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CDD Supervisors Address Park Concerns; Set Budget Goal of No Assessment Increase

At their May 5 meeting, Westchase CDD supervisors heard some residents’ concerns about Glencliff Park renovation plans and approved a draft budget for the county’s property tax Truth in Millage (TRIM) notices.

Opening the session were District Manager Andy Mendenhall of Severn Trent and Severn Trent accountant Alan Baldwin, who presented the district’s 2016 draft budget. Every year in May Westchase Community Development District (CDD) supervisors kick off their budget season by passing a preliminary budget representing the highest possible spending they anticipate for the coming year. Hillsborough County uses these numbers on their property tax notices, mailed in August. At their June through August meetings, supervisors then fine tune the district’s budget, often cutting line items and further lowering projected homeowners assessments. Under TRIM notice rules, however, they cannot pass a budget with a higher assessment than the ones published on the August notices.

Baldwin detailed an expected $52,000 in the 2016 budget. He attributed the increase to inflationary adjustments to line items, a projected increase in insurance, costs budgeted for a new Web site ($7,500), a $15,000 increase in spending for storm sewer drainage baskets requested by Supervisor Bob Argus, and a seven percent increase in costs associated with the off-duty deputy patrol (increasing the total to $180,000). Mendenhall stated that if the budget increased, the district would have to mail homeowners notice of the increase and the date of their scheduled public hearing for the budget. Stating the notices were often confusing to homeowners and generated calls to staff, Mendenhall observed they could be avoided by keeping spending level with 2015.

Supervisors, however, unanimously passed a preliminary TRIM notice budget reflecting no increase in district overall spending or assessments. They instead opted to take $400,000 budgeted again in 2016 for park renovations and reduce it by any increase in other line items. They also set their public budget hearing for Aug. 4 at 4 p.m. at the WCA Office Building on Parley Drive.

CDD staff and CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart also addressed the M/I Homes development, adjacent to Stonebridge and Sturbridge, after a Stonebridge resident expressed concerns in April about run-off, construction damage and ugly fencing. Stewart stated that M/I Homes had to submit a carefully reviewed storm water run-off plans to both the county and Southwest Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) for approval. Westchase, she added, would have to show that the development, which has nine retention ponds of its own, was actually causing run-off into Westchase in order to trigger any action from either entity. CDD Supervisor Brian Ross, however, encouraged a more proactive approach. “We would be naïve if we didn’t anticipate some problems there,” he stated. “I don’t want to be in a position that the only recourse is to go to SFWMD.”

Stewart then committed to completing a formal inspection of the area and making her recommendations to supervisors.

Stewart also addressed a Bennington resident’s concern about water levels in the drainage canal running behind his or her home and between Westchase and Twin Branch Acres. She assured supervisors that the canal is being maintained properly and that any high water issues are not the result of district neglect. Field Supervisor Doug Mays observed that the canal, which flooded last during Tropical Storm Debby in 2012, overflowed into Twin Branch Acres, which sits at a lower elevation. Stewart concurred, stating the canal would likely flood in the same way rather than top the resident’s pool retaining wall.

Field Manager Doug Mays reported that portions of a community brick wall running between Keswick Forest and Glenfield has been undermined by tree roots and needs replacing. One bid for just over 100 linear feet came in at $53,000 because the brick has to be specially made. Mays, however, said that the one bidder he had suggested a less expensive option – constructing the wall out of concrete block and stuccoing and staining it with a pattern that mimics existing brick. He stated the bidder would construct a sample of the work for supervisors’ inspection prior to making a decision. CDD Chair Mark Ragusa asked Mays to pursue other bidders and alternatives and asked that he make sure that the brick from the existing damaged wall is retained for future use.

Supervisors did not review or take further action on any of their capital improvement project (CIP) plans for Baybridge and Glencliff Parks’ playgrounds to bring them into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act. A handful of residents, however, expressed concerns about Glencliff Park’s preliminary concept drawing while another requested the inclusion of a sand volleyball court.

Speaking on behalf of volleyball players that have been left without an outdoor court with the WCA’s plans to convert its sand court into tennis courts, Bridges resident Ramesh Kolli asked that district staff, which had requested the sand from the WCA court, use it to construct a volleyball court elsewhere. When Field Supervisor Mays said that the sand had been requested to patch areas of Bermuda sod, Kolli requested that a new court nonetheless be considered in the CIP.

Westchase Soccer Association officials Margot and Greg Pinhiero expressed concerns that the conceptual drawings showing the relocation of Glencliff Park’s basketball courts appeared to reduce soccer field space for the league. Supervisors Greg Chesney and Brian Ross, however, quickly assured them that was not the board’s intent. “I don’t think there is any intention to reduce the number of fields,” said Ross.

Citing an e-mail from a resident opposed to maintaining the basketball courts, Chesney reiterated his suggestion, made last month, that the board simply opt to remove the basketball courts from the parks. While the idea received no support from any other supervisor, it received the endorsement of West Park Village’s Nick Kuhn, who stated, as a soccer coach, his team has heard vulgar language from the courts and even seen fights break out there. “The courts are attracting an unsavory element in my opinion,” said Kuhn.

CDD Chair Mark Ragusa stated the board welcomed the WSA’s input and involvement in the park redesign. When CDD Office Administrator Sonny Whyte stated that drawings and park equipment proposals should be ready for the June 2 meeting, Ragusa added, “Once we have proposals or plans, I hope we have a bunch of people here giving their input.”

In other actions:

Supervisors approved a motion to approve spending up to $150,000 to repave roads within The Vineyards. The Vineyards currently has adequate funds for the project in their neighborhood fund. The CDD owns and maintains roads and rights of way within most gated neighborhoods, which pay separate assessments to cover their costs.

Rather than hold a public hearing that might raise park pavilion rental fees from $25 to $50 at their June meeting, supervisors decided to reschedule and re-notice the meeting for July while announcing the new rental fee could be set as high as $75. Supervisors stated their goal was to steer some of the current high demand, particularly from non Westchase residents, to other parks outside the community to resolve overflow and illegal parking issues here.

District Manager Andy Mendenhall stated that six Westchase residents had expressed interest in the open seat on the CDD board. “I might be a seventh,” stated Bridges resident Jim Mills, present in the audience. Mills served as Westchase Community Association (WCA) President from 2002-2005. Interested residents can contact District Manager Andy Mendenhall at amendenhall@severntrentms.com or (813) 991-1116, Ext. 102, by May 22. Supervisors will interview candidates at their June 2 meeting, giving preference to those who attend.

CDD Attorney Erin McCormick observed that the unexpected early end to the Florida legislature session killed Senate and House bills that would have carved out an exemption to open public records laws for CDD security footage. Supervisors voted to oppose the bills in April. While she added that it seemed unlikely the bills would reappear in the special session, expected to occur in June, it was likely they would be refiled again in the 2016 legislative session. Rich Reidy, legislative aide to Sen. John Legg, who sponsored the Senate bill, assured WOW that while he too thought the bills would get refiled in 2016, Sen. Legg would no longer be a sponsor. Supervisors inquired what a formal lobbying effort would entail and asked McCormick to return with a cost estimate for hiring a Tallahassee lobbyist. McCormick, in turn, encouraged supervisors to become active in the Florida Association of Special Districts, an organization that appears to be behind the bills.

Supervisors unanimously approved an agreement with the Sunday Soccer Club that will grant the group exclusive use of Glencliff’s large soccer field from 9 a.m. to noon on Sundays throughout the year. In order to win the right to use the CDD soccer goals, the group agreed to formally organize, obtain proper insurance and develop a waiver for guest players. The agreement allows the CDD to terminate the agreement at will.

Supervisors adjourned at 6:10 p.m.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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