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VMs Discuss County Services and Mail Thefts

The Feb. 11 Voting Members (VMs) meeting saw County Administrator Mike Merrill discuss the state of the county and postal officials address the best ways to avoid stolen mail.

VMs began by approving a new Voting Member for Stonebridge, Judy Oliveri, and hearing reminders of the upcoming deadlines for voting registration or registration changes for the presidential primary.

Rick Goldstein, Chair for the Government Affairs Committee (GAC), then introduced County Administrator Mike Merrill to give an update on the state of the county. He introduced himself saying he had been with the county for 32 years and adding, “This has been the most challenging job I’ve ever had. I’m not a politician, I don’t like politics but I learned to work with board members.”

Merrill provided the positive numbers first saying that Hillsborough County had achieved a AAA rating from all rating agencies and are only one of 20 counties in the nation that are rated triple A. He said that this is the result of strong reserves and a strong economy. He said that we are nearly 11 percent lower in average per capita cost of operations and have 15 percent fewer employees per 1000 residents since 2010. Also, an independent survey done in 2019 concluded that 94 percent were satisfied with the quality of life in the county, 98 percent trust the county government and 70 percent of those engaged with the county were satisfied with the experience.

In discussing taxes, he said that Hillsborough County’s taxes, fees, and service charges were lower than peer counties in Florida like Pinellas, Broward, and Orange. He said, “If your taxes have gone up, it’s not because millage rates have gone up, but the value of your property has gone up.”

He reported that the penny sales tax increase was heard by the Florida Supreme Court and he felt it was very likely it would be invalidated.

Discussing transportation, Merrill said that most transportation funds go to road widening over the county’s 1,000 square miles. “We are blessed with a lot of territory, but you need to expand services and it gets very costly,” he stated.

When providing a Westchase specific scorecard, Merrill said that the community had benefited from the sidewalk repair program, which has repaired 800 sidewalk panels in the past two years. There will also be additional sidewalk repairs and replacements in 2021. The Citrus Park Extension is on schedule and the county is addressing safety concerns along New Park Road, Montague Street, Brompton Drive and Bentley Way. The county added parking signage, pavement markings and new stop sign, handicapped ramps and marked crosswalks on Countryway Boulevard and Oaksbury Drive.

Merrill credited the GAC for spearheading all the items.

Merrill also touted the importance of residents’ participation in the county’s growth and land use policies, observing that the county will grow to over two million residents in 20 years but has only 22,000 units of capacity left, which will force the county to consider changes to its land use plan and currently permitted densities. Merrill also said the county is experimenting with rolling paramedic squads to address medical emergency calls and keep response times low.

After Merrill’s presentation, Dave Jordan and Rashad Kirkland from the U.S. Postal Inspector’s Office addressed the group about mailbox thefts. Kirkland said that they want residents to contact them with theft information. He said that sometimes, even if a report is made to the sheriff’s office about a mailbox theft, they don’t receive notice or they need additional information. He said that even if your bank has reimbursed you, you should still let them know so they have the information. They encouraged residents to sign up for informed delivery at httpss://informeddelivery.usps.com, which notifies you of what you will be receiving in the mail and helps identify what was stolen. They also advised never leaving mail overnight in mailboxes and encouraged residents not to use mailbox flag indicating the box has outgoing mail waiting for pickup.

To report mail thefts, call the Hillsborough Sheriff’s Office first to report the crime then report the theft to the Postal Inspector via the 24-hour hotline, 1 (877) 876-2455. Residents can also fill in a form online at httpss://www.uspsoig.gov/. Rashad Kirkland, who is in the Tampa field office, can be contacted at (813) 281-5225 or via email at rakirkland@usps.gov.

VMs’ last new business item was their final approval the Glencliff specific guideline for turf grass, which was unanimously approved.

WCA Director Heather Greeley-Hessefort made a quick plea for candidates for the three open seats on the WOW Board. Candidates must be in good standing with backgrounds in accounting, print and digital publishing and/or small business management being helpful. All information on requirements and how to apply are in the February WOW.

The only old business item was VMs’ final approval of their Flagpole Guideline, which was tabled from January’s meeting. VM Mary Griffin (Single Family Homes of West Park Village) explained that the committee had met again after the last meeting and updated the guideline. She said that our attorney had reviewed the verbiage as it needed to comply with Florida Statute 720.304.

VMs argued about specifying the flagpole’s acceptable materials in the guideline. Some were concerned about aesthetics and Florida Statutes do not include guidance. WCA Director Dale Sells said, “The original intent of listing the materials was to prevent someone from putting up a bamboo pole. The committee had researched with flagpole companies what were common materials. If you are silent, someone can nail two by fours together and call it a flagpole.”

VM Greeley-Hessefort (Keswick Forest) added “I think the guideline provides guidance for people. The flagpole in Keswick Forest looks very nice.”

After much discussion, VMs agreed by a vote of 16 to 7 to simply reference the Florida Statute with which homeowners must comply.

VMs adjourned at 8:55 p.m.

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