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CDD Passes Draft Budget; Inches Closer to Golf Course Purchase Contract

The May 1 meeting of the Westchase Community Development District (CDD) saw supervisors pass an initial draft budget for next year, move a step closer to a purchase contract for the Westchase Golf Course and begin maintenance of a large lake they recently acquired.

The large lake, a former borrow pit, sits between the Westchase subdivisions of Stonebridge and Sturbridge and a new M/I Homes townhome community accessed off Sheldon Road but visible behind Davidsen Middle School. In recent years the lake overran its banks, flooding Stonebridge yards. Stonebridge residents have also expressed concerns about trespassing along its banks, over which their back yards look. In April the CDD agreed to take ownership of the lake from M/I Homes to better maintain it, control its banks and potential flooding, and limit boating and fishing to protect homeowners’ privacy.

CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart of Stantec recommended the board take two steps. Supervisors unanimously supported a motion, 4-0 (Chair Jim Mills was absent.), to request a change in the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFMD) permit, which delineates maintenance and reporting responsibilities for the lake, from M/I Homes to the district. As part of a new development (M/I Homes), SWFMD requires regular reports on its condition for several years.

Supervisors also passed a motion, 4-0, to accept a $4,800 bid from A&B Aquatics, their pond management company, to bring the 38-acre lake up to Westchase standards by treating it for hydrilla and other invasive aquatics.

Staff also proposed supervisors pass a motion authorizing an increase of $1,500 monthly to A&B’s contract for continued maintenance but supervisors asked staff to first clarify with the company whether the price included the completion of the required SWFMD reports.

CDD Attorney Erin McCormick stated she had incorporated supervisor feedback from the April 30 district workshop into the Westchase Golf Course purchase contract. She stated she would send the completed draft to the seller by noon on May 2. If accepted, CDD Chair Jim Mills could sign it afterwards.

CDD Supervisor Brian Ross, however, emphasized that his vote to ultimately proceed with the purchase would hinge on the clarification of what assets were involved in the sale. Further, Ross stated that he would not vote for the purchase if any equipment necessary for the course’s smooth, continued operation was not available to the district immediately upon the property’s transfer. Ross emphasized that he believed it would be a bad outcome if the district, lacking equipment, had to shut down the course temporarily before reopening it. Ross stated that any shutdown, however temporary, would damage the course in a competitive market and potentially expose the district to claims from any potential memberships.

Ross said it was important to clarify ownership or leases for such things as golf carts, kitchen equipment and even the club house’s phone equipment.

“It is very common to purchase it without other stuff and you purchase it yourself,” cautioned Supervisor Greg Chesney, who has overseen negotiations.

“I would probably not support the transaction if it did not come with all that stuff,” responded Ross, who suggested he thought most of it would be transferred under the $4 million purchase price. “We wouldn’t be in the position to perform. That would be a bad outcome for me, to purchase a million dollars in [additional] equipment to run the golf course.”

Ross added that he wanted to see a copy of the lease for the current golf course management company and asked staff to begin Phase I of the environmental studies to determine if all the golf course’s ponds had any significant erosion or water quality issues.

Asked by Harbor Links resident Reggie Gillis about the due diligence report compiled by Greg Christovich, Chesney stated he had not yet received it.

When Harbor Links resident Ward Farley inquired about what the district’s plans were for managing the golf course, Chesney responded that that was a discussion for after the sales contract, once they had Christovich’s recommendations in hand.

Ross concluded with praise for Chesney’s work guiding the process. “I think Greg has done a fantastic job in protecting the interests of the district,” he said. Ross emphasized that he agreed that the focus had to be on clarifying assets involved in the potential purchase now and dealing with management questions during the six months of due diligence that will follow the signed purchase contract.

Ross also added that he hoped District Manager Andy Mendenhall of Inframark would be more proactively engaged by offering advice to the board about the course and its management as the board moves forward. Mendenhall acknowledged that districts Inframark manages already own and maintain golf courses.

June's WOW will run more information about the golf course purchase and the finalized purchase contract.

Supervisors then passed their draft budget that provides a spending outline that will be honed between now and the budget’s approval at the district's Aug. 7 public budget hearing. The budget, which represents the highest possible assessments that will be levied on homeowners and commercial properties in the district, is required for Hillsborough County’s Truth in Millage (TRIM) Notices that are mailed in the fall. Once submitted, supervisors cannot raise asssessments indicated in the approved TRIM budget but they have, in the past, further reduced them.

The approved budget shows next year’s operations and maintenance assessments for homeowners showing no change over this year's. It does, however, include a 1.88 percent increase for commercial properties. When Chesney inquired by commercial properties were seeing an increase while residents were not, staff stated that irrigation repairs, budgeted at $25,000 this year, were projected to run $46,000 by year’s end and that line item had to be increased. Under the district’s assessment methodology, commercial properties pay a higher portion of maintenance costs for the community’s rights of way given that they generate more traffic through the community than a typical home. Further, increases to the residents for rights of way, were offset by reductions in other parts of the budget – such as parks – for which commercial properties are not assessed.

[Note: The above paragraph differs from the originally posted news article about the meeting. The initial version of the article, which appeared here briefly, incorrectly referenced an earlier draft of the TRIM budget distributed with the board packet before the meeting. That draft showed a small decrease in homeowner assessments. CDD Supervisor Greg Chesney reached out to WOW after its posting, however, and informed WOW staff that the draft supervisors approved at the meeting, however, showed homeowners' assessments remaining flat. WOW regrets the short-lived error.]

Citing the possible purchase of the golf course, significant planned landscaping improvements and the small possibility that the current landscape contract could see rebidding (which would be expected to produce an increase), WOW’s reporter asked if they could tackle all projects and still slightly decrease homeowner assessments.

“I’m comfortable with it,” said Chesney, who works closest with staff on producing the draft budget. “We have a fair amount of working capital,” he added.

District Manager Mendenhall stated that the district had $1.2 million in unassigned cash and at least that much in additional assigned reserves. A portion of that, he added, could be safely tapped should the district experience any deficit without harming its financial standing.

Supervisors unanimously accepted the budget and set the Aug. 7 budget hearing, 4-0.

The meeting closed with a number of supervisors’ inquiries and requests. Supervisor Brian Ross inquired about the recently planted bushes on Linebaugh Avenue adjacent to the golf course. “I’ve already had people mention to me they’re missing seeing the golf course,” said Ross.

Field Manager Doug Mays stated the hedges were planted at the request of Greencrest residents whose homes are on the other side of the course. Mays said the hedges were funded by the residents, who wanted them to screen their homes from the lights of the health clinic and road noise along Linebaugh. When Ross asked Mays if the residents knew that a new owner of the course could simply go in and decide to remove them, Mays stated the residents were aware there was no guarantee the hedges would remain.

Supervisor Barbara Griffith closed with a number of observations and requests. Stating she did not like the look of the large boulders used to keep vehicles from jumping the curb and damaging sod and landscaping along Montague Street and at the entrances to West Park’s alleys, she asked what alternatives existed. Field Supervisor Mays stated that bollards (pipes filled with concrete) could be used or the sod and landscaping could be pulled out and replaced by river rock. When Griffith described the boulders as an eyesore, Mays added, “I disagree. I think they’re aesthetically pleasing.” Mays added the boulders were added by West Park residents rather than the district.

“I like boulders because they’re cheap,” quipped Chesney.

With Supervisor Ross observing that the boulders at West Park’s alleys seemed to be “doing the trick,” the topic was dropped.

Griffith also inquired about the last time the district's management contract with Inframark had been bid out. Chesney responded it had been some time, but the contract can be bid out at any time supervisors want as it runs month-to-month. It currently renews each year with a CPI increase.

When Griffith inquired whether the board wanted to establish awards that would recognize good neighbors, the board consensus appeared to be that that role was more appropriate for the Westchase Community Association (WCA).

While a representative from Davey, the district’s landscaping company, was scheduled to appear before the board at 5 p.m. to discuss the possible extension of its contract for an additional year at no increase, supervisors adjourned at 5:21 p.m. without Davey’s staff appearing.

In other actions:

CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart stated that she and staff were looking at further erosion along pond banks in Wycliff and Bennington that were repaired last year with geo-tubing. She stated she would follow up with the company that did the work for possible warranty repairs.

CDD staff brought a proposal to increase the Greens’ neighborhood’s payments to its security guards, stating they had not had a pay increase in eight years. The proposal to increase their pay by $2 per hour to ensure they are retained, however, was put on hold when CDD Attorney Erin McCormick located an increase, passed in 2014. Supervisors asked staff to inquire with Securitas, the security company, why that requested increase, described as a pay increase, had not been passed on to the security guards.

At the request of the Greens Voting Member (VM), supervisors gave informal approval (without a motion) to staff purchasing and installing three additional speed limit signs for Gretna Green Drive. Each costing $750, the signs will be paid for out of the Greens neighborhood fund. Field Supervisor Doug Mays stated the signs were intended to address what he described as severe speeding issues on the road.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

Posted May 2, 2018

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