Sunday, April 27, 2014

Info Central Presents: Q & A with Bill Truex

Bill Truex, County Commissioner with Sally B. Johnson,
Coordinator for Info Central
Islanders gathered on Wednesday April 23rd to listen to Bill Truex give updates and field questions on various Island topics.

He started with some general commentary about how he is trying to balance the County’s responsibilities with the needs and wants of the community.  One new County priority is working to hold people accountable in their departments for the work that is accomplished (or not). Because certain County departments are afraid to take responsibility for past mistakes, he has often been called in to intervene. It was noted that the former director of Public Works is gone, and there is a new Director of Community Development. Another priority is to get Charlotte County Utilities up to par.  Truex mentioned that he was disappointed that the deal to buy surplus water from the County to serve the Island did not work out.

The audience got an update on the Rotonda lawsuit: Charlotte County lost the suit but is now involved in negotiations to set the formula for establishing cost from the 5-year settlement period. After that, a jury trial will set the values for the formula.  Truex acknowledges that the lawsuit will affect the bottom line for CC.  There is pressure on revenues, but the message from the electorate is to NOT increase overall millage rate.  There was a slight increase last year for school safety. He directed the audience to an online download about how our County general tax is distributed.

ROADS: good news

Linda Cotherman, Chair of the R&B Advisory Committee, introduced a start date of May 19th for road work.  Gator Paving is the contractor that won the bid. They will be bringing a large milling machine to the Island to churn remnants of asphalt and marle. They will then shape & define a maximum 18’ travelway in the rights-of-way.

The message was: be prepared. “It’s going to be dirty, dusty, noisy, uncomfortable” Truex said.  Both Bill and Linda pointed out that utility lines will invariably be cut during the process.  The budget for the project was discussed, and it was asked why the large discrepancy between the bids for the project. Basically, the higher bidders had concerns with cutting the utility lines and were afraid of lawsuits. 

It was stated that the roads mil rate for next year will be reduced. Going forward, the Islanders will need to work with the Roads Advisory Committee to figure out what size reserves should be kept in the taxing unit.  Reserves will be needed for road maintenance and bridge maintenance. Following the road improvements, General Contracting has the contract for road maintenance. Complaints were made about the job General did and the material they used on the roads.  “It wasn’t the contractor, it was Public Works” said Truex. He reminded us that the old PW Director is gone now.  “At this point in time, I feel very good about this going forward” he said.  

Some compared down-Island roads to the Resort roads, wondering why the south roads were so much worse.  Constant maintenance, lack of car and truck traffic and other factors keep the Resort roads in better condition. Resort owner Jeff Jacobsen said, “There is no panacea given the roads we have.  You have to rely on continual good maintenance.” Added resident Dennis Johnson: “If you want to help, get everyone that you know to slow down! That will go a long way to stop it.”
Linda spoke about getting more frequent, “on call” as-needed maintenance. The bid process for road maintenance will include the question “How many hours to do you need to respond to a maintenance request?” Hopefully, that will keep the road in good condition after the upgrading.

FIRE/EMS: a pleasant surprise

Charlotte County is in the process of getting ready for the contract takeover on January 1st. One concern was about capital improvements needed to bring the firehouse up to spec. CC is required to maintain all of it's firehouses in comparable quality condition. Truex stated that his goal is NOT to have to do a tear-down.  He is hoping the station will only require updating, such as replacing the stairs and improving the interior.  The audience was told that the funds for these improvements will come out of countywide general funds. This information came from Ray Sandrock, County Administrator.  “Ray told me this twice, so if he didn’t tell me correctly, you can shoot me.”

Truex mentioned that the interim fire chief is now officially the new County fire chief. Her intention, when CC takes over the contract on Jan. 1, is to place at least one fire/medic on every team. Rick Burnett mentioned that this is important because last year we had 36 medical calls and only 4 fire calls. Since paramedics are part of the County’s medical services, some portion of the salaries/wages for Island coverage may be absorbed by the County EMS tax. This would be a cost-savings to our MSBU.

Charlotte County is still working on the new MSBU rate. The Finance Dept. wants the rate finalized by May 1st.  According to Truex, the Board is very aware of public safety, while trying to get more life out of the existing fire equipment to save money. The life expectancy remaining is about 2-3 years, if there is to be any trade-in value left in the vehicles.  When asked why the  EFD cost estimate for fire protection was so high compared to CC, Truex told the audience that “they don’t have an option to go into other funds to cover Island needs.  That’s why they would have to pay for everything (from the MSBU funds).”

PLACIDA ROAD: moving along
The bike path plans are still in the drawing stages.  There were issues with the piping & retention with Lemon Bay Conservancy property that they’re working out.  The project should start sometime in the fall, maybe in 4 months or so. They will also be starting Gasparilla Road improvements, but Truex indicated that he doesn't want them both torn up at the same time. These plans are for improvements from Rotonda W. Blvd. to the Boca Causeway, and they include a turn lane at Lemon Bay Golf Course, a decel lane for Bantry Bay, lane improvements at Panama Blvd. intersection, and widening & resurfacing the whole road.

WINCHESTER BLVD.: life in the slow lane
So far, CC has accomplished the tear down and the debris burns. Utilities are being moved and they are now working on the intersection at 776.  Until there’s a final design, they won’t know what the mast size for the traffic lights is going to be (it could be pretty big). The current intersection at Winchester and  776 is a very bad intersection; it’s a mess without a traffic light. People are impatient making the turns a hazard. Truex expects it to be around 18 months to completion. "it’s going to be a rough summer for road work."

STUMP PASS: steady as she goes

The coastal management project will begin with a rock groin, at the south end of the State Park on Manasota Key. This is the structure that the state has determined will reduce the cost of dredging. The Pass will still require maintenance dredging, but not as frequently. From there, the experts will be studying the down-drift effects of the rock groin, and what it does to the downstream beaches. “If we see down-drift effects, they’re going to have to do something about them” said Truex, indicating that they will look for solutions after the groin goes in.

The type of permit that the County will have is an ‘open’ permit so they can take the project in stages: put in a rock jetty at the park, then see what needs to be done next. Plans include the possibility of 2-3 "T-groins" at the north end of the beach. All of the rock groins will be seen above the water line. It will take time and flexibility to resolve the beachfront issues. According to Truex, “That project is going to be an ever-ongoing thing.” 

Truex met with Rep. Albritton to discuss legislation to get funding. “There’s multiple ways to pay for this.” including federal (EPA), State (WCIND, SWFWMD) and local taxes. Charlotte County will be asking for funding from the state for the project.  There are 4 county-wide dredging projects going on right now.  If you want info about dredging, contact Chuck Mopps at CC. 


 MISC

Several topics were briefly touched on, including FEMA’s reinterpretation of “accretion” on the beach, and how a coastal “A” zone will be treated like a “V” zone. Also, considering that the 1% sales tax is about to sunset, Truex ran through a list of projects that will be budgeting through the “penny tax” if it is approved.



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