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Supervisors Respond to Residents Throwing Shade at CDD Board

At the June 7 meeting Westchase Community Development District (CDD) supervisors addressed a petition’s demand for more shade structures at the new Baybridge Park playground.

Only the additional shade supervisors approved isn’t quite where petition signers might expect.

The June CDD meeting also kicked off the summer’s budget discussions by passing a draft 2017 budget that, if adopted in September, will keep homeowner assessments level with this year’s.

Opening the meeting, CDD Engineer Tonja Stewart addressed several items. Among them, she recommended CDD supervisors budget additional funds for pond erosion control in order to mitigate any hazardous slope conditions. She also announced that her company’s new policy prevented her from generally certifying the compliance of road signage within gated neighborhoods, whose roads are usually owned by the CDD. That certification is required by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) in agreements that empower the HCSO to issue traffic citations behind the gates. Rather than stating the signage was generally in compliance, Stewart said she had to carefully check each sign and certify that all complied with stringent department of transportation and highway standards. Meeting those more exacting standards could force the district into a costly process of reviewing and replacing all non-compliant signs.

A few years ago the district signed the agreements, which are now up for renewal, after residents of The Greens and Harbor Links called for speeding enforcement in their neighborhoods by the CDD’s off-duty deputy patrol.

The potential cost of sign certification, however, concerned some supervisors. “I’m not going to spend a lot of money to bring signs into compliance so they can write warning tickets in gated neighborhoods,” CDD Chair Mark Ragusa stated.

After Supervisor Brian Ross encouraged the board to move forward in order to get more information, supervisors voted 5-0 to have CDD Attorney Erin McCormick see if she can get a new agreement from the HCSO.

Supervisors then heard from Attorney Joseph McClaren of Fishkind and Associates, hired to evaluate the district’s assessments on three parcels whose use is changing: the newly constructed commercial property adjacent to Fifth-Third Bank; the commercial parcel rezoned to residential by David Weekley Homes for the construction of townhomes; and a parcel adjacent to the railroad tracks at the southern end of Montague Street, which previously escaped the CDD’s assessment roles.

McClaren stated that the newly constructed commercial parcel would see no assessment change. He stated that the David Weekley parcel should be assessed as commercial for the coming year until the parcel is re-platted for the townhomes, at which time it should change to residential assessments. Last, he stated that the county had no designated use for the Montague street parcel and it therefore should be assessed the same as a golf course or recreational area.

McCormick then briefed supervisors on the term sheet for a potential interlocal agreement with Hillsborough County for the early repaving of Westchase residential streets. The term sheet spells out aspects of the agreement, which emerged as a possibility after the WCA pressed the county on repaving. The term sheet specifies that the district would bid the project, contract with a paving contractor and arrange financing. In turn, the county will enter into an agreement that commits the county to reimbursing the district at a specified time for the contracted amount plus financing costs, provided interest payments do not exceed those the county would typically pay. Further, the county agreed to provide inspection services and material testing.

Supervisors, however, expressed concerns that the term sheet did not spell out other important items.  Westchase roads are scheduled for different repaving years and supervisors wondered if the district would be reimbursed at once or at different timeframes when the roads would normally be repaved. They stated they needed a specified date for reimbursement prior to any agreement. Further, some supervisors expressed reluctance to proceed unless the county indemnified them for any liability arising from the work. Last, supervisors wanted the county to clarify if professional fees from their attorney and engineer would be reimbursed.

Supervisors voted 4-1, with Ragusa opposed, to move forward to clarify the issues. Ragusa, however, was adamant in his opposition. Stating he didn’t feel Westchase roads were in terrible condition – a position echoed by Supervisor Greg Chesney, Ragusa stated, “We are idiots if we plan to repave our roads.”

Stating he was concerned about unforeseen circumstances arising from paving roads owned by another entity, he added, “From a policy standpoint, it’s just stupid.”

While the vote appeared strongly in favor of a possible interlocal paving agreement, three of the supervisors who voted in favor of pursing clarification appeared merely lukewarm in their support and simply wished to have the county clarify matters before they took a formal vote.

Other hurdles to the agreement would also likely have to be cleared or clarified. The entire Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners would still have to vote to accept the potentially precedent-setting interlocal agreement. Because the agreement would have to be approved as part of the BOCC’s budget, time may also be running short for its finalization and approval for the coming year. Further, at their June meeting, CDD supervisors voted to accept a draft of their 2017 budget, which sets a high-water mark for assessments for the county’s Truth in Millage (TRIM) notices. Assessments cannot be raised above those currently listed in the draft budget. Supervisors, however, did not budget for any interest payments on the projected $2.5 million repaving loan, which some supervisors previously speculated would run about $50,000 annually. While supervisors could choose to cover the costs with the district’s fund balance, this budgetary oversight may prove another obstacle in the interlocal agreement’s approval. 

Supervisors then turned to their draft budget for the county’s TRIM notices. Participating in this portion of the meeting by phone was Alan Baldwin, who handles the district’s financial matters and who works for Severn Trent, the CDD’s contracted management company. Baldwin stated that the draft actually pegged a small overall budget increase of roughly $15,000. Given that it would slightly raise some assessments, District Manager Andy Mendenhall stated that supervisors could avoid the cost of mailing notices to affected property owners by cutting an equivalent amount elsewhere.

Doing so, however, was complicated by Stewart’s advice to increase amounts budgeted for pond erosion repairs and Office Manager Sonny Whyte’s announcement that $30,000-40,000 was needed to repair a brick wall along Countryway Boulevard.

Solving the matter was a motion by Supervisor Jim Mills. Mills pointed out that 2017 was the last year the district would need $412,000 in additional funds budgeted for Westchase parks for current improvements. He suggested taking $60,000 from the district’s current fund balance (consisting of past years’ surplus funds) and create a pond erosion reserve account. This would cover the pond repair needs for 2017, allowing the district to budget for the wall repair and still trim the budget by $15,000 to ensure no Westchase homeowner sees an assessment increase. The park funds would be available in subsequent years to cover other budget needs.

Mills’ motion ultimately passed unanimously. Supervisors subsequently passed a motion adopting the draft budget for TRIM notices and set the CDD meeting on Sept. 13 at 4 p.m. at the Westchase Community Association office as the public budget meeting.

Concluding major action, supervisors addressed a petition signed by 250 local residents calling for additional shade structures over the new Baybridge Park equipment. CDD Field Manager Doug Mays stated that shading the three rideable spring toys would cost between $10,000 to $13,000 but a structure that completely shaded the larger climbing equipment would run $75,000. Installation would also force staff to cut through the existing pour and play surface, perhaps compromising its integrity.

Stating he had visited Baybridge Park to investigate the matter, Mays stated, “Believe me. I’ve been out there. The kids get out on the structures whether they’re hot or not.”

Ragusa observed, “We’d spend $13,000 on park equipment that only three kids could use at a time.”

Referring to the nearly empty meeting room, Mays added, “If there is a petition, why isn’t there anyone here representing it?”

Supervisors eventually took no action on the Baybridge petition. Addressing Glencliff Park, however, they did vote to expend an additional $34,880 to extend the planned shade structure over the large play equipment there, increasing its shading from 60 percent of the structure to 100 percent of it. The vote to do so originally was 2-2 with Supervisors Brian Ross and Jim Mills in favor and Supervisors Bob Argus and Mark Ragusa opposed. Initially delaying his vote, Supervisor Greg Chesney stated, “You guys are killing me. I was hoping it would be more clear cut.”

Addressing the increased shade proposal, CDD Office Manager Sonny Whyte stated, “It was an option based on the petition put out for Baybridge Park.”

Expressing concerns that the structure would detract from the playground’s appearance, Chesney asked Whyte what she would do if she were on the board. Whyte stated the shade structure was different than previous ones and wouldn’t detract from residents’ ability to see the playground from the road. When she responded that if the dollars were available, she would support entirely shading the structure, Chesney cast his vote in favor of expanding the shade structure.

“Are we going to air condition it next?” Ragusa said. “These are outdoor parks.”

Chesney countered, “Now people who are complaining about [Baybridge Park] can go down there.”

Additionally, supervisors unanimously voted to spend $28,000 to improve drainage at Glencliff Park by installing drainage inlets, pipes and a pump to ensure water run-off from the planned playground doesn’t pool on the adjacent sidewalks.

During resident comments, Stamford resident Don Costello stood and addressed the proposed interlocal paving agreement. “I just want to say I agree one hundred percent with Supervisor Ragusa on the private paving of public streets. It’s a disgrace.”

Costello continued. “I suggest you do as Supervisor Ragusa says and tell the county to do their job,” he said, adding, “Or get a new commissioner.”

Stonebridge resident Pat Neylan, the only other resident present at the meeting, stated, “Amen.”

Closing the meeting, Supervisor Jim Mills asked that an item be added to August’s meeting agenda. “I’d welcome the discussion of the incredible shrinking flower beds,” Mills said of the community’s intersections. “If we’re going to do them, do them right.”

In other actions:

Supervisors directed CDD Attorney Erin McCormick to send a letter to a West Park Village homeowner instructing him to remove a backyard fence and playground that encroaches on CDD-owned wetlands by at least three feet.

CDD Field Manager Doug Mays stated that the district’s landscaper, Davey, had sprayed the wrong chemical on the sod in a Village Green park, killing it. Mays said that Davey was paying to replace the sod, which was on order but was delayed because of new housing developments are making it difficult for local sod suppliers to keep up with demand.

Supervisor Argus said he had recently toured the property with the local supervisor for Davey, the district’s landscaping company, to address issues regarding weeds in sod. Argus expressed hope the situation would improve over the next two months.   

Supervisors adjourned at 7:35 p.m.

By Chris Barrett, Publisher

Posted 11 June 2016

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