The commissioner writes to residents urging them to speak up on a county-chamber building plan.
By SHANNON COLAVECCHIO-VAN SICKLER
Published August 15, 2003
In recent weeks, county Commissioner Ronda Storms made clear her reservations regarding a $9.2-million proposal to improve Pauls Drive and build a regional service center there next to a new Brandon chamber headquarters.
She aired her concerns to local media. At a commission meeting last month, she voted against pursuing the venture with the Greater Brandon Chamber of Commerce.
But to make sure nobody missed her point, Storms recently spent more than $8,000 in taxpayer money to mail some 20,000 letters outlining her concerns to Brandon property owners.
The one-page, double-sided letter on official county letterhead cited a number of questions and potential pitfalls related to the county-chamber deal. It ended by urging residents to give their input at the public meeting that was held Thursday. While one commissioner worries the costly mailing sets a "dangerous precedent," Storms insists it's a small price to pay if it makes more residents aware of a multimillion dollar project that also would be financed with their tax dollars.
"We should take extra steps to notify the people," Storms said this week. "Disclose, disclose, disclose, give them all the information and then let them bless it or not."
According to the proposal, the county would pay for half of 5 acres on the east side of Pauls Drive south of Oakfield Drive. The chamber would buy a quarter of the land, leaving the remainder with the current owner. The sale price would be determined through appraisals.
The county would build a 25,000- to 30,000-square-foot facility; the chamber would use its land for a new headquarters.
County real estate director Mike Kelly says the partnership will save money because both parties share the cost of parking and land. Moreover, it would invest $4.2-million in public money into the 300-acre Brandon Main Street. Pauls Drive has long been planned as the gateway into Main Street.
But in her letter that begins "Dear Brandon Residents," Storms questions whether Pauls Drive needs $5-million in improvements, now that construction of the Brandon Parkway has eliminated Pauls' direct access from Brandon Boulevard to Lumsden Road.
"Is there another Main Street roadway where the public would be better served in spending that $5-million?" she asks.
Storms sent the letters to property owners in ZIP codes 33510 and 33511. The effort cost about $8,200, including more than $2,600 for printing.
The money came from the commission's annual budget, which covers salaries, benefits and operational costs. Of the $1.8-million budgeted for the year ending Sept. 30, $16,000 is set aside for postage; $24,800 is set aside for printing, according to the budget department.
"This could be a costly venture, ultimately, because it sets a precedent for the other commissioners," said Commissioner Jan Platt. "If we all start doing this, it could break the bank."
"We have no policy either way," said Pat Bean, deputy county administrator. "And I know of other commissioners who have done that over the years. She certainly is not the first."
- Staff writer Janet Zink contributed to this report. Shannon Colavecchio-Van Sickler can be reached at 661-2443 or firstname.lastname@example.org