Thursday, March 31, 2016

INFO CENTRAL PRESENTS: County Commissioner Bill Truex

On Wednesday, March 31st INFO CENTRAL, PIE's information and education committee, hosted West County Commissioner Bill Truex for an informal Q&A. Here are the discussion topics and comments:


What is the status of the Placida Rd project, as we have had a direct commitment from the County in regard to scope, bike trails and turn lanes. Why has it taken over 4 years to get initiated?
The Placida Road project will involve road improvements extending from Rotonda Blvd. W. to the Boca Grande Causeway.  2 years ago the drawings were at 60%, but the project got stopped out because there were inquiries from local developers about the availability of reclaimed water for landscaping.
Water reclamation is the process of treating County wastewater for re-use.  The resulting water is not potable but can be used for irrigation. Reclaimed water is produced by the County at a loss, but its production is mandated by the state.
The wells at Hacienda were failing, so they stopped the design of the road project to discuss the integration of utilities to serve 13 neighborhoods in the area.  Reclaimed water will be sold by the County to the developments, but it will be affordable and will allow landscape maintenance without drawing from the aquifer. 
At this time, the plans for the road and improvement designs are at 90% and should be approved by the end of next quarter.  Truex anticipates the project starting in the Fall. “There’s a lot of progress to go, lot of progress to make, but we’re going down that road” he said. 
When asked about the turn/decel lanes coming into Panama Blvd., Truex promised to email design plans to Rick Burnett, and they can be made available to the membership.  He noted that there will be turn/decel lanes at Wildflower, Cape Haze and Panama. In addition, the golf cart/extra wide bike path will tie in to the existing path from the Plaza.  It will be a multi-purpose path, side-walk based and separated from the road. For more information and project updates from the County website, CLICK HERE.

What is the status of the sand road improvement project on the Island?  Can we get an explanation about what is the status of our road problem? We seem to be in a holding pattern and not moving towards any final solution to the problem.
For those who tuned in recently, there was a study done of the sand roads by Penn State.  The result was a recommended process and materials which should work well if the process was followed correctly.  However, this did not happen. There appeared to be a disconnect at the County level: the contractor who was out here seemed to know nothing about the project.
Truex said that the first contractor was paid in full, with the rationale that the contract was not as clear as it could have been.  “I don’t know that I agree with that” he said.  “I’m not an attorney but I thought it was pretty simple what the project was.” The contractor did not grade properly, including skipping over large areas to avoid cutting cable and pipe and not crowning the roads.
Now the County is investigating a new process – “unsolicited proposal” – which relates to legislation that would allow the taxing unit to address the road issues directly, since the Island Roads & Bridges committee has a reduced cost proposal for the road improvements that they would like considered.

Public Works admitted that they put the wrong material on the road, so why are we paying for that if the County made the mistake? 
“I don’t think it’s fair” Truex said.  “Can we analyze how much money was spent on this?  Probably.”  He then asked for an email reminder to pursue this matter. 

What is going on with the upkeep of the asphalt N. Gulf Blvd. and regular maintenance grading of other sand roads? 
According to John Aliya (sp?) at Public Works, the maintenance grading is out for RFP.  This means we will have a contractor here who will be responsible for the grading instead of the County.  A query as to whether we pay every time the County grades the roads got an affirmative response.

How is the schedule set for grading?  Truex didn’t know. 

Bill Truex and Sally B. Johnson (Info Central)
What is the status of our finances in the MSTU? Is there an accounting of the cost/benefit of the road repairs and how will the surplus be spent? 
The County does not determine how taxing unit reserves are spent. The staff identifies issues, and then they come to the Island R&B Advisory Committee to guide them in resolving these issues.  Once a project is established and budgeted, the taxing unit raises the funds to accomplish the work. According to case law, the County must have the benefit of the taxes begin within 6 years. So during that time, if the funds aren’t spent the surplus can spike tremendously.  By maintaining a certain level of mil rate, and spending down some of these reserves, the County can avoid large rate shifts.  But if the Board sees a large reserve accrue, they will recommend a tax reduction.  Lindsay Yates, a new member of the R&B Committee, said that the committee reviews the updated budget at every meeting. 

Final comments: Generally talking about issues and complaints, Truex said “If we don’t know from you guys, we can’t fix it.”  He was asked what he can accomplish at the County: he said he might have a direction he’d like to go, but according to the County Charter he can only direct the County Attorney, the Community (?) Development Director and the Economic Development Director.  Asked who actually directs the staff at the County: Kelly Shoemaker, Deputy County Administrator and Ray Sandrock, County Administrator.  If you connect with any of them, make sure you copy Bill Truex.  “If you’re having problems, I want to know.”


We had a recent incident involving a lack of knowledge about Island addresses, what is being done about it?  
Last Thursday, firefighters attempted to get to a home in the Preserve by going down South Gulf Blvd, ending up stuck in beach-to-bay and resulting in a 20-30 minute response time.  “It’s dangerous. There’s no excuse for it” Truex said. “There’s no reason why they haven’t had the time to get around the Island.”  He had a discussion on Tuesday with Chief Taylor about getting the firefighters more familiar with the Island.  Chief Taylor indicated that there was only one shift that doesn’t know it well.  Truex said that he is trying to influence the firefighters to drive around and interface with the community more, indicating it would be good for all of us to get to know each other.

Bill Truex and Barbara DeYulio (Info Central)
How many firefighters are needed to enter a hot zone?  
You must have 3 to enter a burning building: 2 to go inside and one to remain outside.  We currently have only 2 firefighters per shift, so they cannot enter a hot zone until a firefighter arrives from the mainland.

Do we pay more for our firefighters than they do on the mainland?  
Our firefighters are paid higher salaries because of their seniority. 

What is the response time for a medical emergency after hours?  
Generally 15-30 minutes.  Truex explained the call list so that when a call comes in to 911 they can connect immediately with a barge captain.  Rick Burnett validated with two past examples from the Resort: one after-hours call took 26 minutes from the initial 911 call, another took 18 minutes.

Is the 911 system tied to your location?  What happens if our cell phone is an out-of-town area code?  
Your 911 call will be directed to the 911 call center based on where the closest cellphone tower is located.  If you are using a cell, try to verify that you are connected to Charlotte 911. 

General Comment: an Islander took note that MedEvacs had been circling the Island recently, looking for landing locations.  One landed at Pinfish Pointe.  Truex commented that they had a lot of helicopters moving people this year.


There was a line break on a Wednesday and we did not get a “boil water” notice for 27 hours. Is there anything we can do? 
Several years ago the County gave up authority over the local water utilities to the Public Service Commision.  They are the enforcers of the regulations, and have to power to issue fines, but they are generally not very responsive.  The Charlotte County Health Dept. might be able to help.  Truex observed that if Bocilla Utilities has the ability to email billing to its customers, they should be able to email notices as well.  


“It was a good year in Tallahassee for Stump Pass” Truex said.  We got the balance of the funds approved that were needed for the dredging/beach renourishment project.  Permits are ready and the project is out to bid right now. The contract has not been let, however they do expect to be dredging soon. The renourishment portion will have start & stop periods due to shorebird and sea turtle nesting.  They will be building a groin system at the south end of Manasota Key which will help keep the sand out after the dredging is completed.  Depending on how the downdrift works, they may have T-groins in up to 3 areas to mitigate erosion problems.
For more information and project updates at the County website, CLICK HERE.

Islanders signing election petitions for Bill Truex
Where will the sand be coming from?  
Truex explained that the sand has to be compatible with the existing beach sand, and they found an acceptable offshore source for the project area south of the Resort.  Sand will be barged in, there will be no pipes down the beach.  The south end of Stump Pass Beach Park will be reduced as part of the project.


"It's against the law" said Truex. "You are not allowed to take dogs on the beach."  He went on to explain that if someone owns beachfront, their dog is only allowed on their own property.  Otherwise, there is an ordinance in Charlotte County that prohibits dogs on the beach.  Some Islanders expressed frustration at the lack of enforcement, and felt the same way regarding leash & poop-scoop laws. He suggested contacting Animal Control for spot checks and ticketing to discourage the free run, and mentioned the dog parks on Boca Grande and Venice. 


Do you think that our Island issues are connected to not having a community plan?  Truex said that while some areas have reaped the benefits of having them (i.e. Manasota Key and their overlay code), many do very well without.  Neither Rotonda West nor South Gulf Cove have community plans, but they bring their issues to Truex to help resolve.  He reminded us that density is fixed on the bridgeless barrier islands. There can be no transfer of density on to the Island, however, like/kind zoned area density can be moved off of the Island.

Where are we on rectifying no golf cart parking on Panama Boulevard, as it is presently not legal?  “That’s a great question” Truex began. “I have asked about this but I haven’t got word back from our traffic engineer yet.” He mentioned having to follow the process for safety and liability, and indicated that Info Central should follow up for the time frame.

Why is the street lighting on the Winchester Blvd. extension so excessive?  And is it LED lighting?  The street lights on Winchester are not LED lights, but they were designed so that the heads could be changed out in the future.  The volume of street lights is basically due to the fact that the installation had to be done to meet current DOT standards.


While driving away from the Clubhouse, an Islander passed in her golf cart. "Not to worry!" she said with a wry smile and a thumbs-up, "All Island problems solved!" *wink*

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