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Martin County Taxpayers Association
 

2017 Report on the State of the Martin County Taxpayers Association.

First may I say Thank You! For your continued support of the Martin County Taxpayers Association, MCTA.  Without your support  we have no real reason to exist.  We are a totally volunteer organization that relies on its members for research,

participation and direction on positions taken.  We encourage all of our members to let their Board know what is important to them, voice their positions on issues and suggest topics that need investigation. Again, we are volunteers and rely on our members and friends to participate, please help.

MCTA was founded in the early 1950’s, making it the oldest organization of its type in the State, perhaps the entire Country. The primary objectives of the organization are:
  1. To monitor and review all fiscal and tax matters affecting Martin County.
  2. To engage public officials, community leaders and private sector organizations that may influence the economy and efficiency of the County of Martin, the School District, municipalities and other taxing authorities that impact taxes and the financial resources of the County.
  3. To improve, extend and establish a foundation of general tax programs that are effective cost efficient and maximize the  return on investment of taxpayer dollars.   Establish a culture and environment conducive to the preservation of tax dollars and taxpayers interests.
  4. To develop and communicate a public information program on county, state and federal leveltax policies, processes any tax issues using a variety ofmultimedia approaches and public relations strategies.
  5. To invite, or join coalitions of organizations in participating in efforts to inform, educate as well as influence tax and other fiscal policies that impact Martin County taxpayers.
As we move deeper into 2017, our 65th year, we find the organization financially healthy and robust.  Our membership continues to grow and we are looking forward to even stronger membership in our future.  We enjoy a good working relationship with our local governments, Martin County, Martin County School District, the City of Stuart and the Town of Jupiter Island.  We have established a working website, mctaxpayers.org and now feature a Facebook account, like us on facebook.com/MartinCoTaxpayersAssoc.  We established an "over-sight" and observation committee that attend County, School District and City meetings; look for their reports in future newsletters.  We have a working communication committee that sends periodic reports to our members, writes op-ed articles for publication, forwards communication from other groups and in general strives to keep our members informed of current events and issues.

We look forward to participating in the formation of local budgets, offering suggestions and ideas for a better Martin County and working with you.  We hope to work toward efficient taxing policies, reduced government spending, a balanced and funded Capital Improvement Plan, fair and open employment contracts with public employees and improved "customer service" for all taxpayers. We support efforts to eliminate impacts of the proposed All aboard Florida train and "negotiate before we litigate" policy.  We want an open and fair working relationship between all local governments.  We want a healthy, vigorous local economy, jobs for our citizens and, we want all of our citizens to be able to live in safe, affordable neighborhoods.  We continue to support financially feasible and science backed solutions to stop the pollution of our rivers and estuaries.

Thank you!

Tom Kenny, President, MCTA

A S S E S S M E N T

A newsletter published by the Martin County Taxpayers Association

Volume XVI Issue 3 - February 2017

MCTA Newsletter

Dear Martin County Taxpayer:

Congressman Brian Mast to speak at MCTA Annual Dinner

brian mastThe MCTA is honored to have Congressman Brian Mast speak at their annual dinner to be held Feb. 22nd at Lost Lake Golf Club in Hobe Sound. Congressman Mast is a former US Army Veteran who now serves as the US Representative of Florida’s 18th congressional district, which includes St. Lucie, Martin, and a portion of Palm Beach County. In 2016 he graduated from Harvard University Extension School with an ALB. To register for this event, please visit our website mctaxpayers.org. RSVP by Feb 15th since seating is limited.

Legislative Delegation - January 5th
The delegation was chaired by the president of the State Senate, Joe Negron. Representatives Gayle Harrell and MaryLynn Magar made up the remainder of the delegation. The delegation presents opportunities for agencies, governments and a variety of other organizations to speak directly to their representatives.

Representatives from Indiantown and Hobe Sound asked the delegation to sponsor bills allowing the local communities to vote on the idea of incorporation. The delegation voted unanimously to sponsor the bills which are required before the vote within the respective geographical areas can take place. If passed by the residents in those areas, Hobe Sound and Indiantown would become two new municipalities.

The MCTA thanked the delegation for their genuine dedication to our area and asked that they continue to pursue strategies that would improve the quantity and quality of the discharges from Lake Okeechobee. Additionally, we also asked the delegation to get engaged, wherever possible, to lessen the impact of All Aboard Florida’s plan to provide high-speed passenger rail service and increased freight traffic through our area.

MCTA Begins Budget Review for 2018
Your taxpayers association will once again form a committee to review Martin County’s budget for 2018. To see last year’s review please visit our website and click on MCTA in the news. We want to thank last year’s committee members, Mark Brechbill, Lisa Bebout, Diane McKechnie, Nick Amaro and Glenn Zillhardt. These committee members dedicated many hours, and as a result, the recommendations suggested ultimately found their way to the Stuart News and were reported Sept. 25th 2016. If you would like to participate on this committee please let us know via e-mail @ This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

All Aboard Florida or All About Freight (Depending on your viewpoint)
MCTA continues to oppose and monitor the All Aboard Florida Project. Most recently, a High-Speed Passenger Rail Bill (HB 269 / SB 386) is being filed by Senator Debbie Mayfield (R) Vero Beach and the house version is supported by Republican House members MaryLynn Magar of Tequesta, Gayle Harrell of Stuart and Erin Grall of Vero Beach. As outlined by Representative Magar, this legislation not only protects Floridians from the potential dangers of high-speed trains by ensuring the appropriate safety technology is in place, but also protects their tax dollars by ensuring the appropriate entity pays for those upgrades. It provides powers and duties of the Dept. of Transportation, and also provides minimum safety standards and requires compliance with federal laws and regulations. Railroad companies will solely be responsible to construct, improve and maintain the rail corridor which will take the burden off local governments and the state.

Martin County Administrator, Taryn Kryzda, recently submitted a guest column in the Stuart News on Jan. 12th and vows the County will continue to fight. Ms. Kryzda stated that as a result of the county’s litigation, a federal judge found that AAF Florida “had no likely ability to fund and construct the West Palm Beach to Orlando phase without taxpayer subsidies.” She also notes the county’s recent study concluded that taxpayers could be on the tab for upgrade and maintenance costs that may total $13.5 million in 2020 and climb over $31 million by 2030. Because of the county litigation, All Aboard Florida and the DOT abandoned a $1.75 billion taxpayer subsidized bond allocation and instead went to Plan B — a recently conceived “new” $600 million taxpayer-subsidized bond allocation that will purportedly finance only the Miami-to-West Palm Beach phase of the project.

While the West Palm Beach to the Miami segment is moving forward, the completion of our portion of the project still faces many challenges due primarily to our strong opposition through the legal system and the court of public opinion. The burden to taxpayers is not the only reason to oppose this project, however it is one of the issues that greatly concern us. This is why we support the county’s legal battle against All Aboard Florida/Brightline.

MCTA Membership
If you are a member of the Martin County Taxpayers Association, great. If you know someone who would be interested in our mission, please pass along this newsletter and our website address, or like us on Facebook.


Thank You!

The Martin County Taxpayers’ Association is a Not for Profit Corporation
President: Thomas Kenny III, Vice President: Diane McKechnie, Secretary: Richard Geisinger, Treasurer: William Schmidt

Directors: Sandy Brownlow, David Collier, Ike Crumpler, Thomas Fogt, Darlene Fuggetta, Rick Hartman, Don Pickard, KC Ingram Traylor, Frank Wacha



Martin County - What is the Future

It appears that the Martin County Commission has gotten off to an ambitious start. In their first meetings the commissioners outlined their vision of the county and what challenges they expect to tackle.

Capital Improvement projects such as the Indian River Drive “Septic to Sewer” program, the “Mooring Fields” in Jensen Beach and Pt. Salerno, the “Bridge Road Project”, the “Mapp Road Project”, “Fire/Rescue Training Facility”, “Veterans Bus Program”, ‘Municipal Golf Course Project”, “Data Center Project” and the “Customs Facility Project” are all on the radar.

These projects have all been discussed in the past and for a variety of reasons had been voted down or delayed.

The Indian River Drive Septic to Sewer program has been engineered and the project will seek funds from outside the county in the form of grants, loans, etc. Time will tell, how much, and if any of these resources will be available to supplement the county’s resources. This is an important step environmentally for our community.

Mooring Fields in Jensen Beach and Port Salerno would provide fixed mooring facilities in both geographical areas. According to the county, these mooring fields would provide specific geographical areas for boats to be legally moored. The county plans on applying to Florida Inland Navigation District for funds to partially or entirely pay for these facilities.

The Bridge Road Project is located in Hobe Sound primarily along Bridge Road. The project includes locating power lines underground, providing on-street parking, and specific drainage improvements. This will be funded with CRA funds that have been or will be collected from TIF monies.

The Mapp Road Project has also been engineered. It includes certain road improvements, drainage improvements, sidewalks, and extensions of water and sewer lines. This project seeks to improve Mapp Road from Martin Downs Blvd. to SR #714. Funds again will be generated through the CRA’s TIF funds as well as potential grant funds.

The Fire/Rescue training facility was planned originally in 2011 and has been resurrected by the commission for reconsideration. Funding would need to be identified for this project. Additionally, the county should include the Stuart Fire and Police departments as well as Martin County Sheriff’s department in their discussions for this facility.

Veterans Bus Program is in need of an additional bus and the program is attempting to raise funds for replacement of some of the vehicles. This funding is being handled through the Veterans Council.
The Martin County Golf Course management was taken over by the county and the county has made improvements in the courses and continues to study the overall development as well as replacing some of the amenities. Additional metrics will be considered to assist with the ongoing maintenance and operation. The golf course facility is currently operating at a loss.

The Data Center was once planned for construction off the airport property. It has been re-prioritized and the commission is considering locating the facility on the airport grounds.

The Customs Facility at Witham Field was previously approved with numerous caveats and eventually failed to pass at the commission level. The previous caveats required that the facility would be constructed by grant funds and that the day to day operations would not be a burden to the county. It appears that the commission is resurrecting this project along with a review of the methods of funding the facility.

MCTA is not debating the quality of these projects, however, these projects all have costs associated with them. It has been stated that our capital improvements projects are currently in arrears approximately $250 million. The MCTA believes that the projects that have been suggested should be prioritized and that funding should be identified. Using reserves does not seem to be a prudent method of funding these projects. Additionally, the 2017 budget has been approved and millages have been put in place to accommodate the current approved budget. In other words, if there is a requirement for additional funds for 2017 it would be prudent to reduce costs internally. Reducing outside legal fees for example could be a cost saving consideration as well as settling lawsuits that are not beneficial for the county. Also, the county could incentivize staff to minimize internal and external bureaucracy.
Fire Merger 06.27.16

Recently the City of Stuart voted not to proceed with the Merger discussions with Martin County. For years the MCTA has pushed for a merger between the City and the County. The reason for the push...taxpayer savings. In 2014 the MCTA made the prediction that there would be over $1,000,000 in savings immediately if the two departments merged and this savings would only increase over time. Since that time a consultant was hired and the merger study began. As the information began to unfold it became clear the savings would be much greater than $1,000,000.

As with any study, the devil is in the details. When the consultants plugged in average assessments, they used the same average for the city and the county. Unfortunately this is not reality. They also used an incorrect number for the costs currently associated with the City of Stuart’s fire/rescue department.

However, the greatest void in the study was the lack of salary and benefit package comparisons between the two departments. In the past few years the City of Stuart has trimmed their operations and developed a more efficient model of operations. Additionally, they realized that nearly 50% of the incorporated properties were not paying into the system due to low assessments. This realization caused the passage of a fire assessment tax that would require all properties to pay into the department.

According to the studies we have reviewed, the County pays their Fire/Rescue department an average of about 20% more per employee than the City of Stuart. This is a significant difference, and contributes to the imbalance between the departments.

It would have been helpful if the study would have considered these differences and made recommendations to balance these salaries and benefits. Additionally, the study should have used real numbers for the average property assessments. If that would have been taken into consideration the discussions about the merger might have continued. Instead, basically, the study simply concentrated on closing stations, sometimes without enough thought to response times.

The MCTA continues to believe that the potential merger could produce huge savings if done properly. However, to accomplish that, the consultant must review the discrepancies discussed above. Real assessment numbers and salary/benefit discussions have got to be included in the study. Additionally, management and operations must be a part of the discussions. It is not about simply closing stations.

Interestingly, nearly 80% of all calls into fire/rescue are medically related. This statistic alone should cause a paradigm shift in the manner the departments operate.

The MCTA believes there are considerable savings that could occur without a reduction of the level of service if the departments were merged in a logical professional manner.

And finally, the City of Stuart and Martin County must begin to develop a better, more trusting environment between each other. There will never be any mutually beneficial projects to consider if there is no trust. And ultimately, at the end of the day, this costs all the taxpayers more money.
Commissioners need to get fiscal house in order

The election is over, and the new incoming Martin County commissioners have their work cut out for them. 

Simply getting up to speed with the ongoing litigation is a job in its own right. Among the cases: Lake Point, All Aboard Florida, Midbrook, King Ranch, Zeus Park and Pitchford Landing.

Understanding the budgetary process and priorities is paramount. The Martin County Tuxpayer Association believes the county must begin to manage its escalating expenditures. 

Our recent study shows the county population has grown approximately 18 percent over the past 15 years while government expenditures have in­creased approximately 60 percent for the same period.

There are many reasons for this, but the county has approximately a $250 million capital shortfall and should look at ways to generate revenue ( other than ad valorem increases).

Recently, there has been an effort to reduce this shortfall through the Florida Power & Light Franchise Fee, allocating money away from the community rede­velopment areas and economic devel­opment fund, as well as taking money from the health care reserve fund. 

Although these are short-term sourc­es ofrevenue, the Martin County Tax­payers Association believes these reallo­cations are not healthy in the long run and the county should develop strategies that manage this shortfall without using short-term strategies.

Taking money away from the CRAs and economic development fund is counterproductive. At the end of the day,these redevelopment areas will produce more tax revenue for the county.

If the county demonstrates some discipline in its spending, there is a pos­sibility that a sales tax could be success­fully passed to tackle the capital short­fall. However, the taxpayers want a guarantee that the money would be used for capital expenditures and they also want to see conservative fiscal policies developed at the board level.

Martin County has been a leader in developing a comprehensive plan that allows the county to have local control over its development and economic future. The plan provides a great deal of specificity relative to how, and in what manner, the taxpayers of Martin County would like to see their community grow.

However, there is no long-term plan that converts this comprehensive growth plan into specific financial needs and costs. In other words, what are the most effective methods for funding our county's future vision?

This plan should look out over a mini­mum of 25 years and suggest methodolo­gies to create a more diversified tax base. The Martin County Taxpayers Association has repeatedly stated that the county needs a more diversified tax base, and we believe such a study would substantiate this.

Martin County is a great place to live and raise a family. However, it is becom­ing a community where only the wealthy can afford to live. Hopefully, our leaders will study ways to keep our expenses down while continuing to protect our quality of life.

Richard Geisinger is communications chair for the Martin County Taxpayers Association.

Treasure Coast Newspapers Saturday, October 1, 2016 9
What is the Capital Improvement Plan 03.07.16

One of the most important, but often overlooked, elements contained in local government budgets is the Capital Improvements Plan, or CIP. A Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) is a multi-year planning instrument used to identify needs and financing sources for public infrastructure maintenance and improvements. Public infrastructure reflects capital improvements required to provide the level of service adopted in our Comprehensive Plan. They include roads and bridges, parks, beach access, buildings, fire engines and police cars, anything that has a life span of three years or more and costs in excess of $60,000. The level of service is a measurement adopted to try to assure a quality of life standard, i.e., library books per person, acceptable traffic congestion, fire and emergency response times, acreage of parks required per person, a wide variety of things desired by our citizens.

The County Administration has posted a guide to the CIP as approved by our County Commission. It says, "Martin County provides necessary and desired public services to the community and the purpose of the CIP is to facilitate the orderly planning of maintaining, preserving, and protecting the infrastructure system that is utilized for those public services.” The CIP is a proposed schedule for the expenditure of funds to maintain, acquire, or construct these necessary improvements over the next ten-year period. This plan provides the public, residents, and stakeholders transparent information on how the County plans to address significant capital needs over the next ten fiscal years.

The CIP offers a comprehensive outlook of countywide needs by:

• Maximizing the uses of revenue to reduce the burden of the taxpayers

• Encouraging efficient government by interdepartmental coordination

• Maintaining a fiscally sound and consistent financial program

• Guiding anticipated growth and development needs

• Enhancing opportunities for federal or state grant awards

The CIP represents a comprehensive and direct statement of the physical development policies of Martin County. The County has a comprehensive process for capital improvement planning and budgeting and this process is guided by the Capital Projects Policy.

The CIP is the link between planning and funding the construction of our anticipated needs. It is guided by Section 14.4 of our adopted Comprehensive Plan. It plans for public facilities based on projected population. It is a ten year Plan, meaning that it looks forward ten years, the first year of the plan is the foundation of the plan that is what gets built next year. The first five years of the plan have to be fully funded and can be relied on by our citizens. The CIP is built using a weighted process with emphasis on eliminating public hazards, replacement of obsolete structures/equipment, maintaining the adopted “Level Of Service” and reducing operational costs.

The process is supposed to be a technical decision but, as with many things, it can become political. This is where you as a taxpayer and MCTA as a taxpayers organization can get engaged. Martin County will soon release it draft CIP for 2017, and will hold hearings in April to determine priorities. Knowing that funds are limited, our goal is to insure the priorities are met and critical capital improvements are completed.
Martin County Taxpayers Association: Fire-rescue merger still a good idea

July 15, 2016

By Richard Geisinger
fire truckRecently the city of Stuart voted not to proceed with the fire-rescue merger discussions with Martin County. For years the Martin County Taxpayers Association has pushed for a merger between the city and the county. The reason for the push: taxpayer savings.

In 2014, MCTA made the prediction there would be more than $1 million in savings immediately if the two departments merged, and this savings would only increase over time. Since then, a consultant was hired and the merger study began. As the information began to unfold, it became clear the savings would be much greater than $1 million.
As with any study, the devil is in the details. When the consultants plugged in average property assessments for fire-rescue service, they used the same average for the city and the county. Unfortunately, this is not reality. They also used an incorrect number for the costs currently associated with the city of Stuart's fire-rescue department.
However, the greatest void in the study was the lack of salary and benefit package comparisons between the two departments. In the past few years the city of Stuart has trimmed its operations and developed a more efficient model of operations. Additionally, the city realized that nearly 50 percent of the incorporated properties were not paying into the system because of low assessments. This realization caused the passage of a fire assessment tax that would require all properties to pay into the department.

According to the studies we have reviewed, firefighter/paramedics are paid significantly more in the county than in the city. This is an important difference, and it contributes to the imbalance between the departments.
It would have been helpful if the study would have considered these differences and made recommendations to balance these salaries and benefits. Additionally, the study should have used real numbers for the average property assessments. If that would have been taken into consideration, the discussions about the merger might have continued. Instead, the study simply concentrated on closing stations, sometimes without enough thought to response times.

The Martin County Taxpayers Association continues to believe the merger could produce huge savings if done properly. However, to accomplish that, the consultant must review the discrepancies that are discussed above.
Real assessment numbers and salary/benefit discussions have got to be included in the study. Additionally, management and operations must be a part of the discussions. It is not about simply closing stations.
Interestingly, nearly 80 percent of all calls into fire/rescue are medically related. This statistic alone should cause a paradigm shift in the manner the departments operate.
The Martin County Taxpayers Association believes there are considerable savings that could occur without a reduction of the level of service if the departments were merged in a logical professional manner.
Finally, the city of Stuart and Martin County must begin to develop a better, more trusting environment between each other. There will never be any mutually beneficial projects to consider if there is no trust. And, ultimately, these additional costs will be paid by all of the taxpayers.

Richard Geisinger is communications chair for the Martin County Taxpayers Association.
Not All Aboard Florida 03.16.16

This week’s events on the FEC tracts provided us with a glimpse of what can happen when there is an accident on the rail line...two lives were lost.

At the time of this writing, there is not enough information to know exactly what caused the accident. However, what we do know is that a freight train and a truck had a collision and the individuals in the truck were killed.

The crossings were closed for over 4 hours between Indian Street and Cove Road. If the train was longer (as predicted for future freight trains), the crossings could have been affected from the St. Lucie River all the way to Cove Road. Add to that the fact that FEC could have been carrying hazardous materials and we have a perfect storm getting ready to happen.

The MCTA has been opposed to All Aboard Florida and increased rail traffic and has been an advocate for planning some sort of mitigation to help counteract the increased train traffic. Whether or not “All Aboard Florida” or “Brightline” as it now called, is successful we must have an alternative way to cross the tracts. Planning an overpass or underpass does not happen overnight. We have been given plenty of notice that the freight traffic is going to pick up along with the number of trains as well as the length of the trains. It is time to have a conversation about alternatives.

Martin County recently had a study on a majority of their real property holdings and we do not believe that the idea of an underpass or overpass was even mentioned. Not uncommon since the experts were from out of the area. It is virtually impossible to know what a community needs when you do not work or live in the community.

As it stands, Martin County owns property on the NE corner of Indian Street and the FEC. Additionally, Martin County owns property on the NE and SE corners of Monterey and FEC.
Both of these intersections have potential for some sort of underpass or overpass. That is not to say that there should be additional mitigated crossings in our south region. If we do not begin to look at this seriously, we will be reacting instead of being proactive. Reactive behavior historically cost more and is much less efficient.

We cannot afford to put our community at risk if there is a horrific train accident with no way out. Minutes become critical when you have had a heart attack, stroke, or have been in an accident.

We urge the county to take the lead on this very important issue. They own the land and have the staff to begin the study.

Possibly we could get ahead of the curve if we begin to act now. Crossings will be blocked and delays will happen. Property values are certain to decline with the simple fact that there will be additional freight trains (notwithstanding the high speed passenger trains). If we can mitigate this problem we will all be safer and our quality of life, although diminished, won’t be disastrous.