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 Martin County

COMMISSION MEETING FEBRUARY 20, 2024

This was the big day when the commission got to weigh in on the ½ cent sales tax to buy lands in designated ecologically sensitive areas.

Speaker after speaker from a wide swath of organizations and the public spoke in favor of placing the referendum on the November ballot. (I was one of the residents who spoke in favor.) The group known as Martin County Forever, spearheaded by Jim Snedeker and Merritt Matheson, has done a superb job of gathering support among such diverse organizations as the Everglades Coalition and the Martin County Taxpayers Association. That is no easy feat.

Jim Snedeker Martin County Forever

Regardless of whether a citizen would vote for or against the sales tax, I don’t know too many people who can’t agree on the concept of letting the people choose. Today was not an endorsement of the idea either way but it is a fundamental democratic right to have the people decide on this type of tax for this type of project.

As Matheson said, “today is Phase 1.” Once on the ballot, then having it passed kicks in. Michael Syrkus, who is a candidate for the district 5 seat, was one negative voice. He wanted to use the FPL franchise fee to buy the land... if at all. The fee already is dedicated to roads and stormwater infrastructure projects.

Smith was fully in support of the concept. He mentioned Allapattah and C-44 as things the county did earlier. He then said something about falling on his sword to support this. Smith believes the people should decide. Then for some unfathomable reason, he mentioned how people should also decide how long commissioners should stay in office and not have Tallahassee mandate it.

Ciampi was also in support of allowing the voters to decide about the sales tax. When asking for funds to purchase land, Tallahassee always wants to know how much Martin is contributing. He welcomes the audit and strong citizen input on an advisory committee. Ciampi motioned to have the referendum.

Heard said they needed to buy the land and the money can be leveraged. She seconded.

Jenkins, who was absent, hoped that it would pass. Administrator Donaldson read his remarks.

Next came a discussion about the ordinance that would implement the sales tax if passed. You could see the joy go out of the room. The ordinance contained names of organizations that would be on the citizens’ committee. Smith wanted to strike the names of the organizations.

Sarah Woods said she did not want to name the organizations in the ordinance because the ordinance would need to go before the public to be changed if any member organizations of the oversight board changed. Both Heard and Smith agreed. Heard stated that she didn’t want to tie the hands of the commission.

Smith went on to say that there is a lack of trust toward the commission. And that is because people think that the commission broke the law when they voted for other sales tax proceeds to build things like the water park.

The commission did not break the law when they used those funds in ways the public thought were wrong. The public believed they were voting to improve things like parks. Not create a new thing like a water park. Commissioner Smith, the citizens do not trust the commission to use the proceeds as intended. That is why there is such a stringent safeguard of naming the various groups that would be members of the oversight board.

Smith had mentioned letting the voters decide about whether a commissioner should be reelected not the legislature. His remarks were in response to the legislature having a term limits bill of eight years for county commissioners moving through committees now. I believe it will pass.

I was not a big term limits fan until the last few years. And Smith is the reason.

The August election is really a primary. If no Democrat is in the race, then every registered voter votes and the winner is elected. However, if a no name write-in candidate files, then the race is considered contested in November. Only Republicans can vote in August. The Democrats and NPAs do not get to vote then. So, any other Republican running against Doug is deprived of any nonparty supporters. Doug has put up the no name candidate in the past to do just that.

Is it legal? Sure is. But with more than half the voters not having a voice, it isn’t what small “d” democracy is all about. That is why I want term limits. And that is why we need to tie the hands of the commission with respect to the sales tax.

Ciampi got it right here. He said he would have no problem with an oversight board with people other than commissioners’ appointees. In fact, he welcomes the scrutiny. It legitimizes the committee. He understands the mistrust whether warranted or not.

It passed 4-0 without the language of the resolution that enumerated certain groups as being members of the committee.

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