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Merged CDD Board Holds First Meeting

Tuesday, Oct. 4, marked a historic day for Westchase. After more than two years of preparations, a merged Westchase Community Development District (CDD) board of supervisors came together for the first time.

On Sept. 20, the Westchase CDD, formerly representing just Harbor Links/The Estates, Radcliffe and all Westchase villages along Countryway Boulevard, absorbed the land, contracts and employees of the CDD East, which ceased to exist. The merger, which created a single CDD overseeing all of Westchase’s commercial and residential properties, put CDD East Supervisors Greg Chesney, Susan Edgerley, Lewis Patterson, Brian Ross and Ernie Sylvester out of jobs. For Chesney, Ross and Sylvester, the loss lasted only 13 days.

In preparation for the merger, supervisors had previously cast informal ballots to determine which five of the two districts’ 10 supervisors would sit on the unified board. Prior to balloting, they also agreed that those who were not selected for the merged board would step down from their positions. Patterson and Edgerley thus saw their service as resident supervisors end on Sept. 20 with the termination of the CDD East.

Remaining supervisors had to wait until the Oct. 4 meeting to see whether CDD Supervisors Bob Argus, Keith Heinemann and Joseph Lechman would keep with the plan and voluntarily give up their seats. There was, after all, no law or overriding authority requiring them to do so. All three, however, graciously gave up their seats at the Oct. 4 meeting, relinquishing both their positions and the $200 per meeting stipend that came with them.

“I’ll be the first to resign,” said Lechman. When the balance of the CDD supervisors accepted his resignation, CDD Chair Mark Ragusa then made a motion to appoint former CDD East Chair Greg Chesney to Lechman’s spot. Approved unanimously, Chesney will serve until the seat goes up for election in 2014, along with Ragusa’s seat.

“I’ll walk the plank second,” joked Heinemann. Accepting his resignation, supervisors then appointed former CDD East Supervisor Brian Ross to the seat.

After Argus followed suit, former CDD East Supervisor Ernie Sylvester was appointed to his seat. Upon Sylvester’s swearing in, the room broke into applause as it represented the successful culmination of the Westchase merger.

CDD Supervisors Ross and Sylvester – along with CDD Supervisor Bill Casale – will serve until their seats face election in the November 2012 General Election.

Any resident of the merged CDD may run for and serve on the board. Interested residents simply have to register their candidacy and qualify to run with the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections. The deadline to do so is generally the June prior to a seat’s election. The CDDs oversee maintenance of Westchase entrances, rights-of-way, ponds, conservation areas and parks – as well as the roads, gates, alleys and street lights in gated communities and West Park Village.

At the meeting’s conclusion, retiring Supervisors Argus, Edgerley, Heinemann, Lechman and Patterson were honored with awards commemorating their service. Sandwiches and cake were also served to celebrate the successful merger.

For its first two decades, Westchase had two CDDs because, it is thought, the developer created two because smaller sized districts allowed for their easier, less expensive approval at the county rather than the state level. It also enabled the developer to extend its control over portions of Westchase developed latest. While the developer relinquished control of the CDD prior to relinquishing control of the WCA in 2001, it maintained its representation on the CDD East until as late as 2003. A few years ago, former CDD Supervisor Bill Kemerer, who moved out of Westchase this past summer, pushed for a merger of the two districts by arguing it would streamline meetings and save the community money.

The new board concluded the shuffling of seats with the appointment of Ragusa as chair, Chesney as vice chair, Casale as treasurer and Ross and Sylvester as assistant secretaries.

The unified board then moved to tackle two pressing items before them – street flooding in portions of West Park Village and Radcliffe and the awarding of the district’s contract for landscape maintenance.

Addressing the street flooding, CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart announced that Field Manager Doug Mays and she had investigated the storm water system in the areas. After work by Hillsborough County assured them that the storm drains and pipes were not blocked or damaged, Stewart blamed Radcliffe’s slow draining of storm water on retention pond outflow structures. As these are owned by the CDD, Stewart stated that district staff could arrange their removal at an estimated cost of $1,500-2000 in hopes it will aid the draining of the village’s streets.

The West Park Village issue, however, will require cooperation with the county, which owns the balky and slow outflow box that Stewart stated is not big enough to handle the village’s storm water. Stewart also suggested that a nearby retention pond and wetland into which the box drains also be dredged or cleaned out. This, she acknowledged, will require a survey of the system and possibly a significant investment of district funds.

Mays estimated that repairs to the West Park outflow structures would cost $20,000-$25,000 if the county refused to do the work. The clean-out of the ponds and wetlands would likely require an additional $10,000, he estimated.

Stewart also stated that they were waiting for the county to finish its study of the system. “I really suggest we wait until the spring,” stated Stewart. “It may be possible you may get the work done by the county.”

CDD Supervisor Brian Ross, however, pressed staff to keep pressure on the county in order to keep the matter from falling between the cracks. “I don’t think it’s enough to say, ‘we spoke to [county] staff last week,’” he stated. Instead, Ross, who lives in the area affected by the flooding, requested that all communication with the county be written and documented and that CDD Attorney Erin Larrinaga become involved.

Sitting in the audience, former CDD Supervisor Lechman, however, cautioned that the recommended dredging or cleaning out the pond and retention area may not prove a perfect solution. Citing the recent district clean-out of a canal that goes through Keswick Forest and Glenfield, Lechman stated recent rains had again brought canal water within 10 feet of flooding adjacent homes.

Supervisors then heard from Paul Woods of OLM, Inc., the horticultural firm that oversees the CDD’s contracted landscape company. On a monthly basis, OLM grades the contractor’s work to determine its receipt of performance pay. Woods detailed the completion of the bid process for the district’s new landscaping company. “We’re pleased to report it was a very competitive bid,” he stated.

The bid was triggered by the August departure of Vila & Son, which pulled out of Westchase several weeks after announcing to supervisors that it was experiencing financial hardship.

The process began the previous month with the announcement that the bid qualification committee had deemed six of 14 companies interested in bidding qualified to do so. The six companies ultimately offered bids ranging from $741,000 to $872,340 per year over three years.

Prior to supervisors’ unanimous acceptance of the lowest annual bid of $741,000, Supervisor Chesney made clear his unhappiness that Woods, as part of the committee, had eliminated all companies that were both not familiar with OLM’s performance pay contract and which had never worked with OLM before. “You excluded everyone else,” he stated, arguing he’d like to see a broader group of bidders in the future.

As required by state law, supervisors ultimately awarded the contract the lowest qualified bidder, Mainscapes. The new contract, beginning in November, will cost the district’s roughly $40,000 more annually than the previous contract under Vila & Son.

In other actions:

Supervisors voted 4-1, with Supervisor Chesney opposed, to engage a company to audit the district’s electric bills from TECO. Under the agreement, the audit company will receive 35 percent of all funds recouped from TECO.

Supervisors declined to embrace former Supervisor Argus’ suggestion that CDD employees who decline the district’s medical coverage be given half the district’s savings.

Supervisors, however, agreed, at Argus’ urging, to ask staff to encourage TECO to change the way power is currently provided to the western portions of Keswick Forest and Glenfield. Unlike the rest of Westchase, which is served by buried electrical lines, those areas’ electrical power comes from above-ground lines running through Twin Branch Acres, making them more susceptible to outages.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher


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