Below is the speech I gave at the BOCC meeting on August 21 2018. At the end of the speech I refer to current events showing that an MSBU can be challenged. I was referring to the fact that a Motion For Summary Judgment filed by the county in Diane’s lawsuit was recently denied. This was the county’s last attempt to get the suit dismissed. It was shown that there were genuine issues of fact that had to be litigated, and so the case is progressing to a full trial in October. I am anticipating that at trial the MSBU the county passed to tax the Gulf Harbors homeowners for the county to purchase the golf course will be struck down. This would be an important precedent to show that an MSBU must be enacted properly, and that the citizens really can have a voice in their proper use, and can even challenge inappropriate MSBUs. Here is the text of my speech:
Today’s topic is the county’s procedures for land purchases.
In September 2016, a Public Records Request was filed with the county requesting their procedures for acquisition of real property. The only document produced in response to this lawful request was the ELAMP Standard Operating Procedures. It was also posted on the county website. But when questioned about whether the county was properly following those procedures in their attempt to purchase the Gulf Harbors golf course, the county’s response was that this document was only a draft, even though it was dated back in 2007, and it was removed from the website.
Since then, the county has advanced a new theory. The county’s legal representative, when asked about this ELAMP SOP in his deposition, stated under oath “We’re not required to use this”, and “It’s the County’s position that policies must be adopted by the Board in order for them to be official and be required by staff to follow up.”
ELAMP uses voter approved Penny For Pasco funds to purchase land, and the county has now taken the legal position that there are no procedures the county is obligated to follow when the county spends these taxpayer funds to purchase land.
This lack of procedures has real world consequences. When the county purchased the Magnolia Valley and Timber Oaks golf courses, they did not do any environmental testing before they bought them, completely contrary to any good real estate practice. For Timber Oaks, the cost to clean up the contaminants that were in fact found after the purchase has not been fully disclosed. The question has been asked for a year now, just who is going to pay for that cleanup. Is the seller going to pay, will the county, or is it going to end up being added to the MSBU that the Timber Oaks residents will have to pay. The county has still not answered that question.
Pasco County recently received a Distinguished Budget Presentation Award, and I offer my congratulations to staff that prepared the budget. The county has some talented and dedicated people, particularly at ELAMP, who want to do the right thing, but this lack of formal procedures leaves the door open for error, or manipulation of the purchase process. The county should follow best practices for land purchases, and not leave it to the whim of those negotiating the purchase, or those directing it.
This also applies to the county’s extensive use of MSBU’s. An MSBU taxes a specific community for a project that is supposed to benefit that community. All MSBU’s proposed by the county should be subjected to greater scrutiny to ensure they meet that standard, and should be challenged when necessary. Current events demonstrate that these MSBUs can in fact be challenged, and can be done so successfully.