Library Runs Amuck

Library Runs Amuck

While COVID-19 Still Looms

by Anne Mooney / May 1, 2020

Cautious Re-opening Plans

At its April 27 meeting, the Commission led off discussion with a tentative plan to lift restrictions on public facilities. Effective May 1, the golf course opens with social distancing and other restrictions. For complete information, go to cityofwinterpark.org/golf

Some retail shops and restaurants will also open on a limited basis. The Tennis Center, Boat Ramps, Dog Park and Farmer’s Market remain closed for the time being. Sadly, hair salons did not make the cut, either.

Plea for Patience and Protecting Medical Workers

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper pointed out that we are nowhere near having a full understanding of the novel coronavirus, citing reports in the Washington Post and elsewhere describing young infected victims, who were asymptomatic but whose vital organs were being attacked by the virus and who had suffered blood clots and strokes, leaving some permanently disabled or deceased.

In a passionate plea for the safety of doctors and other medical personnel, Cooper urged citizens to have patience and to observe protective protocols. “Masks,” she said, “are less to protect the wearer than they are to protect others from infection by asymptomatic people who are carrying the virus but who don’t know they are. We need adequate testing,” she stated, “before it is safe for us to go back to our normal lives.

”Consider the health and safety of those we turn to for help when we are least able to help ourselves,” she urged.

Site Prep at Library-Events Center Runs Amuck

After several months of distraction – like city elections, coronavirus, chickens — the Library-Events Center project once again floated to the surface – but the discussion was about what lies beneath the surface. Demucking and soil remediation of the site is underway. Brasfield & Gorrie is doing the work.

Go Back a Year to the GMP

Last year, at a May 2019 Commission Meeting, the contractor, the architects, the engineering firm and the owner’s representative for the library-events center project presented a project budget that included the long-awaited Guaranteed Maximum Price (GMP). In that budget, there was an allowance for soil remediation. During the meeting the estimated price, which was first at zero, climbed to $100,000, then to $150,000 and finally settled at $180,000. It was an ‘allowance’ instead of a line item cost, because at the time the contractor, Brasfield & Gorrie, and the geotechnical engineer, Ardaman, were not sure what they would find when they began to dig.

Commissioner Carolyn Cooper stated that she had consulted several architects not involved in the project who indicated the amount was insufficient. When Cooper brought this up at the May 2019 meeting, city staff present at the meeting dismissed her concerns as unfounded. “We’re dealing with professionals,” they said, “and they know what they’re doing.”

A Year Passes – Demucking Costs More than Double

At the April 27, 2020 virtual Commission meeting, City Manager Randy Knight reported that demucking costs have climbed to between $400,000 and $500,000. This could eat up close to half the City’s contingency fund, which Knight said was between $850,000 and $900,000 — a large hit this early in the construction process.

“Good News – Bad News”

In a communique with Commissioners and Senior Staff dated April 24, 2020, Knight wrote: “The good news/bad news. As you may recall, the commission chose to have the contractor do the demucking instead of city staff. The good news is the city can’t be blamed for delays in it taking three to four weeks longer than projected. The bad news is we are paying contractor costs instead of city costs for the labor and overhead. The allowance for this work . . . based on Ardaman’s projections of unsuitable soil was $180,000. We asked [Brasfield & Gorrie] to give us a best and worst case scenario for the remaining 5 sections . . . . In the worst case scenario this will hit the contingency for $318K. In the best case scenario it will be over by $227K.”

According to the memo, Brasfield & Gorrie had just completed week three of demucking and was projecting an additional five weeks to finish the job. They have found more unsuitable soil than Ardaman projected and have had to dig four to five feet deeper in some places. They will also have to demuck further to the west than originally projected.

Who Should Pay?

Acknowledging that the City will likely have to bear the burden of these costs, Commissioner Cooper urged Monday night that, in light of the assurances offered in the May 2019 meeting, “the City should have some opportunity for cost sharing – meaning, those representing the City’s interests should remind [Brasfield & Gorrie] of that.”

Rewind to 1958 – Muck Makes News

The Winter Park Sun reported in 1958 that the 21-acre site now known as MLK Park, recently acquired by the City by purchase and by condemnation, was in bad shape. “One-third is covered by muck which at some places goes 40 feet deep,” the Sun reported. “Heavy structures cannot be erected because of the swampy and soft condition of the land.” Then City Manager Clark Maxwell told the Sun, “The entire area has to be investigated and the ground tested before it is possible to determine how to develop it.”

The Sun went on the report, “Mr. Maxwell thinks that it would be a good idea to pump out the lake [Mendsen] and enlarge it considerably and use the residue to fill and elevate the surrounding land. It seems, however, probable that soil has to be brought in to a large part of the area to give it a firm surface. Under such a plan, the swampy Mendsen Lake would become a beautiful attraction and asset.”

Delays Are Nothing New

In a later article, the Sun reported the opening of the West New England recreation area – now MLK Park – had been delayed “because of the need to fill in much of the ground.” To supplement the soil residue they were using as landfill, Mayor Raymond W. Greene had requested contractors working on major jobs in the city to bring their construction debris to the site for use as landfill. Mayor Greene assured residents the landfill had been provided and trucked in at “no cost to the City.”

Does any of this sound familiar?

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City Approves $1 Million+ in Community Support

City Approves $1 Million+ in Community Support

But, Will the Chickens Ever Come Home to Roost?

by Anne Mooney / April 12, 2020

The City Commission met in a special session April 8 to discuss the City’s coronavirus response and to approve funding assistance for Winter Park residents during the shutdown. The City has partnered with the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce to come up with the following measures.

    • $25,000 donation to Second Harvest Food Bank for Winter Park residents. For information about receiving food or making donations go to feedhopenow.org
    • $75,000 donation to Feed the Need Program for Winter Park residents. Beginning April 14, free meals will be available at the Community Center on Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday, 3:00 to 5:00 pm, while supplies last. Walk up or drive through.
    • $50,000 in direct and matching funds to Residential Utility Bill Assistance through Heart of Florida United Way 2-1-1 program. If you are a utility customer who needs assistance, you can do a virtual chat with a 2-1-1 representative by going to HFUW.org/Chat
    • Suspension of late fees, interest payments and service disconnects for water and electricity until further notice. Customers can contact Utility Billing customer service at 407-599-3220 for flexible repayment options. 
    • An Electrical Fuel Rate Holiday resulting in reductions in total residential electric bills for the month of May 2020.
    • Free WiFi at Central Park and Shady Park.

Micro-loan program

Also discussed was a micro-loan program, jointly funded by the CRA and the City, for Winter Park small businesses that are struggling. Although $250,000 in matching funds was budgeted, there is no clear path to implementation.

To put this program in motion, the City is banking on help that may be hard to get. Lacking the necessary skills and manpower to administer a loan program, the City had planned to enlist the support of a local bank or banks for their lending expertise. The banks, however, are stretched to the limit administering unwieldy State and Federal assistance programs. The demand is overwhelming, leaving the banks without the capacity to assist the City. In addition, the City’s $250,000 contribution requires a matching donation of locally-raised private funds – and this is a difficult time for anyone who’s had the courage to look at their 401(k) lately.

According to an April 10 Press Release from the City, “Details for this program are still being finalized and will be presented for CRA Board approval at a future date.”

Fowl is Fair

At the end of the meeting in the ‘Commissioner Reports’ period, Commissioner Todd Weaver gave the other Commissioners a pullet surprise by bringing up the topic of Backyard Chickens. Surrounding communities, including Maitland and Orlando, have successful programs, but the worm has not yet turned in Winter Park.

The last attempted chicken coup was in 2016, when the Keep Winter Park Beautiful and Sustainable Advisory Board proposed a Backyard Chicken pilot program. The plan called for City Staff to issue temporary permits and work with each permit holder to assess how well the program would work in Winter Park. That plan never hatched.

Now, despite the success of other well-established urban programs and passionate pleas from local residents for a few backyard hens, the response from the other four Commissioners is tepid. Mayor Steve Leary agreed to bring the subject up for discussion at the April 13 Commission Meeting, but only for discussion, not as an action item.

Weaver acknowledged that Backyard Chickens may seem like a small thing in the face of a global pandemic – unless you’re an egg-lover who has left the Publix egg aisle empty-handed. In these days of limited social contact, many people are turning to their own gardens for sustenance, and a couple of hens could lay enough eggs to provide some much-needed protein.

So, if you run into a Commissioner who’s on the fence, you might consider egging them on to cross the road to support Poultry in Motion.

 

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CRA & Commission Meet Tomorrow – 3 pm

CRA & Commission Meet Tomorrow – 3 pm

Winter Park Goes Virtual – Not Viral

by Anne Mooney / April 7, 2020

A special meeting of the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) is scheduled tomorrow, April 8, at 3:00 pm. A meeting of the Winter Park City Commission will immediately follow the CRA meeting. Meetings will be virtual, and you must pre-register.

COVID-19 Crisis Response Proposal

The CRA and the City are working with the Chamber of Commerce to propose a community assistance program consisting of four components – utility bill assistance, matching funds support for small businesses, community food and wi-fi support and recovery support. The meetings are for the purpose of discussing and possibly adopting all or part of this program.

To Register for the Meeting

Procedures are the same as for the two previous virtual meetings. Go to https://cityofwinterpark.org/government/live-video-broadcasts and click on the “Live Virtual Meetings” button to register. If you were not registered before, enter your name and email address and click on the “Register” button.

Even if you registered for a previous meeting, you still have to register for this one. When you click the “Live Virtual Meetings” button, the page will already be populated with your information and you can just click the “Register” button.

To Offer Public Comment

There are three ways to offer public comment. You can comment prior to the meeting by emailing mayorandcommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org. Emailed comments will be part of the public record but will not be read aloud during the meeting.

If you want your comment read during the live meeting, use the Public Comment Form at <cityofwinterpark.org/public-comment> Your comments will be read into the record during the live meeting by City staff.

If you do not have internet access, you may comment by phone during the live meeting by calling 407-599-3410. This line will be active only during the meeting.

Residential & Commercial Utilities Support

The first of the four components of the proposal is utility bill assistance through the Heart of Florida United Way 211 Program. For information go to www.hfuw.org/gethelp/

The City has suspended disconnections, late fees and interest payments through May 31. Further reduction in residential and business utility costs will come through a one-month electric fuel rate reduction, which would significantly reduce utility bills.

Small Business Micro-Loans

In partnership with the Chamber of Commerce and private donors, the City proposes to contribute matching funds of up to $500,000 in micro-loans to struggling small businesses. An executive board of community leaders would be formed to oversee the program.

To qualify, the loan recipient would have to be a ‘small business’ – a term, as yet, undefined. The program would be city-wide and not confined to the CRA, and the businesses would not have to be Chamber members. For more information about this proposal, go to https://winterpark.novusagenda.com/agendapublic/CoverSheet.aspx?ItemID=1679&MeetingID=244

Food & Wi-Fi

To address food insecurity, the City will donate $50,000 and work with the 4Rivers Feed the Need Initiative and Second Harvest Food Bank to create a Winter-Park-specific food assistance program.

In partnership with Frog Telecommunications, the City will provide an early launch of fast, free public Wi-Fi available in Central Park and in Shady Park. This item was already budgeted and should be launched within the next four weeks.

Recovery Support

The City will support the community during recovery by continuing to maintain City infrastructure and continuing the Business Façade Program that is already underway.

Be Sure to Tune In3:00 pm, Wednesday, April 8. Use the Public Comment Form to make your voices heard.

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You Must Pre-Register for Virtual Commission Meeting Tomorrow at 5:00

You Must Pre-Register for Virtual Commission Meeting Tomorrow at 5:00

Registration is Open Now

by Anne Mooney / March 29, 2020

The virtual dais at the Live Virtual Commission meeting at 5:00 pm tomorrow night, Monday, March 30, will once again feature five live Commissioners. Newly elected Commissioners Marty Sullivan and Sheila DeCiccio will now be sitting in Seats #1 and #2 respectively.

Our gratitude for their service goes to former Commissioners Greg Seidel and Sarah Sprinkel, who can now watch from the comfort of their homes.

Registration for the Meeting is Open Now

Go to https://cityofwinterpark.org/government/live-video-broadcasts and click on “Live Virtual Meeting” in the yellow banner. That will take you to the registration page.

Public Comment Will Be Taken

As this is a regular meeting of the Commission, public comment will be taken during the meeting. There are three ways for citizens to comment – by email, by submitting a comment form or by phone.

Email — You may comment in advance of the meeting by emailing mayorandcommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org. Emailed comments will become part of the record but will not be read aloud.

Public Comment Form — If you would like for your comments to be read during the meeting, submit the Public Comment Form found at <cityofwinterpark.org/public-comment> The form will be accessible at 5:00 Monday as the meeting begins.

Phone – If you are unable to submit online comments, the City will activate the public comment phone line at 5:00 pm Monday – 407-599-3410. Calls will be answered by City staff, and your verbal comments will be entered into the online system on your behalf. Phoned-in comments will be read during the meeting as part of the official record.

All comments will be monitored in accordance with City standards of decorum.

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WP Goes Virtual

WP Goes Virtual

Dry Run for Special Commission Meeting Monday, March 30

by Anne Mooney / March 27, 2020

Yesterday, March 26, from 5:00 to 6:30 pm, the Winter Park City Commission held its first Virtual Meeting – and probably the first meeting ever attended by all 7 past and present commissioners. And even with 7 Commissioners present, the meeting began and ended right on schedule.

Work Session on City Response to Coronavirus Lockdown

The meeting was a live-streamed Work Session on the City’s response to the coronavirus situation. Participating from home but visible and audible on computer screens across the City were Mayor Steve Leary, Commissioners Carolyn Cooper and Todd Weaver, soon-to-be-former-Commissioners Sarah Sprinkel and Greg Seidel, Commissioners-elect Sheila DeCiccio and Marty Sullivan and City Manager Randy Knight with key city staff.

Exec Order from Governor

The meeting was made possible by an Executive Order from Governor Ron DeSantis suspending the Florida statute that required a quorum to be present in person at a specific place. The Executive Order allows local governments to utilize media technology to hold meetings.

As with any Commission Work Session, there were no Commission votes or public comment.

Dry Run for Monday’s Commission Meeting

Yesterday’s Work Session was a dry run for a Special Commission Meeting Monday, March 30 at 5:00 pm. At that meeting, the Commission will vote and take public comment. If you missed last night’s meeting, you can tune in Monday at <cityofwinterpark.org/cclive>

Register in Advance to Participate

In order to participate, you must register in advance. Space is limited, so do not delay. Go to <cityofwinterpark.org> and click on Access Virtual Commission Meeting Live Video Broadcast & Instructions. You will find all the information you need to register and participate.

Public Comment Will Be Taken Monday

Public comment will be taken at the 5:00 pm hour, as usual. You can comment in advance of the meeting by emailing mayorandcommissioners@cityofwinterpark.org  Emailed comments will become part of the record, but will not be read aloud. You can also comment by phone, and your comment will be recorded and will be audible on the live stream. The public comment line, which will be activated Monday at 5:00 pm, is 407-599-3410. Live comments will be monitored in accordance with City standards of decorum.

Meanwhile, although City Hall is closed to the public, the City itself is Open for Business.

Police and Fire-Rescue Departments are at full staffing. The Police Department reports a decline in criminal activity and calls for service, due to fewer people being on the streets.

Fire Chief Dan Hagedorn reported that, as of yesterday, there were 2,235 reported COVID19 cases in Florida, with one fatality. Two cases have been reported in Winter Park – one is a resident and one a non-resident. Emergency crews who transported these patients to the hospital are on 14-day quarantine as a precaution, but are showing no symptoms.

Parks & Recreation Director Jason Seeley reported that the March 13 order of a 10-person-group limit marked the drawdown of City recreational programs. Playgrounds are now closed, but open spaces such as Central Park and Mead Botanical Garden are open, with social distancing required. Monday’s Commission meeting will likely see decisions to close the Dinky Dock boat ramp and the Winter Park Golf Course. Citizens may enjoy continued lake access from their private docks.

Infrastructure departments such as the Electric Utility, Water & Waste Water, Code Enforcement and the Building Department are open and active.

City Budget

In his discussion of the budget, City Manager Randy Knight acknowledged that the City anticipates a drop in revenue, but said it is difficult to tell at this early stage how great or small that will be or how long it will last. Knight said he does not anticipate cutting essential services for residents. He plans to present the Commission with a revised budget for this Fiscal Year.

City Assistance to Residents & Businesses

Utility cutoffs for non-payment have been suspended, and staff is working on programs to assist residents and businesses with utility payment plans. City Staff will work with the Winter Park Chamber of Commerce to help local businesses apply for loans and other financial assistance. Restaurants are allowed to offer takeout and delivery services.

City staff is working to develop virtual programs for youth and seniors. The City is considering creating a micro-loan program for businesses in the CRA. And the City Manager is looking into acquiring Federal assistance available to state and local governments.

 

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DeCiccio & Sullivan Win Commission Seats

DeCiccio & Sullivan Win Commission Seats

10 Charter Amendments Approved

by Anne Mooney / March 18, 2020

 

Sheila DeCiccio & Marty Sullivan

Well, it’s over for another year, but newly elected Commissioners Marty Sullivan (Seat #1) and Sheila DeCiccio (Seat #2) will not take their seats on the dais March 23, as that Commission meeting has been cancelled because of the current health crisis. Here’s hoping April will see us return to normal.

Thanks to Blydenburgh and Creasman

Our City owes a debt of gratitude to the four candidates and their supporters who worked so hard in this race. To Carl Creasman and Jeffrey Blydenburgh, we appreciate your engagement in our community and your willingness to serve, and we look forward to your ongoing contributions as our City continues to go about its work.

Poll Results – Commission Races

As of February 20, Winter Park has 22,366 registered voters. Of those, 8,610 – or 38.5 percent – cast their votes. Not every voter voted for every ballot item, however. Apparently, there were around 600 voters who voted only in the Presidential Primary and declined to participate in the local races. In the races for the two Commission seats, for instance, fewer than 8,000 cast votes.

For Commission Seat #1, Marty Sullivan received 4,360 votes and Jeffrey Blydenburgh received 3,519, for a total of 7,986 votes cast. Votes not cast, called “under votes,” totaled 624.

For Commission Seat #2, Sheila DeCiccio garnered 5,415 votes to Carl Creasman’s 2,366, for a total of 7,989, with 627 under votes.

Ballot Amendment Results

All Charter Amendments passed except one. Question #9, on whether the City Auditor Contract Term should go from three to five years, failed by a decisive margin – 4,442 to 2,712.

The Charter Amendment questions fared even worse than Commission races in number of votes cast. Although this is only conjecture, it looks like voters may have simply gotten bored with the exercise as they began going down the list of Charter Amendment questions. Question #1, which established the use of gender-neutral language throughout the Charter, drew 7,785 votes. That number declined steadily, so that by Question #11, only 6,977 people cast votes.

For a detailed breakdown of votes on the Commission races and the City Charter Amendments, go to https://cityofwinterpark.org/government/city-info/election-info/

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