Author

Steve Stefanides, is an experienced award-winning reporter of local civic and public interest news. Contact him by email at Stef@coastalbreezenews.com.


Municipalities and counties must follow rules, ones that they develop to ensure a community is well-planned for and has in place all the necessary components to function properly and provide a “level of services” commensurate with citizens’ expectations. 

Those elements are spelled out in a Comprehensive Plan and a Land Development Code, which lay out the specific mechanics. We spend thousands of dollars of taxpayer funds to accomplish that, as well as spend hundreds of thousands of additional taxpayer dollars to fund staff to ensure the community is following those rules, and enforcement by the creation of “ordinances.”

By now you are asking yourself, “Where is he going with this line of thought?” Believe me when I say my remarks are not meant to be hypercritical. We all have a responsibility to ensure our community, as well as our nation, is being cared for correctly and for the benefit of its citizens.

A debate is raging today regarding “water quality” and how we might improve that in our canals. A few years ago, we spent millions of dollars to rebuild and complete a centralized sanitary wastewater system. Those dollars were yours and we continue to pay for those improvements every month. Shortly afterwards, we spent more money and hundreds of hours to create a new and more stringent fertilizer ordinance. This was done in recognition of the impact that fertilizers might have on our environment and those same waters within our canals. 

Provisions were written into that ordinance requiring registration for those who apply the chemicals and tracking how much they were applying. Those companies, as well as personnel, vehicles and equipment carrying out that work, were supposed to be registered with the city and display their licenses. You would be surprised to know that isn’t happening and it should be. An accurate data base is needed to track those numbers and ensure that everyone applying the chemicals are registered and insured, as well as properly trained. While some are, many aren’t. Those all-important numbers are not being reported or tracked and our waterways are the unfortunate victims.

Last week in an article I wrote, I detailed over $1 Million in fines that were brought against a residential property that was foreclosed four years ago. Those fines have never been collected and the entire matter is just sitting in limbo while the neighbors endure the pain of living next to the deteriorating home. 

Banks for the most part don’t want to show the disposals of those properties, for they are a negative number of the bottom lines each quarter. Many of those financial institutions sit with large cash reserves from the billions in dollars funneled to them due to the recent COVID Pandemic, while the folks on Apataki Court sit waiting for a resolution after four years.

For the city’s part, the hanging papers on doors, with no plan beside continuing to access fines that are piling up, with no process to collect those dollars is not the way to accomplish bringing it into compliance and have that property reflect the quality of the neighborhood it sits within.

The city is required each year to report to the State of Florida that we are in compliance with our Comprehensive Plan. I’m sorry it’s a fairy tale of sorts if we say we are. It doesn’t take a genius to tell we need to do something about traffic on the island.  The back-up of traffic coming onto the island in the morning and converging at Barfield is horrendous. We need to address that situation as it has become a serious issue, especially now we’ve installed that ridiculous “round-about” at 6th Avenue and Yellowbird.  Instead, motorists just choose to take a left on North Barfield to avoid it, causing a backup on Collier at North Barfield. We’ve also had a number of serious collisions at that intersection resulting in injuries. All the more reason to have it prioritized.

It is also time to upgrade the signalization of traffic control devices on the island with an eye towards moving traffic in a more efficient and orderly fashion. We quit funding the maintenance of those existing systems to “save money” a few years ago and in my opinion that was a disservice to our residents. Instead of maintaining the equipment on a regular schedule we simply call and wait for help to come and hope it can get parts. I am sure many of you have witnessed the failure of those signalization systems over the last 12-18 months and the problem it causes.

Does anyone really think the traffic on Bald Eagle into Old Marco is safe and acceptable for the residents that live nearby? We are now looking at the possible addition of another restaurant/bar in that area.

Why have we not honored the work and recommendations done by the Ad Hoc Parking Advisory Committee? Council chose to reject out of hand their recommendations. Read the Comprehensive Plan, Section II Transportation and the Land Development Code in regard to these issues. I don’t blame the gentleman who might wish to make an investment, but I do think we’ve put the cart before the horse here. Before moving further, we must do our due diligence and make the necessary upgrades to that infrastructure.

Within the city’s recently adopted Comprehensive Plan on Page 27 of 119, I read the sentence that ends with: “… that enhances livability and small-town character.” Can we really say that with a straight face? It accomplishes little if all we do is go into campaign mode every time issues come up that require tough decisions and ignore the realities that do exist.

On Bald Eagle, we should also look at the pedestrian crosswalk which moves people from Rose Marina to their parking lot across the street. In the evenings when it is dark, the pedestrian traffic in that area is an accident waiting to happen. This will require a signaling device to alert motorists and make it safe for the pedestrians. Rose Marina should look at expanding that parking facility across the street, for they have outgrown their available safe parking.

I am also concerned about the flight of quality personnel from the city staff. We can build wonderful buildings, new bridges and parks, but if we don’t have the management team in place to ensure we are providing our residents with the excellent level of services, those buildings might as well be empty.

Do we have to go outside the talent pool we have, or have we been remiss in not doing adequate succession planning, to groom and educate those presently here who are familiar with the community? I do understand that on occasion we must bring in a fresh set of eyes, so to speak, but I am concerned we are sending a message to those that are here by not encouraging the excellence they are capable of with the proper mentoring. 

We have a great community, and on occasion we must look inward to ensure we are doing our best for our citizens.  


 

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