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CDD Supervisors Irked by Cost of Irrigation Fixes

Banking, irrigation and holiday bonuses were the topics of discussion at the Dec. 6 meeting of the Westchase Community Development District (CDD).

Opening the meeting with an overview of their banking services, a trio of officers from Jefferson Bank made a pitch to the supervisors for the district’s banking business. Currently with SunTrust, the CDD in recent months has explored other banks in an effort to lower fees.

The presentation made clear that a change to Jefferson would, in fact, significantly cut the district’s banking fees while opening up the possibility of a $500,000 line of credit for the district. While the CDD has been exploring the change for some months, CDD East Supervisor Ernie Sylvester opposed the change, describing it as too quickly done. He questioned the need for a credit line at a cost of just under $4,000. “My only concern,” said Sylvester, “is we’re jumping very quickly into this.”

The motion to transfer the district’s banking business to Jefferson was ultimately supported 4-1, with Sylvester casting the sole opposition vote. Chair Mark Ragusa and Supervisor Greg Chesney also encouraged the board to support the establishment of the line of credit, arguing it would aid the district should it encounter unexpected, large costs related to such things as the replacement of Harbor Links/The Estates street lights or pond bank erosion. Commented Ragusa, “In this economy it’s good to have a line of credit in place.”

Supervisors approved the establishment of the credit line in a similar 4-1 vote, with Sylvester opposed.

Other major items of business included hearing from representatives of Mainscape, the CDD’s landscaping contractor. Mainscape began their new district contract in November. Under their contract, they are required to undertake a review of the district’s irrigation system to identify required repairs before taking responsibility for it. Afterwards, Mainscape is responsible for costs associated with much of its maintenance. Both Mainscape’s manager and Irrigation Manager Jeff Snyder stood before supervisors and fielded reactions to their report that the system needed $32,000 in repairs. A similar, large irrigation bill was brought to the board when previous contractor Vila & Son took over the landscape contract in June 2009. The presentation of another large irrigation bill at the time of contract transition irked some supervisors. “Why am I learning about a $32,000 bill now?” asked Ragusa.

“Obviously Vila wasn’t doing the job properly,” said Field Supervisor Doug Mays.

Vila pulled its workers and equipment out of Westchase in August after announcing it was suffering financial strain.

With supervisors aware they could not likely pursue Vila for negligence successfully, they looked for a possible solution. Snyder stated he had broken the advised work into two stages, with the first stage consisting of work necessary to enable Mainscape to take responsibility for the system. When Ragusa suggested they would bid the work to find a better price than Mainscape’s proposal, Snyder made a counteroffer. If the CDD did the work in stage one, he stated, Mainscape would undertake the $15,000-16,000 in nozzle straightening in stage two without additional charge – provided the company could have a year to finish the work.

Supervisors took him up on the deal, unanimously passing a motion authorizing the work. They also stated they were inclined to hire an outside irrigation consultant to inspect the system annually to insure that Mainscape was properly maintaining it throughout its contract.

A lengthy discussion followed regarding holiday bonuses for the CDD’s four staff members. While District Manager Andy Mendenhall had proposed bonus amounts, Supervisor Bill Casale made a motion to pay those bonuses plus a $2,000 bonus to Mendenhall, who is an employee of Severn Trent, the district’s management company, rather than the district. Supervisor Greg Chesney also stated he was in favor of raising the $500 bonus amounts for the two district employees below Field Supervisor Mays and Office Administrator Sonny Whyte.

Casale’s motion initially passed 3-2, with Chesney and Supervisor Brian Ross opposed. Ross explained that while he was happy with Mendenhall’s performance, he was philosophically opposed to paying a bonus to an employee of another company. He argued that the more appropriate approach was to offer a smaller gift while conveying to Severn Trent how happy they were with Mendenhall’s work. Ross’ argument ultimately persuaded Chair Ragusa to change his mind. After calling for a reconsideration of the motion, Ragusa helped pass a unanimous motion authorizing the four district staff employee bonuses – with one of the lower staff members’ bonus increased to $800. Supervisors then passed an additional motion authorizing staff to spend up to $1,000 on gift cards for holiday gifts for Mendenhall and a handful of other individuals who provide services to the district but who are not CDD employees.

Closing major action, supervisors accepted a $3,000 offer to settle a civil suit against Real Property Specialists, owner of the Westchase Town Center, for its excessive trimming of district-owned trees in Linebaugh right-of-way. The settlement was accepted with the understanding it would cover all of the district’s litigation costs.

Supervisors also accepted the transfer of Westchase-related trademarks from Newland Communities, the successor to Westchase’s developer. Supervisors made the transfer a requirement for accepting 22 acres of undevelopable land north of The Shires from Newland.

In other matters:

Supervisors heard from Glencliff resident Bill Lemen about problems with noise and loitering after hours at Glencliff Park. Detailing problems his neighbors have experienced with adult groups playing soccer and flag football, Lemen asked if the supervisors could do anything to help. Supervisors requested Field Manager Mays direct the off-duty deputy patrol to monitor park openings and closings closely in future weeks and issue warnings and trespass violations to groups that fail to respect the park’s hours.

Supervisors agreed to hold off on a $11,300 extension of the sidewalk on the western side of Montague Street between the crosswalk at Westchase Drive and Linebaugh Avenue until September’s end of the fiscal year to allow supervisors to keep an eye on expenses.

Supervisor Casale will work with staff to identify possible consultants to advise the district on a distributed antennae system – an alternative to a cell tower. Supervisors hope to select a consultant at their February meeting.

Supervisors elected to learn more in January about a company that, through video hook-up, remotely controls access to gated communities. Based on initial pricing, the district could place the live video guards at entrances to all of Westchase’s gated communities for the same cost that residents of The Greens are currently paying to have live guards man their entrance guard house.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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