July 19, 2016 City Council Synopsis with Video Link

Whether humbled by recent events nationwide or the major storm which blasted through Mount Dora the previous week, council accomplished its business in short order and in a subdued, unified tone.

For most, it seemed a relief to engage the city’s business for one night with little controversy. Of course, it may have also been that most of the items up for decision had most of their P’s and Q’s already crossed, addressing second readings of ordinances, committing funds for repairs which were absolutely necessary and blessed by legal review to boot.

Absent from the proceedings was Mark Crail (fourth district).

During public comment, Suzy and William Waddell both spoke about the wind funnel which encircled their Grandview Ave. property, tearing power lines off their house and whipping tree limbs from across the street into their back yard. Suzy Waddell praised the fast, coordinated response of many city employees and contractors removing damaged limbs and stringing power lines back up. William Waddell wondered if the city had an on-staff arborist and how long it would take to assess and address the city’s faltering inventory of laurel oaks.

Also in public comment, resident Mary Miller talked about “what it takes to make things happen” in Mount Dora. She and four of her neighbors got an idea for a small park to go into a vacant lot at Ninth and Tremain. They approached city council and got an immediate positive response. The Mount Dora Community Trust has set up a fund for what will be called The Serenity Park, and Miller’s group is now seeking donations. “If you want to get something done, make a plan, declare your willingness to work, and ask someone for help,” she said.

Amanda Kelly of Lake Sumter Boys and Girls Club accepts check from Chief O'Grady
Amanda Kelly of Lake Sumter Boys and Girls Club accepts check from Chief O’Grady

The city then awarded a mockup $2,000 check to Lake and Sumter County Boys and Girls, to sponsor two kids through their summer prevention/education program. Mount Dora police have a Community-Oriented Policing policy which seeks to reach out to youth in the community, and partners with local organizations to help teach kids to make good choices. The money came from Police Trust Fund, comprised in part from assets of convicted criminals.

“Don’t you love spending the crooks’ money?” Cal Rolfson (second district) asked Chief O’Grady.

Another organization, HOOPS Life Cares program, will also receive a $2,000 donation at a later council session.

Mayor Girone read a set of proclamations to former council members Cathy Hoescht and Denny Wood for their “dedicated service and contributions.” Also recognized were Ryan Donovan, who did not attend, and Michael Tedder, who is deceased. This recognition is usually offered outgoing council members by the January after the election, and Mayor Girone apologized for letting it “slip though the cracks.”

Former council member Denny Wood and former mayor Cathy Hoescht recognized for their service to the city
Former council member Denny Wood and former mayor Cathy Hoescht recognized for their service to the city

Girone also proclaimed July 24-30 Sister Cities International Week. Sister Cities, a national program promoting citizen diplomacy to create more community-led global relationships, now has some 570 member cities, counties and states with relationships with some 2300 communities in 150 countries. Mount Dora’s sister city is Forres, Scotland.

Four big-ticket expenses were approved with scant discussion. The first was the replacement of city hall’s HVAC system, for an estimated cost of $120,000. The present unit is 15 years old—five years past its useful life—and has racked up some costly repair bills over the past few years. The new unit is bigger  and more energy-efficient. Although Trane, a nationwide A/C contractor, was the sole bidder, Parks and Rec director Roy Hughes was confident that the city should go with them. Because Trane has units and software installed throughout the city, Mount Dora can takes advantage Trane’s one-vendor warranty system, and it allows the city to piggyback off the US Communities Government Purchasing Alliance.

Mark Slaby (at-large) wasn’t convinced that, despite these assurances, it was a good idea to award the job without other bids. “I’m not sure Trane is the only company smart enough to get a national contract,” he said.

Cal Rolfson (second district) said he was disappointed that the city hadn’t used funded depreciation for the old unit, which would have reduced a significant amount of the present cost.

Interim city manager Kim Leinbach added that unfortunately, the city’s past financial problems made it “impossible to put the money way to save.” He added that there were other big-ticket expenses on the agenda that night, and urged the city find ways “to save for a rainy day.”

Council approved the purchase 5-1 with Mark Slaby casting the dissenting vote.

Council also approved the second reading of an ordinance to for a three-year lease-purchase two new fire trucks at a cost of $1,020,000 at an interest rate of 2.58%. Funding will come out of the Fire Assessment Fee Fund. (For council’s prior discussion on this, see our recap of the June 7 council meeting.)

The third big-ticket item was approval of the purchase of a generator for Lift Station #11 on Sunrise Road at a cost of $68,282. This is another piece of equipment the city has held on to as long as possible, having been installed at Lift Station 11 in 1998 and seen previous service at another lift station. Should the present unit fail, the impact on the noses of nearby residents would be significant. The purchase would be paid for out of the city’s Improvements – Wastewater Collection account, a fund for these contingencies. Council approved the request 6-0.

The final expense was approval of a “piggyback” contract with the City of Sunrise, Florida, changing the city’s vendor for chlorine (used for water and wastewater treatment) to Allied Universal. The new agreement, approved by the city attorney, will save the city approximately $12,000 per year for a total expense of $99,000.

Council approved the final reading of three ordinances making changes to the Mount Dora’s city, police and fire pension plans in response to changes to IRS regulation. The city’s pension attorney had drafted the ordinances to bring the city into compliance.

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Next, despite its massive bulk in the agenda packet, council approved in short order a request to adopt a land acquisition policy based on the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) Right of Way Procedures Manual. Until now, the city hasn’t had a formal policy for land acquisitions for various funded projects, and with all the utility relocation projects looming on the horizon, adoption of the FDOT manual provides the policy template for the city.

HIs city manager update, Kim Leinbach mentioned the great effort by city employees in response to the July 13 storm. He went on to mention the controversial tree ordinance now under review by staff. “Mount Dora loves its trees,” he says, “but safety is important.” He said the ordinance would need “a lot of crafting” before staff could recommend it to council.

In council comments, Laurie Tillett (first district) said that thanks to a $30,000 grant the city had just received, an inventory of the city’s canopy would soon be undertaken by an arborist. “We first have to see what we have,” she said.

Cal Rolfson praised the response of staff in the aftermath of the July 13 storm and then raised concerns about tree safety. “We came within five feet from a life lost,” he said, in reference to the tree which fell on resident Carol Mooney’s truck as she was driving down Donnelly. (For our story, click here.)  “Keep that in mind. The tree inventory can’t come too soon.”

Rolfson then complimented Chief O’Grady and staff for their participation at a July 15 summit attended Bethel Free Independent Methodist Church by members of the African American community and other Lake County law enforcement.  The purpose of the summit was to address any simmering tensions between African American residents and police, especially after the shootings in Baton Rouge and Minneapolis. (Our story here.)  “It was a great representation of what we are as a city,” Rolfson said.

Finally, Rolfson mentioned an open house in the Martin Luther King Center on August 4 sponsored by the city’s NECRA (Northeast Community Redevelopment Agency). The community is invited to share comments and ideas about the Grandview Commercial Market Study.

In his comments, Mark Slaby brought up one of the main topics of council’s recent planning session—the creation of an economic development function. He asked if it was time to direct staff to add money to the budget.

Leinbach responded that given the difficulties in hiring recently (they were unable to find someone suitable for an open CRA/Economic Development position), if council wants this to happen soon, they may need to go to contract help. He suggested budgeting $200,000 for two positions. Then he added this caveat: “We (the city) now have a balanced budget. Something will have to be cut to make room for this new expense.”  Council agreed to put the item on an upcoming budget workshop agenda.

Slaby then expressed concern about the Leinbach’s announced resignation effective August 26 (our story here), wondering if there might be a gap between that day and when the new permanent city manager begins in the job. He wondered if someone would need to be temporarily hired, or if someone on staff could sit in.

Slaby also weighed in on the tree issue, saying that while he supports cutting down unsafe trees, the city should always plant another one in their stead.

In his comments, Ed Rowlett (third district) also praised the city’s response to the July 13 storm, but thought that waste management should be directed to pick up all of the piles of downed tree limbs around the city regardless of whether they were properly stacked.

Rowlett also said that at this time, the city needs to stand resolutely behind their police. “We have your back,” he said to Chief O’Grady. “Tell us what you need.”

Mayor Girone echoed this in his comments, saying that there is going to be “a big national effort to see them (the police) armed and protected.” “We’re (council) going to get requests to help, and we need to so.”

Girone then mentioned the July 13 storm, saying he was outside City Hall waiting for his wife to pick him up when the storm descended. “I never saw the sky open up as quickly as it did,” he said. He said that the city is looking for an “independent” arborist to conduct the inventory.

Council adjourned around 7:45 PM—right about the time that Donald Trump was officially nominated the Republican candidate for President.

Maybe everyone was feeling the nearness of events—whether from the sky or all the violence descending from the national stage—but talk afterward on the steps and parking lot of City Hall seemed to linger in the last light of day without much energy for dissent. To the east, a full moon was slowly hauling up from the horizon.

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David Cohea, Writer (david@mountdoracitizen.com)