DFS City Council discusses potential 600% increase on impact fees
Story and photos by STACY MARTIN
On Dec. 14, the DeFuniak Springs city council held their last regular council meeting for the year. The meetings started with Mayor Bob Campbell presenting the City That Talks book and award to students from West DeFuniak Elementary School. The awards presentation was in honor of the Florida City Government Week. West DeFuniak Elementary was the school that replied with what they learned from that week, and selected students received the awards, plus an extra copy of the book will be given to the school’s library. Next was from Forward DeFuniak, who presented a check to the city on behalf of the Chautauqua Hall of Brotherhood (CHOB). Melinda Henderson stated that the city gave a $2,000 grant that was able to help the CHOB Fundraiser “The Flight of Jackie Cochran.” A check from the CHOB was presented to the city with a check for $4,661.87 to go towards a city seal and a display representing those who made significant contributions to the CHOB.
The council then moved to approve the consent and regular agenda with changed order of items on the agenda.
First was from the public works department, Elissa Pettis, Dewberry, who addressed the council with a presentation on the recently requested Utility Impact Fee Study, which evaluates existing customer base and project customer growth over the next five years, and assesses a fee schedule. The presentation outlined Dewberry’s evaluation of water, wastewater, and natural gas service. The last rate study for the city was conducted in 2004.
In the discussion, the council addressed the city’s predicament in being behind in collecting proper impact fees and the burden on the projected rate increase being close to 600 percent. According to City Attorney Clay Adkinson, a potential draft ordinance could be ready at the first meeting in January that can include a tier roll out plan. The proper procedure in adopting the fees would require a 90-day notice to the public informing them of the rate increase, which, if adopted by February, could potentially be ready in April or May for implementation. The council voted to accept the Impact Fee Study conducted by Dewberry, and staff will bring back a plan that will allow them to tier in the rate increase over a potential three-year span. The vote received one nay from Council member Henry Ennis.
Under staff reports, City Manager Mell Smigielski requested that the council proceed with the solicitation to sell the current city hall building’s real property. The agenda packet states that this open solicitation process will conclude on Jan. 31, and if no offer is received, procedures for sealed bids will take place. The council voted in favor of the request with a comment from Council member Ennis that he was against the move to purchase the CHELCO building. Since the motion to purchase passed, this was why he voted to sell the old city hall building.
The next item was the approval of the project list for the 2021 year. Each year the city council presents various ranked projects for funding to the state. State appropriations are due in February. Smigielski stated that Council member Robert McKnight, who was not in attendance at the meeting, informed staff that the Chautauqua Hall Of Brotherhood’s (CHOB) Phase III project was not on the list of ranked projects and recommended its placement on the list. Council member Todd Bierbaum made a motion to approve the list with the addition of the CHOB added to the list below the 17th item. Smigielski stated that it would be placed as the 18th item on the list. The council voted unanimously in favor of the motion.
Under citizen’s comments, City Marshal James Hurley stated that in an effort to raise people’s spirits in 2020, the DeFuniak Police Department has been handing out certificates to those who decorated their homes for Christmas this year. Hurley stated that the outstanding work was putting on this year’s Christmas Reflections and presented a certificate to give to Public Works recognizing them and those who helped with the display.
Dan Cosson also complimented the Lakeyard and asked to address items listed on the agenda. The last comment was from the Main Street DeFuniak Springs (MSDFS) Executive Director Chelsea Blaich who also congratulated the city and all the efforts on the Christmas Reflections and for their support to all the activities and events under the Merry Main Street program. Bierbaum also expressed his gratitude to Blaich and the MSDFS for their work on this year’s Christmas Market. Bierbaum stated that his business downtown doubled what it made from last year’s sales for the past three weeks during the Merry Main Street activities and noted the number of people attending the events and activities had been a success.
Under executive requests, Council member Kevin Crystal requested to be appointed to serve as a Governmental Affair Liaison to serve as a point of contact in discussions on the state/federal level for legislative and regulatory issues and to coordinate with the governmental consultants. Discussions raised concern and caused for clarification on the nature of the request. Mayor Campbell stated that all council members can attend and meet with any state or federal officials and was concerned over confusion as to what the role meant and the role of the mayor. Another concern was over the potential roles that the new city charter should pass referendum in January. It would free up communication restrictions that allow communication individually to the council and would not complicate or add restrictions.
Public comments were made from residents Dan Cosson and Melinda Henderson concerning any additional cost to the taxpayer to cover two city officials’ expenses attending meetings. Crystal said that because the city is growing, this would help the mayor and would not be in contradiction to what the mayor is or would be doing due to city growth. Nor would it place any burdens that the city charter has undone. Crystal continued that this appointment is not be taking away any opportunities from any other council member but noted that he would be a point of contact from the legislative branch of the council and able to attend those meetings, if necessary, when the mayor cannot. The council voted in favor of the request unanimously.
Next, Bierbaum requested staff to bring back to the council a cybersecurity program that will include planning, education, protection, testing, and recovery components dealing with any potential cyber threats and the aftermath of any potential cyber attack. Bierbaum stated that there had been a record increase in government systems being hacked into or infected with cyber viruses, causing a shutdown of systems. Cyber security threats, Bierbaum noted, are not a matter of if, but when. The council voted in favor of the request unanimously.
The last item under executive requests was from Bierbaum, who directed staff to bring a citizen survey that focuses on services and programs and another survey that would be an anonymous employee satisfaction survey program. Bierbaum stated that the need for the surveys, whether they are positive or negative, used or not used, is vital to the city’s growth and progress. Council voted in favor of the request unanimously.
Next was a motion to approve the 2021 contract for services with Liberty Partners for lobbying services to the state. The council voted unanimously on the request.
Liberty Partners then presented an update on the application for Triumph Gulf Coast Funding for programs and projects for the airport.
From the planning department came a request for a motion to hold a public hearing and approve on second reading adoption of an ordinance amending the city’s Comprehensive Plan, Future Land Use Map (FLUM) to reflect a future land use designation of medium density residential for the Highlander Apartments project. This change will allow the owner to develop additional units on the south side of his property. The medium density residential FLUM category allows up to 16-dwelling units per acre. The motion was approved unanimously and adopted. And the second half of the request motion to hold a public hearing and approve on second reading an adoption of an ordinance amending the zoning map to the Highlander Apartments project to reflect multi-family R-2. The motion was approved unanimously.
From the legal department, City Attorney Clay Adkinson requested a motion to approve on second reading an ordinance amending the Ordinances 881 and 906 which will input new regulations that will apply to travel trailers, which includes, recreational vehicles, camping trailers, truck campers, and private motor coaches as defined. There were no comments from the public and the council proceed with approval and adoption of the ordinance.
Under staff reports: City Manager Mell Smigielski read a letter that was sent to the council members and city staff on the Christmas Reflections and the Merry Main Street market and activities downtown. The letter expressed that there was something fun for every member of the family to do and even commented on how the city felt like a Hallmark Christmas movie.