There are two bridges to connect the peninsula to Stuart on one side and Hutchinson Island on the other. Sewall’s Point’s only natural connection to the mainland is through North Sewall’s Point Road to Jensen Beach.
Possible annexation is limited. Growth is contained to a new home on an empty lot. That is why what is being proposed on 7.9 acres between North Sewall’s Point Road and the Indian River is a major development for the Town. Banyan Hill Estates will have 6 lots. When it was approved in 2009, there were 7 more traditional lots.
Vice-Mayor Barile had the most comments and suggestions for the plan. He thought that there needed to be more water retention by the North Sewall’s Point Road area. The developer has planned to have a preserve area with a PAMP in the middle of the development. There will be a homeowner’s association for maintenance of those common areas.
Each lot exceeds minimum lot size and will be required to handle its own storm water on site. Joe Capra, the Town engineer, is recommending that it be approved with master drainage plan and an outfall. The developer will construct a grass paver connection for River Road through the property. The Town may want to require that the developer finish the connection through the property since now River Road is incomplete.
It may take years for the lots to be bought and built upon. The developer is not building any homes only subdividing. It could be 10 years or more before 6 new homes are built. The developer’s presentation can be found here
What does it mean for a fence to be street-ward? When should the fence be 5 feet and when can it be 7 feet? What material should be acceptable? Can it go all the way around the property?
Ordinance 82-276 needs clarification according to staff. And the Commission dutifully looked at the drawing above and waded in. When they finished, it was more confusing. This needs to be further “workshopped”.
Discussions like this are hard to have in a Zoom meeting. This is something that needs to be discussed around a table. Yet why can’t the Commission give this to its Planning and Zoning Board to hash out?
I notice the smaller the government, the more the elected officials want to be involved in everything. Yet by not bringing in others, they are depriving the citizens of taking ownership in government. Public comment is nice, but it usually is more in the realm of kibitzing than offering useful suggestions. Get the community involved in the form of volunteers under staff auspices to draft a proposed ordinance and then bring it to the Commission.
STORM WATER & GRANTS
The Town is in the unique position of being a poster child for resiliency projects. Though not a barrier island like Hutchinson, it still must contend with rising tides and water encroachment. How do you move enough storm water off the peninsula and into the lagoon? How do you clean it before it gets there?
They have done remarkably well providing sewer hookups. I wish more people would take advantage of the ability to get off septic. Joe Capra, the Town engineer, has done a great job in obtaining grants to do the work. How many years will it take to complete all the work needed to raise South and North Sewall’s Point Road, finish storm water projects and all else needed to keep the Town viable as climate change becomes a larger and larger factor.
It was good that the Commission gave the titular go ahead to move forward on other grants, contracts and buying land. I say titular because this was not a meeting but a workshop where no votes can be held. So, everything that the Commission nodded their heads to tonight needs to come back for a vote at a scheduled meeting.
The reason to hold workshops is to talk about policy. Everything about water and grants has been talked to death. Yet for the double reasons of waiting for funding and bringing everything to a workshop before being able to vote at another meeting slows the process down.
Capra’s presentation could have occurred at a meeting that was advertised. After the same discussion, a vote could have been taken. The Commission was not rushing through anything. It was not as if they were working through whether these water improvements were necessary. This was already decided years ago at this point.
The workshop concept in this Town continues because the Commission cannot seem to break a habit. Preparing for all these meetings takes up an inordinate amount of staff time… time better spent dealing with problems. The Commission has one legislative meeting a month. Any ordinance passed needs a workshop and then two Commission meetings which means at least 2 months before anything is final. It is time to reconsider the validity of workshops instead of two meetings per month.
Captec’s presentation can be found here
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The August 9, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING JULY 28, 2020
The Commission has decided to allow alcohol sales on Sunday to begin at 10:00 am similar to the other days of the week. Sunday sales currently begins at 1:00 pm. It was to accommodate the new tenant in the Prawnbroker space.
Vice-Mayor Barile wanted to know why it was not work shopped. Manager Berger said she had spoken to all the Commissioners and none had a problem with just bringing it for first reading as an ordinance. Barile also asked how Benihana’s has a Sunday Brunch starting at 11 if alcohol is not being sold until 1 pm.
They have probably been breaking the law for years. No one has complained otherwise there would have been a violation written. Since no one has objected to Benihana’s behavior, let us decriminalize the behavior and move on.
This proves to me there is no reason to workshop every change. The item was advertised, and no one commented. It will be back for a second reading and will be advertised again. To pass, this ordinance will wait another entire month until the next meeting even though there is a monthly workshop next week. No votes are allowed at workshops.
The motion passed 4-1 with Barile voting no
It also seems that the way Sewall’s Point appoints people to the Planning and Zoning Board is not clear. Whose term runs to when and even who is on the Board is a bit of a mystery. The Board is comprised of 5 full members and 2 alternates. If all the full members cannot attend, then alternates are called to fill in. It is a bit archaic.
That ordinance should be changed so that there are seven members and each Commissioner gets an appointee and two at large that the entire Commission votes to accept. Perhaps with Berger, things like this will be ironed out, but the Commission has to be willing to accept changes. I am not sure every member is.
Pam Busha was elected to the PZA 4-1 with Mayfield voting no.
There was an RFQ for CEI (Construction, Engineering & Instruction) Services. The two highest ranked firms were CONSOR Engineering with 280 points and Culpepper-Terpening with 270 points. The RFQ was not to do any work presently but, in the future. If there is a future need, then these would be the two firms that staff would contact subject to a contract. The first job will probably be South Sewall’s Point Road once funds are obtained.
CAPTEC Engineering has been the Town Engineer for over 30 years. Their current contract expires September of 2020. Berger wanted to bid out a new one. The four firms that responded were: CAPTEC, Culpepper & Terpening, Tiera South Florida, and Engenuity Group Inc. CAPTEC was rated first in all categories. The Commission chose to have CAPTEC remain as the Town Engineer pending negotiating a new contract.
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The July 26, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION WORKSHOP JULY 14, 2020
This meeting was devoted to the upcoming budget. Every Commissioner seemed happy with the process up until this point. There will be $1,000,000 in anticipatory grants and $3,000,000 in ad valorem and other fees and shared revenue.
They have budgeted a 10% increase in employee benefits. Finally, the computer and internet capabilities will be updated. Most of their existing computers have no cameras. In the age of virtual meetings, that is difficult. At the same time, the Chamber’s equipment is from the early 1990s. A world away from today’s needs.
It was nice to see a prepared budget that met the Commission’s needs. There will be changes, I am sure, as the process goes on. One change you will not see is an increase in the millage rate which will remain at 2.87%
To see the entire presentation please go here
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The July 9, 2020 Edition
More News Soon
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The June 28, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING JUNE 23, 2020
It was a very busy Commission meeting. It was their first in-person meeting in several months. When we walked in the door, Chief Ciechanowski took our temperatures. She did not, however, take the Commissioners temperatures as they entered. If you are going to do it for a public health reason, you need to do it to everyone, including the Commissioners.
There was some further discussion on their sign code in commercial areas. The current sign ordinance was passed just a couple of years ago. It needed to be updated because of the decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in Reed v. Gilbert. In a nutshell the court ruled that government cannot regulate the content of signs. They can regulate size, material, and lighting. The decision can be found here:
The ordinance, at present, meets those criteria. Even the sign size, etc., which was written with the commercial plaza’s input, are fine. The problem is the ordinance does not provide a method for someone to request a variance from the criteria. The proposal that the Manager wanted to pursue would be to have the Commission grant exceptions.
At the same time, the plaza is coming back and wants to change their signs. Three years ago, the commercial sign language incorporated the recommendations of the plaza owners. Once again, the Plaza is asking for a change to accommodate their needs as of today. The ordinance must be changed because of the prohibition of granting a variance.
Over time, styles and needs will change. It is a good thing that the Commission is sensitive to accommodating businesses as much as possible. But it is foolish to rewrite the law every time. The broader you make an ordinance, the easier it is to adjust without going to the expense of writing a brand new one.
There should be a two-prong approach to the issue. The first is to minimally change the ordinance by changing a few words from not allowing an administrative procedure or variance to having a variance heard by the Commission for the commercial part of the sign ordinance. Then after that minor change is passed, the plaza owners, working with staff, would present a variance request to show what their proposed signs would look like. It is up to the Commission whether to agree or not.
It is not complicated to do it the way the Manager proposes. And the added benefit is you do not codify today’s taste for tomorrow’s world. The Commission authorized staff to come back with choices…Sometimes you just must decide.
The ordinance and recommendations can be found here
STORM WATER HISTORY
If you are like me, you must find the endless stormwater, wastewater, all types of water in Sewall’s Point confusing.
The Town Manager has decided to have presentations that really explain what has happened in the past, what is happening today, and what will need to happen in the future. Joe Capra, the contracted Town Engineer, gave a great presentation explaining storm water and its affects. It was clear and precise. You can view the presentation here
Twenty-five years ago, the Town Commission rejected the idea of initiating a storm water fee to pay for things like the Town’s share of grant matches. It has been taking that money from the general fund. That results in not always having the money available when needed. You then must rely on one grant being the match for another. Not the best way to fund projects that are essential to keeping Sewall’s Point functioning.
Sea level rise by 2050 (you can see the table in the presentation) could make sections of the Town uninhabitable. The Town needs to get ahead of this now…which means dedicated funding sources for this work.
If anything, that fee should be instituted as soon as possible. Secondarily, the Commission needs to take advantage of inexpensive borrowing to complete as many projects as possible as quickly as possible. It appears to me the Commission, in its efforts to keep taxes low today, may be sacrificing the tax base tomorrow. Without projects being completed faster, there will come a time that some property will be underwater which will certainly remove those parcels from the tax rolls.
Perhaps the Manager is beginning to lay the groundwork for serious discussions revolving around the future viability of the Town. Kurzman and Mayfield are beginning to grasp the complexities that are involved in this subject. It is a boring subject, yet so critically important.
The Commission asked the Chief, given these uncertain times, to give a presentation regarding the Police Department. It was informative and insightful. Sewall’s Point is well served with its force.
To see the presentation, go here
COMMISSIONER KURZMAN’S EXPLANATION
Dave Kurzman wanted to clarify some of his remarks from last meeting on the tree ordinance. Any elected official who takes the time to write to the newsletter should be heard:
I appreciate the opportunity to clarify my comments about Sewall’s Point tree ordinances and on-site water retention. Regarding the tree ordinances, my concerns are the cutting down of trees, large limbs, and mangroves by residents and landscapers while ignoring the town’s strict tree ordinances. A situation reoccurred and a reduced penalty fine was offered provided the homeowner gave a long-term mitigation plan to care for the tree. Moving forward, I suggested that both homeowners and landscapers pay a small fee of $25 in order to keep track of trees and very large limbs cut and that these permits be visibly displayed on trees to be cut. The Town Manager now agreed to oversee these ordinances, noted discussions with contractors and landscapers about these requirements and ordinances, and suggested a six-month waiting period to note the progress. The enforcement of the tree ordinance is necessary to avoid potential flooding/erosion.
The other issue Sewall’s Point faces is on-site water retention which I constantly discuss during our meetings. Many residents on Sewall’s Point Road cope with their properties flooded for days, weeks, months after heavy rains, king tides, tropical storms, and even runoff from neighboring properties. This includes septic tanks underwater on some properties. Now is the time to adopt an on-site water retention code which I will work on with our Town Engineer and Building Inspector.
As the ocean rises each year so will our flooding problems. Sewall’s Point has had opportunities to obtain loans at very low interest rates of 0.53% to help remedy flooding problems. Specifically, this loan money would be used to raise and repave all of South Sewall’s Point Road, capture water as it heads west to east, and pump water into the Indian River Lagoon after it flows through a baffle box or retention pond. Our town has cracked and crumbling roads and each year quotes to repave roads increases 15%-35%. My suggestion is to secure that 0.53% low interest loan for 20 years, along with grants and funding. Our Town Engineer constantly gives suggestions on ways to capture water. Sewall’s Point needs to act. Sewall’s Point may need to match funds to qualify for some grants for stormwater overflow and flood control.
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The JUNE 20, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING MAY 26, 2020
The end of an era for this community!
By a 5-0 vote the Commission has decided that pickups can now weigh up to 8000 lbs. Several people spoke in person and via zoom. Most were in favor, but some were not. There was a petition that was signed by 17 residents that were against allowing the larger vehicles.
It seemed, in most instances, that whether you were for or against the issue was generational. Like so many things, passing the torch is not easy. Newer residents with families wanted their pickups as much as families in the 1950s and 60s wanted station wagons.
One resident believed that property values would be lessened by allowing pickups that large. I could not find any hard evidence to support that though there was anecdotal evidence. Many families want to drive pickups to haul around their kids’ gear, their fishing stuff and maybe to tow a boat or popup. Yukons, Escalades, and pickups are the new family car as long as we have cheap gas. Then people will have Priuses in their driveways instead.
2019 AUDIT REPORT
The audit report for the year ending September 30, 2019 is one which shows the Town in good financial condition.
Going forward into budget years 2021 and 2022, Sewall’s Point like many other local governments may not be in such a good position. With the Covid-19 pandemic and the 2020 economic depression, local revenue could be down substantially. How will this municipality cope when so much of its capital budget relies on grants from state and federal sources?
What has not been seen so far is white collar employment being affected. This will probably change by the end of this year or beginning of next as the economic hardships work their way through America. That should be a concern for Sewall’s Point.
If property values begin to fall, ad valorem taxes will decrease in those out years. The only significant expense the Town has is the police. Could that budget be on the chopping block? These are questions that the Commission should be asking of staff now. Different scenarios should be considered and prepared for in local governments throughout Martin County.
The audit report can be found here
In May the existing playground equipment was deemed unsafe. That has sped up the timetable and what is planned. The Town Manager has now taken it under her wing. After discussing the project with the Park Committee, a slightly less ambitious project is now going to move forward.
The entire amount will be slightly under $200,000. It is anticipated that the equipment will be installed this summer so that it will be ready for the fall. The Commission voted 5-0 to move ahead. Perhaps after years of discussion, the new playground will be finished in a few more months. The Manager’s report, drawings, and estimate, both new and old including renderings, can be found here
The Town Engineer brought back the South Sewall’s Point Road phase. It is being designed for a 25-year 3-day storm event. Most of the funding will be courtesy of various state and federal grants to the amount of $1,235,000. That portion should be completed by the end of the year. To see the presentation including maps and more detail monetary explanation
COMMISSION WORKSHOP JUNE 9, 2020
I always thought that a monthly workshop to talk about what should go on the regular meeting’s agenda was redundant. That is not to say that there should not be workshops. They should just have a point besides what has three votes to be placed on an agenda at a regular meeting to be voted on.
Workshops in other places are for specific subjects such as a budget or development. This week there was three specific Commissioner-sponsored items that were not well thought out.
The first was on signage at Harbor Bay Plaza. Mayor Fender wanted to discuss it. At a meeting, a few months ago, the Commission asked that the Manager speak with the Plaza to see what they wanted. Berger is in the middle of doing so.
Mayor Fender’s remarks were not asking how that was proceeding. It was as if nothing had happened before. That can be dangerous. For example, in 2015 there was a U.S. Supreme Court case, Reed v. Town of Gilbert that essentially said a government could not dictate sign content. The Town drafted a new ordinance subsequently which complied with Gilbert. It appeared that Fender was open to changing that if it would help business. He said he does not know what to do or how to do it.
Commissioner Kurzman had two items…one about trees and the other about on-site water retention. What is near and dear to the residents’ hearts are trees. Sewall’s Point currently has one of the most extensive tree ordinances around. And that is a good thing.
It appeared to me that Kurzman wanted to speak about two instances regarding removal and severe pruning that had recently occurred in violation of the ordinance. In both instances Berger had already fined the offenders, and in one case, had collected a $10,000 fine. But Kurzman kept bringing up that any trimming should require a permit.
What I did not understand was whether he was upset at the lack of enforcement or whether he thought that making landscapers or residents get a permit would stop tree removal and pruning. The current ordinance already spells out when a permit is necessary. The need for a permit is probably more extensive than anywhere else in Martin County.
Now if he thought enforcement of the ordinance was lax then that could be a discussion point. It was unclear. When things are unclear then every Commissioner seems to speak about whatever their pet peeve is even when it is only tangentially connected to the subject.
Here is a novel suggestion! If a Commissioner has an idea, then he needs to do research and clearly present what he would like to achieve with an agenda item. Commissioner Mayfield thoroughly did her research when she brought forth the pickup truck change. What she wanted to accomplish was there for the other Commissioners to comment upon. It was great and it resulted in a change.
If individual Commissioners want things to be considered by the others, they need to spend some time fleshing out their proposals. They can work with staff and then make a cogent presentation for consideration.
Maybe workshops do not need to happen every month. It appears that Stuart needs more meetings and Sewall’s Point may need fewer. In most cities, Commissioners are given all the backup ahead of the meeting and they vote at that meeting. Sewall’s Point discusses items to then put them on an agenda to be discussed again. Is this redundancy necessary is the question?
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The May 31, 2020 Edition
The meeting was held on May 26th the same night as Stuart’s meeting and the School Board. As of press time the meeting tape had not yet been posted on the Town’s website.
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The May 20, 2020 Edition
COMMISSION MEETING MAY 12, 2020
It was the night of the pickup!
Would the Commission finally approve pickup trucks of more than 5000 pounds was the question. And you cannot say there was not lively debate.
This was a Zoom meeting that was extremely well attended. I counted 82 attendees, but Mayor Fender said that there were 89 at one point. Some of the attendees had more than just one person on the screen, so more people were involved than any Commission meeting.
Most comments were favorable. As Commissioner Mayfield, who was the lead, kept saying, “These trucks are like family station wagons were 40 years ago.” This was borne out by speaker after speaker stating that fact although some speakers thought they did not belong and should not be allowed.
The new ordinance being proposed had a weight limit of no more than 9000 lbs. Mayfield felt that would take care of those pickups being used as family cars. That was the point of the ordinance. Everything else that is prohibited now (from tool chests to dual wheels) would still not be allowed.
Vice-Mayor Barile offered a motion that it be a maximum of 7500 lbs. It died for a lack of a second. Commissioner Campo then made a motion for 8000 lbs. He said that it was in the spirit of compromise. He wanted a unified 5-0 vote. Mayfield was perplexed since she thought it was agreed previously that the weight limit should be 9000 lbs. When Mayfield asked why 8000 instead of 9000, it was not because the weight was tied to any models, it was for compromise. Commissioner Kurzman seconded Campo’s motion.
The vote was 4-1 in favor of a maximum of 8000 lbs. with Mayfield dissenting. You can find the agenda item Here
I reached out to Kaija on her reason for voting no on a project that was so close to her and she gave me this response:
Hi Tom –
First of all, thank you for asking me and giving me the chance to clarify why I voted the way I did.
In my perspective, before we got to last night’s vote, there was already a series of compromises. The initial proposal back in March was to remove the weight limit restriction altogether, and I am still of the opinion that that is the best option. However, given the balance of the commission and the fact that there are residents who do not share the same opinion I do, the commission compromised at the March workshop and settled on 9,000 lbs. I was comfortable with that number as I believed it would encompass all of the family pickup trucks that a resident might desire. At the meeting last night, there was an immediate motion for, in my eyes at least, a much lower weight (7,500 lbs), then public comment on the topic occurred, and then another motion for a slightly higher weight (8,000 lbs) was made and was seconded. I was not comfortable that that weight (8,000 lbs) would completely achieve the desired goal. We discussed the second motion at 8,000 lbs where I was able to speak and provide backup and reasoning for my thoughts, and I said I was open to compromising at 8,500 lbs. The vote was called for 8,000 lbs, I was first to vote, and I felt 8,500 lbs was the better option.
A neighbor wrote to me and said, “The fact that we are using weight, something we cannot see with our eyes, to regulate something’s visual appearance, is fundamentally flawed.” I concur with that statement. In addition, an 8,000 lb limit, though a vast improvement over 5,000 lbs, will still require our code enforcement officers to spend their time quantifying minute details about someone’s personal vehicle, something that I believe could have been avoided if a slightly higher weight limit had been agreed upon.
That being said, I am pleased that we have moved forward with raising the weight limit on passenger pickup trucks, and we can hopefully help with alleviating the inequity that our pickup-truck owning neighbors have had to deal with. I am also pleased with the way the commission has been working together lately, and as was mentioned by another commissioner last night, I recognize the value of a united commission on a contentious issue. I respect all my fellow commissioners, and realize we are all different people, with different perspectives and ideas. I believe it is in the best interests of the town and its residents to have a commission that works together for the common good of Sewall’s Point.
While she did not get what she requested, Barile made a comment that because she had done so much work and research, it forced him to do the same. He thanked her for that. Those two are class acts.
RENTING OUT THE PARK
Since 2011, the park has been used by one entity or another as an exercise venue mostly for young mothers. The current business owner is Marion Kavovit, a local resident, and her company is Kavoland LLC d/b/a Fit4Mom. The company pays $100 per month to the Town, and they have provided a liability policy. Staff is looking for direction.
It seemed the matter became one of personalities instead of policy. Who can be against moms and babies exercising? It seems that Ms. Kavovit is a well-liked person. She was instrumental in the new park equipment coming this far. However, a government should not craft policy based on individuals but rather on what is good for the Town.
Even with insurance being provided by the user, the Town may still be the one with the deep pockets if a problem occurs. I would have thought that Campo would have been all over the insurance angle, but he did not bring it up. Kurzman kept trying to have the Manager come back to the Board with a policy. It did not seem that any other Commissioner was buying it. Barile thought that it was opening a door for others to want to use Town property as a base of operations.
I was surprised the Town Attorney was not asked for his opinion on either the agreement that Kavovit presented or what liability the Town has. Most speakers spoke in favor. A motion was made by Mayfield to allow the use to continue. It was seconded by Campo. It passed 3-2 with Barile and Kurzman dissenting.
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The May 3, 2020 Edition
In the last newsletter, I castigated staff and the Town Engineer for the worse presentation I had ever heard. This week I want to congratulate the Town Engineer and Manager for having a succinct and thoroughly understandable one. It was good work and I believe the Commission appreciated the effort. Commissioner Campo mentioned it and he was right.
Much of Sewall’s Point’s meetings consist of explaining the never-ending road and sewer construction. If this were a real estate project, it would be considered highly leveraged or “other people’s money.” State grants, County dollars and a variety of other sources are funding the needed improvements. What is often overlooked is the fact that some of the money is the Town’s funds. With construction costs increasing every year, how much is saved by taking years to complete a project should be analyzed. It is not only time but the monumental inconvenience to the residents of endless construction.
The Commission approved 5-0 an interlocal agreement with Martin County for sewer lines. The only time someone would be forced to hookup is if their septic system fails. They also approved a contract with Jamie’s Underground for North Sewall’s Point road. The Commission approved unanimously a grant management contract with Amy Adams.
Unfortunately, I download the agenda and attachments from the Town’s website, but the copies downloaded were not legible and therefore cannot be attached.
Sewall’s Point Latest News From The April 17, 2020 Edition
WORKSHOP MEETING APRIL 14, 2020
Sewall’s Point has had road construction and water projects going on for years. This meeting was primarily to bring the Commission up to date on where the bid process for South Sewall’s Point Road stands. I don’t know about the Commission, but I am even more confused than I was before the meeting.
We all must admit that it is hard to have these virtual meetings. The Town has done a good job trying to carry on business during this period. My confusion was more than just not having everyone in the same room. It was just a poor presentation by the Town Engineer without proper visual aids and charts. It was further complicated because the questions being asked by Commissioners were not germane to the narrow subject that was the agenda item.
What became a casualty of clarity was the explanation of the bids that were received. There was a bid summary of the two bids but not the bids themselves. The explanation of the summary was rambling and, at times, incoherent. Trying to follow the meeting was hard.
I began looking at what was presented and wondered if this is the way other projects are designed and built. The plan for the northern and southern parts of Sewall’s Point is perhaps a good comprehensive master plan. How it is being funded and implemented seems inconsistent. Then it dawned on me why.
Sewall’s Point has gotten in the habit of living off the proverbial dole. If there is no “welfare,” then the Town won’t do anything to improve their infrastructure no matter how bad it is needed. In this case the free money is grant funding from the state and federal government. Every county and municipality take advantage of these opportunities. It would be foolish not to do so.
The difference is most will have an overall funding plan. They then have phases to be constructed that use a combination of funding sources beside available grants including bonding, loans, and tax revenue. In many instances, those loans are very low interest through state-sponsored programs. The Commission has instead taken the position that if isn’t free it shouldn’t be done.
It has worked for the most part up to this point though projects have been designed and built around grant funding instead of what should be in a comprehensive way. This results in things taking longer. More starts and stops and interruptions occur. Perhaps no one has thought about this and the long term affects.
One was mentioned at this meeting by the Town Engineer and the Manager. Sewall’s Point has a reputation of not going through with work. Perhaps that is why there were only two bidders on the project. It costs thousands of dollars to prepare a bid package. No firm will do so if it feels it doesn’t have an opportunity to get the job.
Perhaps the pandemic will result in a softening of the market and more contractors will bid. However, if the economy softens, state tax revenue will be less and then there will be fewer grants available. Trying to predict or, as they say time the market, is not a good way to pick stocks or construction projects.
For the past, several years construction prices have risen 10% to 30% per year. That means waiting for all that “free” money, which usually requires a match, has resulted in Sewall’s Point paying more for projects. Interest rates have been historically low for borrowing. It would have made more financial sense to borrow the funds than to pay higher prices.
If projects were larger and being done with borrowed funds instead of grants, the Town may have the ability to negotiate better prices with the chosen contractor. If a contractor knows that he will be working on a project for a while, the certainty is worth something.
The Commission needs to stop thinking that borrowing is always bad. It isn’t! What is bad is waiting for years to complete something with escalating costs because you may have the opportunity to have “free money.” Even if the Town decided to have a dedicated millage surcharge for a period in order to obtain either loans or for bonding purposes, it may be faster and cheaper than its current way of doing things.
The presentation can be found at:
Sewall’s Point Latest News From the April 5, 2020 Edition
And from Manager Berger:
I think this is a good topic.
One of the recent things I requested from the County was to include the municipalities during their (last) Monday morning meeting. They did end up extending the invitation to municipalities to give an update, a 5 minute update, to the BOCC – in the style of public to be heard.
While that was limited, I think it was valuable. It allowed the public to see the intergovernmental agencies working together and hear a brief update from their most local elective representatives. For our Town, we had Mayor Frank Fender, Commissioner Campo and Commissioner Kurzman attend, along with myself. I asked the other two Commissioners to watch from the live feed at home, just to ensure we didn’t place all Commissioners in the space simultaneously.
At this point, we have been researching teleconference options, such as GoToMeeting, Zoom, etc. for our April meeting. Since our government only meets once a month for our official business meetings (for voting purposes) at this time we are only missing the March 24th meeting. We intend to still meet for our business meeting scheduled for April 28th at this time. Although we may decide to forgo any workshop sessions prior to then, since we are unable to vote during those times anyway. This will be a decision that can be made a couple days before the scheduled workshop on April 14th. It’s too early to cancel it now, in my opinion. But I don’t see a need to bring people together for a non-essential meeting. Some agencies are doing this, coming together for the sake of just being able they’re saying that meetings are continuing. However, there’s no need to have unproductive gatherings. I won’t take unnecessary risks, especially when today’s technology offers so many options.
Emails have been sent on a regular basis to the constituency base that have signed up for this type of communication. No less than two per week have been distributed.
As far as ensuring our Commissioners remain visible to their constituents, the Town Facebook page has some short videos from the Mayor and Commissioners, expressing their concerns and regards while we are all in this strange time together. There are also pictures of them attending the County meetings, as well as the Martin County video of the BOCC meetings that they participated in. Mayor Fender and Commissioner Mayfield have used their social media presences to share their personal updates, as well.
Much of this is considered one way communications, so I am suggesting to the Mayor that we have either a Town Hall session via teleconference, led by the Mayor or one Commissioner, prior to our April 28th meeting. Or a special meeting, where all Commissioners can dial in, along with the public, for updates. Allowing us to offer insight as to how Town Hall is operating, what we expect in the near future, etc. I’ll keep you posted on that.
Today is the first day our administrative staff is operating remotely from home. We use a progressive approach to varying our operations strategy as the intensity of this health issue has unfolded. We began two weeks ago by flexing our non-essential staff’s schedules (reducing their hours at Town Hall), then allowing the non-essential to work remotely as much as possible, then having all non-essential work remotely.
For our essential, full time employees, we progressively worked through the following:
- Last week – readied for remote work by assigning lap tops and cell phones
- Last week – installing an intercom system with the front door of Town Hall to speak to anyone who walked up during business hours
- This week – created functionality with the existing phone system to forward calls for specific extensions to the associated cell phones (building | Town Clerk | Town Manager | Finance)
- This week – started remote work today by all Town Hall staff except public works and PD
Our staff is meeting via teleconferences each morning, which is allowing us to try the different products prior to the Commission using them with the public.
I’ll keep you posted.
VIRTUAL TOWN HALL MARCH 31, 2020
Mayor Fender did a great job with his virtual Town Hall on Zoom. There were 38 participants. Between Fender, Berger, and the Police Chief they presented a thorough briefing on how the pandemic is affecting Martin County and Sewall’s Point before taking questions.
The attachment shows their presentation:
SPECIAL MEETING APRIL 3, 2020
The Commission had another virtual meeting and it went very well.
In summary, the Commission passed a resolution unanimously to support the governor’s recent orders. They then turned their attention to whether the park across the street from Town Hall should remained closed. A motion was made by Barile and seconded by Mayfield to leave the park closed but have the parking lot open. It passed 4-1 with Campo dissenting.
There then was discussion on the finances of the Town. Berger and the Finance Director stated that the Town’s finances were looking well. However, there could be troubles ahead as the impacts of Covid-19 are felt. The Commission instructed Berger to bring back more information on the terms of obtaining a stand-by line of credit if necessary.
FROM THE MARCH 22 2020 EDITION
WORKSHOP MEETING MARCH 12, 2020
Stuart Fire Chief Felicione gave a presentation to the Commission. Sewall’s Point currently purchases its Fire/Rescue from the City.
The first thing he spoke about was Stuart’s Public Protection ISO Rating which is awarded to Fire Districts. Sewall’s Point receives the same rating as Stuart. The Chief’s Department has been awarded Class 1 status. Of the more than 36,000 Fire Departments in the U.S., only 373 have that rating.
Why is it important to the property owners? Because your insurance rates are calculated using that rating. In other words, they go down if the Department providing your service is highly rated. That is a Sewall’s Point benefit for contracting with Stuart. When you click on the link to the ISO presentation below, there are links embedded that really do a great job explaining the program.
Felicione also provided statistics for the calls answered by the Department in Sewall’s Point and combined with Stuart.
The statistics can be found at:
The ISO presentation can be found at:
WHEN IS A TRUCK A CAR?
For many years, there has been a prohibition on pickup trucks over a certain weight with other restrictions. You could have a truck. It just had to be under 5000 lbs. and be able to fit in your garage. According to Vice-Mayor Barile, the current ordinance goes back to 2005 or 2006 when Coral Gables had an ordinance that didn’t allow pickups at all. They were sued so the then Town Commission decided to have an ordinance that allowed them, but they had to be under 5000 lbs. which was keeping with state definitions.
Mayfield wants to do away with the weight restrictions completely. All the other regulations regarding 7-foot heights, no commercial uses, and keeping them hidden from public view would remain. Mayfield stated that trucks are the new family cars. Several residents spoke in favor and none were opposed. Campo said he bought a new pickup that exceeds the weight limit.
Barile thought that it was a slippery slope. He could see that 5000 lbs. may no longer be relevant. In the material that Mayfield presented there were 9000 and 10,000 lbs. trucks. Included amazingly were a few SUVs also at those weights. There are no restrictions on SUVs. After going back and forth, it was decided that 9000 lbs. should be the maximum. The staff was charged with bringing an ordinance back at that weight and keeping all the other rules.
It is true that times have changed. Pickup trucks and big SUVs are the old family station wagons. The Town needs to change its standards to match the times. It was mentioned several times that Sprinter vans are not allowed because they are over 7 feet in height. Perhaps it is time to loosen up on that restriction.
Mayfield’s presentation can be found at:
Chief Ciechanowski gave a report regarding what the police do with special details and community events. It is interesting reading.
To take a look:
SPECIAL COMMISSION MEETING MARCH 16, 2020
A motion was made to institute a Declaration of Emergency by Vice-Mayor Barile and seconded by Commissioner Kurzman. It passed 4-0 with Commissioner Campo not present.
The second resolution was to suspend paying time and half to employees during this emergency. Manager Berger explained that during Dorian last year the cost was $17,000 in overtime. She did not want to incur that expense this year. The motion was made by Barile and seconded by Kurzman to suspend the rule during this emergency. It passed 4-0. Taxpayers should be happy.
FROM THE MARCH 8,2020 EDITION
COMMISSION MEETING FEBRUARY 25
The Playground Committee gave a brief report regarding the equipment and fundraising plan. They spoke about pavers, plaques, benches, and fences. They thanked staff and Commissioners for their help.
To see the presentation:
However, one resident, Mona Leonard, did not believe that all the committee’s motives were so altruistic.
Sewall’s Point Park
Two other residents and I tried to join the Sewall’s Point Park Committee as a way of giving back to our town. The Chairwoman didn’t notify us of meetings, gave us wrong information, allowed us no input, and ignored our document requests. We finally quit. Now we know why the committee environment was so hostile.
A for-profit business is being run out of the Town Park. Marion Kavovit is Co-Chair of our Park Committee and owner of a Fit4Mom.com local franchise. See https://jensenbeach.fit4mom.com/locations/sewalls-point-park. She pays the Town $100/month so she can host fitness events for about 70 group members, multiple times a week, who each pay her $70 a month. Members use the parking spots as well. They often use all the spots, leaving none for town residents.
How is it legal to allow a resident to use Town property for personal gain?
The Town has allocated $75,000 to this committee. They intend to erect a huge plastic playground set to replace the old set built by Town volunteers years ago. Our old set reflected the quiet charm of Sewall’s Point. It blended esthetically with our town, unlike the garish new one will.
Why will the new playground equipment have a 125-child capacity? The old playground, which was not used to capacity, accommodated about 40 children. Is our Town government subsidizing a new playground for the fitness group and their 100+ children? Most of these members do not even live in Sewall’s Point.
Public bathrooms are also being contemplated for Town Hall Park. They would appear to be for the convenience of this groups’ members too, since residents are generally within 4 minutes of their own home or use the facilities at Town Hall. Public park bathrooms are magnets for crime and graffiti, not to mention maintenance. If a crime occurs, will Sewall’s Point be sued?
Our Town government is enabling this irregular arrangement to continue. They should be outraged. Instead, our commissioners and town manager have given this woman $75,000 to date for her “project.” Fundraising will include buying “bricks” at $500 each. Each new idea seems to bring more of a carnival effect to Sewall’s Point.
The “deal” between the Town and this commercial enterprise is up for renewal in April. Sewall’s Point residents are entitled to have their best interest come first—not the commercial interest of one resident under the guise of being “for the children.”
Please do the right thing and put a stop to this exploitation of our generosity and our town property. Contact our commissioners and town manager to express your thoughts.
Mona Leonard, Sewall’s Point resident
If anyone from the committee or any other residents want to express their thoughts, I would be glad to include in the next newsletter.
Mayor Fender and other Commissioners have expressed an interest in undergrounding FPL lines for some time. In the past month, Staff has expended effort trying to find out how much it would cost.
The ballpark estimate for the entire Town would be about $10 million. If the Town wanted to proceed with a more accurate estimate, FPL would require $90,000 for engineering fees. Is it worth spending any more time or money for this? Town Manager Berger explained that you would need to hire a consultant to devise not only a funding plan but assist with the entire project including working with FPL.
When removing poles and going into rights of way, there can be many problems of access. The road work on South Sewall’s Point Road illustrates how entire jobs can be delayed by people denying access. FPL is helpful to a point, and that point is not a very large one.
Fender believes it should go to the voters. I agree. The discussion sort of ended with that.
To read the agenda item:
THE END OF PRIORITIES
Fender presented the list of priorities from the Commissioners and the public. He ranked them, and it seems spent considerable time in trying to take everything into consideration. While this was a passion of his, it didn’t appear to be Barile’s and to varying degrees, the other Commissioners.
Barile said he doesn’t work like that. When a problem or project arises, then that is his current priority. Kurzman stated the same thing in more genteel language. The idea of going through the list again was not especially a number one priority.
While I think it is important to have priorities, that is only one leg of the stool. The second leg is the current projects already approved and underway. As Barile believes, those are priorities right now and not at some future date. They need to be managed in real time.
The third leg is strategic planning. Those aren’t priorities, but rather in ten years what should the Town look like and how do you get there? For instance, will it still be advantageous to have your own police force given the rising costs?
It was mentioned that everyone is happy to have the lowest millage rate in the County. The reason that is possible is because the value of the homes is higher than in most places in Martin County. To arrive at the income needed to operate the town, you need to multiply your tax rate by the assessed value minus all the exemptions. If the homes were valued similarly to Stuart, then that tax rate would be much higher. The question that should be asked is how much the Town collects and how is it spent.
The latest priorities can be found at:
February 23, 2020 EDITION
PROCEEDURES AND POLICIES
Sewall’s Point continues in its quest for order.
The new Financial Director, Cheryl Dempsey, along with the Town Manager, has written a Financial Policy Manual. This, at last, brings some sanity to the all-important tasks of Town financial management. It is hard to believe that Sewall’s Point has done as well as it has with the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants methodology that has been prevalent in its past.
Even before Berger was hired, Town Clerk White had begun to bring order in her department which encompasses human resources. She has a part time position. It is the Manager who sets the tone. Berger has hit the ground running. If the Commission gives direction and doesn’t infringe on her authority, in very short order, there will be formalized policies and procedures for the entire Town.
The Financial Policy Manual can be found at:
STAFF OR COMMISSIONERS?
When is it appropriate for staff to attend meetings representing the Town? That was the question that Berger was trying to have answered by the Commission.
She apparently went to a meeting of the South Florida Water Management District after no Commissioner, even though all five were notified, responded that they were able to attend. Berger spoke to Mayfield, Fender and Barile and they suggested that she attend for the Town. Campo, after she spoke at the SFWMD meeting, wrote Berger asking why she was the spokesperson. That is why this was on the agenda.
In general, it is always better for any municipality to be represented by a member of their governing board. That doesn’t mean the Manager cannot do so when no Commissioner can. If the SFWMD was asking for someone to speak on behalf of Sewall’s Point and the Mayor, Vice-Mayor and other Commissioners could not or did not respond to the notification, then why not the Manager?
I am sure that Berger would much rather be at her desk than sitting in a room for several hours waiting to speak for a few minutes. Contrary to what some may believe, there is not much fun and almost certainly there will be no story in the press about the words spoken. Elected Officials are supposed to be the ones that do it. They need to show up in order to do so.
DOES SOMEONE NEED TO HELP?
One of Mayor Fender’s goals is to have a strategic plan. That is accomplished with listing priorities of Sewall’s Point stakeholders. There has been much accomplished already. The residents and the Commission have been hard at work doing just that.
One of the questions to be answered is whether this work should be done by staff or someone else. Alex Anaston-Karas, who has worked for Indiantown, contacted Berger. She invited him to make a brief presentation which is attached.
It is good for staff and Commissioners to know what the residents and each Commissioner wants to see accomplished. That gives staff guidance on what to work on accomplishing. In general, though, just having people sit around throwing out ideas is a waste of time. There needs to be some order to the items being listed. Reality is the key as to whether the wish list can be accomplished.
Too often these types of sessions and plans are a waste of time and taxpayer dollars. I believe in the priority list so that staff can work on accomplishing the goals of the Commission. The other stuff looks and sounds good but will sit on the shelf.
Anaston-Karas’ presentation can be found at:
The priority lists are at:
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FROM THE FEBRUARY 9, 2020 EDITION
COMMISSION MEETING JANUARY 28, 2020
There never is a right time for public comment or Commissioner comment at a Sewall’s Point meeting.
For a couple of years, I have been going to meetings, and there is a pull and tug regarding when comments should be allowed. When I first went, there would be a debate between Commissioners and the person making public comment. This inappropriate behavior was reduced substantially last year under Mayor Barile. Mayor Fender has so far kept it up. It needs to continue.
Fender suggested a time limit on how long public comments can be made, perhaps 30 minutes. I think that would be fine, especially if the comments were repetitious. At this meeting, the Commission was anticipating more public comment because of septic to sewer conversions which may have precipitated the Mayor’s suggestion. There were only 2 public comments which is not very overwhelming.
The public can speak on non-agenda items during the public comment section and then again on specific topics when those items are being discussed. Whether public comments and Commissioner comments come at the beginning or the end doesn’t make much of a difference if it occurs.
It was also decided to have a full meeting schedule in November and only one meeting in December. Campo wanted one meeting for each month. The Board decided in a 4-1 vote to the agreed calendar.
Berger has been on the job for 3 months. According to her contract, she was to be evaluated 3 times during her first year. The first evaluation was at 90 days. As of the meeting, no evaluation criteria had been developed. I think most of the Commission would have let it go and do it at 6 months. Campo wanted to have the evaluation as per the contract.
He has a point since the evaluation is clearly stated in the Manager’s contract. At the meeting, it was decided that there would be a verbal evaluation, and then the Town Attorney would come back with a written evaluation form for the 6-month review.
According to Berger, Campo told her after 3 months, “you own the budget and the operation.” She said that she owned it from Day 1 and that her job was to fix it. She went on to say that she serves at the pleasure of the Board so every day she is being evaluated.
Berger is right. The evaluation should help both parties address what they think is right and what they believe needs improvement. It is a tool.
I have known Michele since she was a Port St. Lucie Council Member. She has always been brutally honest and no nonsense. She is no shrinking violet, nor will she allow anyone to take advantage of her.
A motion was made by Barile and seconded by Campo that the Commission approves of the job she has done for the first 90 days. It passed unanimously.
SERVING ON A ROAD GANG
Sometimes, the Board must feel as if the grants that they have hobbled together from various sources are hard to keep straight. It is for me! The anagrams flying across the room can leave a lay person confused. But when you have four or five grants being used to do a project it is hard to keep all the balls in the air.
Don’t get me wrong…I think what Captec Engineering does in applying and securing the money from government sources is amazing. Joe Capra is a hero! However, one grant on top of another present challenges. If something is delayed or the agency giving the money wants to see some results in order to issue the check, other grant money can become problematic. This has happened on South Sewall’s Point Road Phase 1 A.
I thought Berger and Capra came to a clever solution when they proposed using a state loan program at ½% to start some of the work. For a million-dollar project, that comes out to $10,000 in interest for a year. Every delay of a year could add 10% or 30% to a project’s price because of increased construction costs which is a 10% to 30% interest rate on the money.
I don’t know if the Commission understood this or not. They did decide to begin getting bids on that project in order not to lose grant funding. It could make very good sense to have the money available by a revolving loan to contract for all the projects at once.
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JANUARY 26, 2020 EDITION
It was a long night consisting of two meetings.
The first was a workshop which began promptly at 5:30 and ended nearly 3 hours later. The advertised time of the next meeting was 6:00 pm. What is wrong with that picture.
The Sewall’s Point Commission can always talk any subject to death. This is the way Sewall’s Point has conducted its meetings in the past. Be it workshop or regular meeting, everything blends together.
Frankly, I couldn’t see a difference between a workshop and a commission meeting. They were about the same. Road work or sewer conversion is reported on at both. I guess the difference has to do with voting but at some workshops they had a consensus vote to see whether an item had enough Commission support to move forward to a regular meeting.
This was a better workshop than in the past. The Commission with guidance from the Manager began the fleshing out of priorities. It would be great if the Commissioners could agree on a few things they would like the staff to work on for the year. Under Michele Berger’s guidance they may even accomplish their task.
This was a night of guest speakers. Berger believes this will be part of every workshop. However, instead of several there will be one. Next month she said that Stuart’s Fire/Rescue Chief would speak. It would be followed by the new financial person informing the Commission on the changes she has made.
Joe Capra, the Town Engineer, brought the Commission up to date on several projects. Joe is a real pro. The Commission just needs to approve the projects and stop talking about them. Not every project needs to be discussed and commented upon. The Commission needs to make sure that the project is needed and that the correct firm was chosen. Engineering should be left up to the engineers. At least a few projects were approved at the second meeting that night where voting was allowed.
Berger plans on moving the Commission into becoming a more effective body. She stated that if the workshop format does not produce shorter and more productive meetings, then it makes no sense to continue doing the same thing over and over. Perhaps they should just have two scheduled meetings per month with a presentation at each. Whatever it turns out to be with her at the helm it will be much more businesslike.
She sees the Commission as the policy body, which it is. She wants marching orders. That was the point about the strategic planning session. What are the Commission’s priorities, can they be accomplished and then if so, staff will execute those priorities. I like it.
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