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CDD Supervisors Revisit Old Agenda Items

The last Westchase CDD meeting of 2013 offered little in the way of new business for supervisors.

Instead the meeting of the Westchase Community Development District (CDD) found supervisors reworking or reviewing old agenda items from recent months. These included district employee benefits, proposed drainage and road resurfacing for Saville Rowe, issues related to a West Park Village sump and an inspection of CDD park assets to determine their compliance with recent changes to the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Marking the conclusion of the conversion of Harbor Links/The Estates street lights to more efficient LED lamps, supervisors reviewed the contractor’s final request for payment and offered Harbor Links/The Estates Voting Member Nancy Sells three possible options to present to her homeowners for reimbursing the district for the project. The project cost $340,000 and the neighborhood had $140,000 in its street light reserves; homeowners ultimately borrowed the $200,000 balance from the district. CDD Chair Mark Ragusa informed Sells that initial estimates for repayment for each home in the neighborhoods would be $470.27 per year for three years, $352.70 per year over four years or $282.16 per year over five years. The numbers, however, do not include any potential savings from eliminating natural gas bills, which CDD Supervisor Greg Chesney suggested would be roughly $50 per year per homeowner. “I’d like to see some feedback from the residents,” Ragusa stated. “Regardless of payback period, the increase should be minimal.”

Sells will likely poll her residents during the neighborhoods’ upcoming annual meeting. Whichever repayment option homeowners select, the amounts will be added to their CDD assessments, collected each fall by the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s office.

Supervisors spent the first portion of their meeting reviewing benefits packages they offer to their four CDD staff members (This group does not include employees of the district’s landscaping contractor, Mainscapes). The review was the outgrowth of recent discussions about formalizing the district’s sick and vacation leave policies by passing a recorded memorandum of understanding rather than establishing a formal employee handbook.

In recent years CDD employees received eight sick days per year. Unused days accumulated and the district paid out the accumulated days at retirement. After significant discussion, however, supervisors elected to change the policy. They asked District Manager Andy Mendenhall to return with a proposal that restricted an employee’s ability to bank unused sick days to five per year and ended the policy of buyouts at the end of employment. The employees will simply be permitted to bank days as a kind of short-term disability policy. The two employees with currently banked days will be given time to determine how many of the current accumulated days they want cashed out and how many they will bank for possible future use.

Existing retirement benefits (after one year employees receive two percent of their salaries annually) and healthcare benefits went unchanged, although CDD Chair Mark Ragusa observed it was unusual that health insurance costs for employees were fully covered by the district rather than shared.

Addressing staff use of district vehicles, Mendenhall stated that due to insurance liability and coverage issues district staff’s personal use of district-owned vehicles should be restricted. Currently district staffers who open and close parks may take vehicles home with them but may not use them for non-work related travel. Field Manager Doug Mays also takes a truck home to allow him to address off-hours district emergencies; historically, as part of his original employment contract, he was also granted personal use his district-owned truck, which he described as minimal. CDD Chair Ragusa requested that Mendenhall ascertain insurance restrictions on the practice and discuss options with Mays in order to determine a solution amenable to both.

Supervisors will likely review the proposed benefits changes at their January meeting before approving them.

CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart and Field Manager Doug Mays then addressed an issue with a CDD-maintained West Park Village sump – essentially a large hole or depression in the ground that filters stormwater run-off before its passage into nearby wetlands. The sump, plagued by bank erosion, sits in the side yards of two homes located in the back of West Park Village. Despite district erosion repairs a few years back, bank erosion has continued. Last month one of the homeowners requested district help in protecting his yard and offered to share costs of building a retaining wall. Mays and Stewart, however, distributed photos and shared information that suggested that the homeowner had paid the CDD contractor who had underataken the erosion repairs to fill the sump in in an effort to expand the usable portion of his side yard. Stewart blamed the fill for worsening bank erosion. Stewart added, however, that the sump appeared to be working adequately and there was no need to remove the fill.

Last month Mays stated construction of a retention wall would cost $6,500. With news that the resident had filled in a portion of the sump without first seeking district permission (the district holds a drainage easement over the area), any chances of winning supervisor support for sharing costs associated with the wall evaporated. CDD Supervisor Brian Zeigler seemed displeased the district would further reduce the size of the sump by permitting the wall’s construction. Citing the homeowner’s role in creating the erosion problem, Zeigler added the burden was on them to provide a solution. Ragusa added the district wouldn’t pay for repairs but the homeowner had to seek district approval prior to implementing any solution at the homeowners’ cost.

In other actions:

Supervisors approved the transfer of the CDD engineer’s contract from Wilson Miller to Stantec, which acquired the firm. They also increased Stewart’s compensation by $10 per hour to $145.

Supervisors reviewed cost estimates for drainage and road resurfacing work in Saville Rowe. While the community has funds reserved, the amount appears to fall $4,000 short of covering the $53,000 cost for the project. Stewart agreed to try to negotiate a lower price for drainage work and supervisors voted unanimously to proceed with the project, which will likely start in January. The shortfall will be recouped when the district next assesses Saville Rowe’s homeowners for the fiscal year beginning in October 2014.

After their proposed safety inspector declined a more limited walkthrough inspection of CDD parks to determine ADA compliance, supervisors voted to authorize staff to spend up to $1,700 for an audit of CDD playgrounds and a written report detailing changes that will have to be made to ensure compliance with federal standards.

Supervisors guided staff to decline two requests for park use. One was related to a free yoga classes offered by Westchase residents, which District Manager Andy Mendenhall suggested be declined based upon insurance and liability issues. The second request was for an overnight event aimed at raising awareness of homeless issues. CDD Chair Ragusa expressed reluctance regarding granting exceptions to the current rule closing Westchase’s parks from dusk to dawn

Supervisors adjourned at 5:40 p.m.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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