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Letters to the Editors

Let's set record straight about commissioner

© St. Petersburg Times
published June 16, 2002

Editor: Re: Halls River decision was backed by laws and property rights, June 2 letter to the editor from County Commissioner Jim Fowler:

"I am not a crook," said former President Richard Nixon, setting the record straight. Ditto for Bill Clinton, who "never had sexual relations with that woman." It's good to savor such veracity when reading the likes of Commissioner Jim Fowler's recent epistle.

It was, Fowler said in presidential tones, time to dispel "misinformation" about his vote on the Halls River Retreat condos and "set the record straight." He begins with a light history of the Citrus County Comprehensive Plan and heavy defense of the developer who "researched our local laws and regulations before the sale and confirmed both the zoning and allowance uses."

What? His research missed the fact our comp plan prohibits high-density development west of U.S. 19? Fowler explains that the parcel was zoned "mixed use" and was fair game for high-density development. Yes, and that's utterly irrelevant. The comp plan overrides any and all such zoning loopholes at the local level. Fowler knows this, yet refuses to confront it.

He goes on: "The professionals (county staff) retained by Citrus County government found the project in compliance and recommended approval." This is a real lie of omission. The county Planning and Development Review Board, which sits in judgment of staff recommendations, voted 6-1 against the project. Why does Fowler dance around this? How much data did the PDRB give him that he clearly ignored? Tons of it.

The pattern here is one of arrogant disregard for the laws designed to guide the intelligent growth of this county. Fowler's excuse? "To deny a citizen his constitutional property rights because a room full of people are present is not why I was elected." (Actually, Jim, it's a county full of people.)

On a personal level, I am one who is thoroughly fatigued by the commissioner's jousting with windmills in the name of "constitutional property rights." I've read both state and U.S. constitutions and consulted experts. I have one constitutional property right and one only: To be reimbursed at the going rate if the government needs my land for the common good. That's it. That's all.

Government cares nothing about my financial fantasies or that I plan to make money building condos. Those who want it otherwise, like Fowler, have been defeated at every level of jurisprudence, including the Supreme Court.

Fowler's argument that his vote averted a lawsuit that "if lost, would have cost the taxpayers millions and millions" is self-aggrandizing fiction. It was, in fact, his vote that now has the county hip-deep in costly litigation.

After throwing out the welcome mat to any and all speculators to come ravage the most beautiful and fragile corners of our county "because it is their right," Fowler closes with this final, mind-boggling bit of schizophrenia:

"I've lived here a long time, and I want my grandsons to love and appreciate this beautiful place we call home."

Love and appreciate this beautiful place? What little will be left of it soon.

Not your grandsons, nor ours. His.

Is the record straight enough now?
-- Holden Hayes, Homosassa

A similar development problem

Editor: Fans of developer F. Blake Longacre's proposed Halls River Retreat condos, pay close attention. Since 1995, a similar drama has been unfolding in Martin County. Developer Thom Thompson decided to ignore the Comprehensive Plan and erect apartment buildings in a community vociferously opposed to them. Just like here.

A naive, eager-to-please county staff assured Mr. Thompson he was in compliance with local development codes. Just like here.

The Planning and Development Review Board took a look at the staff findings and said, no, you're not in compliance, not with a lot of things, especially the intent of the comp plan. Just like here.

Three of five Martin commissioners, who hid behind staff recommendations and ignored their own PDRB while pretending the comp plan didn't exist, rammed things through anyway. Just like here.

An enraged local citizenry, in a move that startled the three arrogant commissioners, took the case to the courts. Just like here.

Thompson, smugly convinced "his boys" were empowered to interpret the comp plan as they saw fit, went ahead and built the apartments anyway. Almost like here. (Longacre remains so smugly convinced "his boys" are likewise empowered, he recently announced units are up for sale.)

Well, folks, the vote is in, and it's demolition time. The Florida Supreme Court says Thompson is officially out of appeals and his five buildings now face the bulldozers. In a 47-page ruling, the Florida State Court of Appeals said: "Section 163.3215 requires that all development conform to the approved Comprehensive Plan, and that development orders be consistent with that plan. This statute is framed as a rule, a command to cities and counties that they must comply with their own comprehensive plans. . . . This statute does not say that local governments (commissioners) shall have some discretion as to whether a proposed development should be consistent with the Comprehensive Plan. Consistency with a Comprehensive plan is NOT a discretionary matter."

This should end the shell game "hide-the-truth" Commissioner Jim Fowler has played with Citrus County residents for four months. Despite his "constitutional property rights" smokescreen, there is but one overriding issue: "No planned development in the Coastal High Hazard Zone."

Now that the courts have spoken, spurious interpretations of our county comp plan by commissioners like Fowler are history. Just like there.
-- Jim Nicoll, Homosassa

To clarify ambulance information

Editor: Re: Many in county can't afford ambulance service, letter to editor June 6:

After reading this letter regarding the "business dealings" of Nature Coast Emergency Medical Services, I am compelled to respond.

The statistics and statements referenced can cause undue concern for residents in the area, particularly if not accurate.

Nature Coast EMS is a Blue Cross/Blue Shield provider. However, ambulance service is not a category of service eligible to "contract" as a network provider or "PPO." These categories (as defined by BC/BS) include physicians, hospitals, home health agencies, independent labs, ambulatory surgical centers, etc. So, there is the truth. Nature Coast EMS holds no contract with Blue Cross, nor does any other ambulance service in the state of Florida.

As for the concerns regarding Medicare insured patients receiving service from Nature Coast EMS, these patients are in no way affected by any contract (or lack thereof) with Blue Cross/Blue Shield. Nature Coast is an approved Medicare provider and does accept Medicare assignment. What this means to any Medicare patient is simply this: NCEMS agrees to accept the "allowed" amount designated by Medicare as payment in full if no supplemental insurance is in place.

Example: Ms. Jones requires medically necessary transport to a nearby hospital resulting in a $365 bill.

Medicare receives this bill and "allows" $255. As contract dictates, Nature Coast EMS must write off the difference of $110.

Of the $255 allowed by Medicare, they pay 80 percent ($196) and the balance of 20 percent ($59) becomes the patient responsibility because Ms. Jones presently has no supplemental coverage.

The remaining Blue Cross/Blue Shield insureds in Citrus County are affected only by the terms of their own plan in effect at the time of service and the "allowed" amount, as determined by Blue Cross.

Some plans provide for 70 percent reimbursement rates, while others pay covered services at 80 percent. This is typically an industry standard and applies to most other insurance companies as well.

Finally, ambulance service is not without cost. The courage and humanity demonstrated by EMS teams during the disastrous events of Sept. 11 is unforgettable, yet we also must recognize the quiet, often unnoticed, dedication these skilled professionals bring to their jobs every minute, every day.

These professionals, together with the medical equipment required to save your life, are available within minutes, 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

If you have an emergency, call 911 and Nature Coast will be there. Just remember, if you think the cost of the ambulance outweighs the need for the service, maybe you don't really have an emergency.

Leave the ambulance available for those of us whose family members may truly need (and appreciate) their service.
-- Denise Simmons, Inverness

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