A two-week timeout changed nothing.
After tabling a vote two weeks ago, predictably divided Port St. Joe commissioners voted on Tuesday night to begin the process of dissolving the board of the Port St. Joe Redevelopment Agency to be replaced by commissioners.
The voting breakdown followed what has become standard on a host of issues with Commissioners Bo Patterson, Phil McCroan and William Thursbay moving to initiate the process they proposed nearly a month ago.
Mayor Mel Magidson and Commissioner Rex Buzzett voted against the first reading of an ordinance that will lead to commissioners becoming the PSJRA board, charged with operating “separately” and “independently” of their elected duties.
That rub, “elected”, was central to Patterson’s vote, he said.
The PSJRA board is the only board in the county or city, he said, that operated out of reach of voters but could nonetheless collect and spend tax money while hiring or firing the executive director.
“This has nothing to do with the people on the board,” Patterson said in front of a meeting room packed to capacity for the second consecutive meeting. “The downtown looks great. They have done a good job.
“But no other board in the city or the county operates this way. That is the issue.”
The second reading and adoption of the ordinance replacing the PSJRA board will be considered at the first regular meeting in May, said city attorney Tom Gibson.
If, Magidson said, the issue was changing the way the PSJRA board operates commissioners should do that rather than become the board.
He added that he believed there was insufficient understanding in the community about how the PSJRA operates.
The all-volunteer board is constrained on where it can collect taxes – only within the PSJRA boundaries and solely after a year in which property values were higher than a base year – and where it can spend those funds – only within the PSJRA boundaries.
Magidson also reminded commissioners they have ultimate control over the PSJRA board anyway, voting on any expending of funds and the projects the PSJRA will undertake.
He urged commissioners to again delay a vote in order to conduct a town hall meeting in the next week or, failing that, until after a 5 p.m. ET Thursday workshop to be held at City Hall.
That workshop will be an informational session about the PSJRA and the laws that dictate its operations.
“I’m not sure people for it or against it understand the facts,” Magidson said.
His suggestion met with silence.
Buzzett said the dissolution of the PSJRA board was contrary to the language of the economic development element of the city’s comprehensive plan, the first reading of which was also conducted Tuesday night.
“To tell those people (on the board) they haven’t done a good job and just let them go is counter to the economic development element we just passed,” Buzzett said. “This has divided this city like nothing has and it doesn’t have to be that way.”
The PSJRA issue has produced two of the largest crowds at a city meeting in months and has prompted testy exchanges over the past three meetings between commissioners and commissioners and commissioners and members of the public.
The debate has at times been struck across demographic and socioeconomic spectrums amid allegations about control of city operations.
And Buzzett said the city has far more pressing concerns than the PSJRA; some $20 million in debt, chronic issues with the water and economic development, for starters.
“We have some serious issues and I am disappointed this issue was brought up in the first place,” Buzzett said.
Addressing water problems
During a workshop and ensuing meeting commissioners heard a presentation regarding a recent pilot study of the city’s potable water and took initial steps in addressing issues of discoloration.
David Kozan with CDM Smith, the contracted designer of the city’s water plant, said the pilot study revealed problems related not only to iron in the water, as expected, but also manganese.
Manganese and iron can cause discoloration when oxidized, though the issues are entirely aesthetic and not health related. However, the aesthetic issues can be serious.
The city’s replacement of aging pipe – some 90 percent of cast iron pipe will be out of the ground by the end of the year – will address and is addressing iron problems, Kozan said.
The manganese in the water will be initially addressed by changing the blend of the corrosion control chemical used during the treatment process.
Commissioners approved staff moving in the direction of changing the blend.
Depending on the results, staff, at commissioners’ discretion, could make changes to the way certain chemicals are introduced during the treatment process and potentially look at other tweaks in chemicals used in treatment.
Cape San Blas Lighthouse
Commissioners were provided a summary of available funding for the relocation of the Cape San Blas Lighthouse into the city to compare with bids for the relocation of the lighthouse and ancillary buildings.
A state appropriation of $325,000 is the largest piece of funding, which also includes grants from the PSJRA ($50,000), Florida Department of Environmental Protection ($30,000) and Florida Lighthouse Association ($25,000).
The Duke Energy Foundation provided a grant of $25,000, the St. Joseph Historical Society has provided $10,000 and donations and the sale of ornaments total $11,348.
The Florida Lighthouse Association has provided another $5,000 in funding and will consider another grant of $25,000. A matching grant from an unidentified source amounts to $25,000.
The total of $531,348 would be sufficient to cover bid estimates for relocation, however, the X factor is the cost of lowering power lines by Duke Energy. That is currently unknown.