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CDD Supervisors Debate Funding for Capital Improvement Projects

Kicking off the heart of their 2014 budget season, Westchase CDD supervisors passed a tentative, high-watermark budget that will focus their discussion in upcoming months.

The accepted tentative spending plan suggests that most homeowners may see operations and maintenance increases of about one to three percent this year. (In eastern villages, the CDD assessment consists of an operations and maintenance assessment and debt service payments that remain static from year to year; western villages have paid off these bonds, which funded the construction of their infrastructure. Gated communities and West Park Village have additional, neighborhood-specific assessments for the maintenance of unique amenities such as private roads, alleys, streetlights, gates and security cameras.)

The Community Development District’s fiscal year begins in October. The budget season, which will culminate with the CDD’s Aug. 6 public budget hearing, begins each year with the passage of a draft outline containing the highest levels of spending anticipated by supervisors. That initial draft is then submitted to Hillsborough County for the fall’s property tax trim notices. Supervisors, however, generally comb through this spending plan in June and July, fine-tuning budget lines and usually producing a smaller spending plan.

At their May 7 meeting supervisors focused discussion on how to fund just over $200,000 in possible capital improvements, ranging from the refurbishment of the West Park Village spray fountain ($90,000), the installation of LED signage ($45,000), a decorative fountain for a West Park Village retention pond visible from Linebaugh Avenue ($22,500) a landscape chipper ($18,000), a volleyball court ($16,500), 10 storm sewer drain baskets ($10,000) and the conversion of restroom faucets and flush valves to hands-free sensors ($4,500).

While supervisors did not use the meeting to determine which of these projects would ultimately win their support, they did debate whether to budget funds for them in the coming year or simply pay for them with $260,000 in surplus funds the district has amassed over the past three years. The latter approach was advocated by CDD Supervisors Brian Ross and Greg Chesney. Chesney argued that the amount the CDD held in reserve prior to the addition of the $260,000 constituted about 50 percent of its annual budget. He stated the original reserve was more than adequate, a position buttressed somewhat by CDD Manager Andy Mendenhall’s observation that the Westchase CDD was financially one of the strongest districts he’d encountered in ten years.

While expressing support for funding approximately $125,000 of the capital improvements from the $260,000 in surplus funds, CDD Chair Ragusa, however, expressed the view that in the event of a catastrophic hurricane the district lacked the funds needed to repair and replace all of the district’s assets and landscaping.

Ultimately, for the trim-notice budget, supervisors elected to include $100,000 in capital improvement funds. At their June 4 meeting, supervisors will likely identify those projects that have majority support on the board and determine whether they will be funded by the surplus funds or by the 2014 capital improvement budget.

In preparation for their June discussions, supervisors requested Jeff Jones of Aquamarine Swimming Pool Co. return with a detailed price list and design for possible changes to the current West Park Village water jets, adjacent to the bandshell. They also heard comments from Westchase residents Ramesh Kolli and Ravi Yalamanchili, who both requested the board approve spending for a new sand volleyball court to replace the Westchase Swim and Tennis Center court, slated for removal. Kolli added that he had submitted six pages of signature petitions supporting a new court. While the residents were asked by Chair Ragusa to work with staff to identify locations for one on CDD property, he added, “I’m doubtful about spending $25,000 to replace an item the WCA studied and concluded wasn’t needed anymore.” He added, “In 15 years I’ve never seen anyone on that court.”

Yalamanchili, however, countered that 15-16 individuals play on the court each Sunday morning before 11 a.m.

Rounding out the district’s spending plan, Supervisor Chesney worked with Alan Baldwin of district management company Severn Trent and CDD staff members to review current spending and establish individual budget line items. “We increased what we had to increase,” Chesney stated. He added, “There was an overall increase of about one percent.”

That increase, however, excluded the $100,000 in funds budgeted at the meeting for potential capital improvements.

Among other adjustments to line items, the budget includes a 15 percent increase in salaries for the four CDD staff members. An increase in staff payroll has been touted by Supervisor Brian Ross, who has argued that staff has saved the district significant amounts of money in recent years through careful bid processes. (These funds affect just the four CDD employees located in the Westchase office; they will not affect compensation of Mainscape landscaping staff, the district’s landscaping contractor, CDD management company Severn Trent, or the district’s attorney or engineer.)

Contacted after the meeting, Chesney indicated that a handful of other lines saw adjustments. Increases were made to lines for general repairs and maintenance ($10,000 increase to a total of $22,000); legal services ($10,000); holiday decorating ($2,000); CDD staff benefits ($13,000). Decreases were made to lines for sidewalk repair (declining $16,000 to a total of $15,000) and fuel ($5,000). Chesney also stated that one of the district’s largest expenditures – the landscaping contract with Mainscapes – is up for renewal in 2014 and he’s waiting for a commitment that the company will extend the contract for a year with no increase.

As part of budget discussions supervisors also heard from Mendenhall about the second attempt to win bids for the conversion of Harbor Links/The Estates gas lights to LED lights. The conversion has been touted as necessary to address the aging and leaking gas fixtures. Echoing the district’s previous inability to attract more than one bid for the work, Mendenhall stated, “We had one bidder from the four [bid specification documents] we sent out.”

That bid came in at $340,000, approximately $200,000 more than that neighborhood has currently reserved for lighting. Supervisors requested that the neighborhood’s voting member, Nancy Sells, circulate the information to her homeowners in order to offer their feedback for consideration in June. Supervisors, however, elected not to include an assessment for the conversion in the tentative spending plan, deciding that the work could be initially financed through a multi-year loan or line of credit. Thus, once the full price of the project is known, they can begin assessing Harbor Links/The Estates homeowners for its repayment beginning in 2015.

In other matters:

CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart and Field Supervisor Doug Mays identified three homeowners in West Park Village, Glenfield and The Fords who have either extended landscaping or fences onto CDD owned land/easements or have pulled CDD plantings out of those areas. Mays indicated he suspected the West Park Village homeowner would be amenable to relocating the encroaching items but stated the Glenfield homeowner had already hired an attorney to oppose the district. Supervisors ultimately handed the cases of the Glenfield homeowner and Fords homeowner (the latter Mays stated had removed CDD plantings) over to CDD Attorney Erin McCormick for resolution.

Stockbridge Voting Member Joe Odda, Chair of a Westchase Community Association (WCA) task force organized to study the feasibility of a dog park, spoke briefly to supervisors to gauge their willingness to find district land for the park. CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart stated her review of a possible site along the TECO easement adjacent to the UTB Library will be completed by June’s CDD meeting. Addressing the possibility of funding the creation of a dog park outside district boundaries, CDD Attorney Erin McCormick stated there was nothing in Florida statutes that would preclude the district from spending money on recreational assets outside its boundaries.

In concluding supervisors’ comments, CDD Supervisor Bob Argus encouraged the board to address a handful of homes in Keswick Forest whose electrical power is provided by above-ground lines servicing a community west of them. The homes lose power more frequently than the rest of Westchase, which is serviced by buried wires. Argus pointed out that there are three homeowners whose medical conditions make them particularly dependent on electricity. His proposal, however, met with no support. Supervisor Chesney observed, “If we did do anything, we’d have to assess them [to cover its costs].” Chesney pointed out that it would likely be far cheaper for the homeowners to purchase their own backup generators.

Supervisors adjourned their meeting at 5:53 p.m.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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