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Greens Residents Flock to CDD Meeting to Keep Manned Gatehouse

The Dec. 2 meeting of the Westchase Community Development District (CDD) saw dozens of Greens residents in attendance to express support for keeping their gatehouse manned around the clock.

More than 40 squeezed into the foyer and meeting room of the Westchase Community Association’s Parley Drive offices, where the meeting was held. More stood outside the door.

All appeared after a call to action from Greens VM Jerry Pappa, who informed Greens residents that the CDD rejected his poll results on the gatehouse and had required residents to attend the meeting to weigh in. [See related story below.]

CDD Mark Ragusa began the meeting by addressing some misconceptions.

Faced with an increase of 87 cents an hour to provide health insurance coverage to gatehouse employees from Securitas, The Greens security company, CDD supervisors decided in November to weigh if Greens homeowners preferred paying the increase in order to maintain existing coverage by current employees. An additional option, pitched by Securitas, would have lowered costs by trimming 32 hours of manned coverage. That approach would have eliminated the eight-hour overnight shifts Sundays through Wednesdays and added a tele-entry system to remotely handle visitors. The CDD Board asked WOW to run an article in November announcing the options and requesting Greens residents communicate their preferences to supervisors.

Pappa subsequently polled his residents in an e-mail that offered the two options. He later reported to CDD supervisors that poll results showed overwhelming Greens support for maintaining a fully manned gatehouse.

“I have received probably 60 e-mails and received five or six phone calls on the issue,” said Ragusa.

The chair began by discussing his inability, under the Florida Sunshine Law, to communicate about the issue with other supervisors outside of publicly noticed meetings. “This is not a homeowners association.”

Ragusa, echoed by Supervisor Bob Argus, also emphasized that the remote coverage option was not a plan hatched by supervisors but an option presented by Securitas.

“It is my suggestion, based on resident input…that there is no interest in going forward with the Securitas unmanned proposal,” Ragusa said. He added, “What we needed to improve upon is the way we communicated with the community.”

Ragusa noted that in recent years the district had passed a number of different budgets and made some significant purchases. “This was the one issue that drew the most notice and input.” He said of the gatehouse issue. “You guys responded in droves. You were really passionate.”

Ragusa also stated the increase, according to Securitas, was needed to insure they kept full-time guards at the gate rather than rely on part-timers with higher turnover. “I’ve been extremely impressed with the people in that guard gate,” he stated, “that’s what I heard from people.”

The increase, Severn Trent’s Alan Baldwin stated, would likely be about $14-15 annually per Greens home. It comes with a two year price guarantee. Severn Trent is the CDD’s management company.

Ragusa added, however, that coverage of the matter had prompted a Westchase resident who is working for GS4, another security company, to offer a cheaper proposal to man the Greens gatehouse around the clock. “That proposal is roughly $1,135 less than our current budget.”

When a Greens resident inquired how the service of the new company would differ from the current one, Ragusa responded, “I don’t know.”

Speaking, Pappa stated while he thought the district’s decision to keep the gatehouse manned overnight was great, he offered a caveat and encouraged consideration of the GS4 proposal. “I believe the competition is good.” Pappa also took issue with Ragusa’s calculated savings. “There is an annual savings of $9,000.”

CDD Supervisor Greg Chesney stated he only recently received the proposal while he was on vacation and Baldwin had not yet had the chance to run a financial analysis to determine cost differences accurately.

Ragusa added, “I’m hearing people are willing to pay 87 cents more to keep the current vendor.”

Chesney suggested the board accept Securitas’ proposed increase and then consider the alternate bid once it had been properly reviewed.

Stating there was obviously a lot of miscommunication on the matter, Village Green Michael Turnbull stated, “It is worth a cup of coffee or two to be safe.” He added, “We know our guards. They know us.”

Turnbull concluded, “We want to see the savings. But absolutely – safety first.”

The Greens crowd broke into applause.

After other comments, supervisors voted unanimously to accept the Securitas increase and keep the gatehouse manned overnight. Ragusa concluded the matter with a commitment about future gatehouse security business. “The residents will be given the opportunity to weigh in on whether it should be bid out.”

Closing major action, supervisors voted unanimously to finalize a contract with Stantec Senior Project Manager Neale Stralow to compile a parks master plan and a proposal for bringing Baybridge and Glencliff Parks’ playgrounds into compliance with the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). The design work, to be completed within 90 days, was set not to exceed $19,500.

In other matters:

Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy Kris Gundersen, who supervises the district’s off-duty deputy patrol, spoke briefly with supervisors about a deputy who recently told Glencliff residents that she did not have the power to enforce park rules when a group of park visitors became noisy and played amplified, offensive music. Under the the district agreement with the HCSO, however, deputies do have enforcement powers. “I apologize for that,” said Gundersen. “That shouldn’t have happened.”

Gundersen said he would communicate with deputies about the matter and CDD Attorney Erin Larrinaga committed to continuing her discussions with the HCSO’s legal team.

Supervisors heard from a Greenpointe resident about damage a broken street sewer was doing to his driveway apron. In The Greens, a gated community, the CDD owns the right of way and storm-water system. The right of way includes the sidewalks in front of residents’ homes and their driveway aprons. The Greenpointe resident, however, expressed concern that the district’s repair of the storm sewer and driveway apron would cause the newer concrete not to match the rest of the driveway. He asked for the district’s cooperation in ensuring aesthetic continuity. Supervisors requested he return in January with a formal proposal.

Following November’s general election, supervisors reconstituted their officers, again unanimously naming Ragusa the district chair and Chesney the vice chair.

Supervisors voted 4-1 to award their annual year-end holiday staff bonuses, set by a formula determined by the length of their employment. Chesney was the sole vote against, stating he felt the field maintenance staff should receive a larger bonus than proposed and Field Manager Doug Mays and Office Administrator Sonny Whyte a lower one.

Supervisors took no action on a staff proposal to pay a holiday decorating company to light the four large palm trees adjacent to the West Park Village bell tower. After Greens resident Mary Young suggested supervisors explore recognizing other holidays in their decorating, Ragusa requested that staff discuss the idea with the company they hire to erect the district’s current decorations.

Field Supervisor Doug Mays committed to following up with the Westchase Golf Course regarding damage to an entrance monument and stop sign, which went missing following a recent accident at the course’s entrance.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

Misunderstanding or Miscommunication?

It was the largest showing of agitated residents at a community meeting in recent memory.

And it left Westchase Community Development District Supervisors (CDD) scratching their heads.

The Dec. 2 meeting of the Westchase CDD, held in the small community meeting room in the Westchase Community Association’s (WCA) offices on Parley Drive, filled to overflowing by 4 p.m. While at least 40 Greens residents could be seen and counted in the meeting room and building entrance, more stood outside the door. Many had left work early to attend, some even bringing children along.

They were rallied by Greens Voting Member Gerald (Jerry) Pappa, who sent a number of e-mails to Greens homeowners describing a proposal to possibly change security coverage at the Greens gatehouse. Faced with an increase of 87 cents an hour to provide health insurance coverage to gatehouse employees from Securitas, CDD supervisors wished to weigh if Greens homeowners preferred paying the increase in order to maintain existing coverage by current employees. An additional option, pitched by Securitas, would have lowered costs by trimming 32 hours of manned coverage. That approach would have eliminated the eight-hour overnight shifts Sundays through Wednesdays and added a tele-entry system to remotely handle visitors. The CDD Board asked WOW to run an article announcing the options and requesting Greens residents communicate their preferences to supervisors.

Pappa subsequently polled his residents in an e-mail that offered two options. One option: “Do you want to keep the Greens Gatehouse manned 24/7 [at] a proposed  increased cost that will be assessed in your 2015 tax assessments by roughly $18.10 per year per household?” (Pappa’s estimate of $18.10 was taken from WOW’s article; the CDD clarified at the Dec. 2 meeting that the actual cost would probably be just under $15 per home annually.)

Pappa’s second option was, “Or do you want to eliminate having the Greens Gatehouse manned 24/7, i.e., Sunday through Wednesdays, thus reducing the cost by roughly $40.80 per year per household.”

Pappa later reported to CDD supervisors that of the 182 residents responding to his e-mail poll, all but three voted to keep the gatehouse fully manned around the clock.

When Pappa shared the poll with CDD Chair Ragusa, Ragusa offered his thanks via e-mail and added about the poll questions, “What I did not see is a detailed explanation for what hours would not be covered by a manned guardhouse.  As you know, the proposal is to eliminate the third shift on Sunday through Wednesday evenings.  These eight (8) hour shifts run from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.  Your second question is not clear and I wonder if the exact hours would make a difference.” 

Pappa responded, “The residents want the gatehouse manned 24/7 at the proposed added cost, period…no ands or ifs about it…WE have the heartbeat of this community, and they want no disruption to 24/7 manned service.” He concluded, “If you intend on doing anything but maintaining 24/7 manned service in the Greens Gatehouse, I want to know ASAP.”

“Again, thank you for your input,” Ragusa responded. “I do not know what the supervisors are going to do at the December meeting.  I am sure they will hear lots of input from residents.  You are welcome and encouraged to attend and participate in the resident input portion of the discussion.”

The Westchase CDD is an independent, quasi-governmental agency that is not part of the Westchase Community Association (WCA). Under Florida Sunshine Law, supervisors may not discuss any matters under consideration among themselves outside of a publicly noticed meeting. Thus, the earliest CDD supervisors could discuss or collectively consider Greens’ residents input was at the Dec. 2 meeting.

Five hours after Ragusa’s e-mail, Pappa sent an e-mail to his Greens e-mail distribution list. “I have some very disturbing news to report to each and every homeowner living in both The Greens and Village Green. After the Voting Member of The Village Green and I conducted a very extensive survey with regards to whether our residents want to maintain staffing The Greens Gatehouse 24/7 with security guards, and subsequently reported the results of the survey to The CDD today, I was told by The CDD that they will not accept our survey as the direction that the residents of The Village Green and The Greens want to take.”

Pappa continued, “While they requested the survey for direction, and we complied, they now feel it necessary to inconvenience and insult homeowners of both the Greens and Village Green by requesting attendance at their Tuesday December 2, 2014 meeting.”

Pappa closed by encouraging all residents to attend the meeting.

CDD supervisors were taken by surprise by the subsequent deluge of e-mails from Greens residents asking why they had to take time off from work to attend the meeting, beginning at 4 p.m., rather than letting them weigh in via poll or e-mail.

At the Dec. 2 session, CDD supervisors voted unanimously to keep the Greens gatehouse manned around the clock.

When contacted by WOW, all five supervisors stated they had not told anyone they would not respect the Greens’ poll results. They also stated they had never insisted residents had to attend the meeting to be heard. Supervisors Bob Argus, Brian Ross and Brian Zeigler stated Pappa had not discussed the matter with them at all by e-mail or phone.

Providing the string of e-mail messages he had exchanged with Pappa, Ragusa stated via e-mail, “This Supervisor never told the VM that the poll results were unacceptable to the CDD. This Supervisor merely asked what information was conveyed and what question(s) was asked to gauge the results.  I wanted to make sure the results were based on accurate information. I also wanted to see if both issues were presented to the residents.”

When WOW asked Pappa what exchange led him to draw the conclusions that CDD supervisors had rejected his poll and were instead insisting residents attend the meeting to  weigh in, he responded, “This is all water under the bridge, and it stems from Mark not keeping in touch with [Village Green VM Bobbi Pitcher] and I….We believe the residents of both the Village Green and the Greens have made their intentions known clearly.”

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

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