Letter: Commissioners want Gauze Mahal for own benefit

400-REC-RANDY-COVINGTONLetter: Commissioners want Gauze Mahal for own benefit

Randy Covington
St Augustine, FL

Dear Editor:

Commissioner Sanchez and the rest of the commissioners heard last Tuesday of structural deficits in both the road maintenance and fire service operations of the county that total $13.0 million dollars a year. The Commission was informed that all the reserves used to cover these structural deficits will be exhausted in two years. The Administration presented a plethora of “revenue” enhancements such as a new sales tax, waste water fee and millage increase to make up this shortfall.

If the county is facing a potentially bankrupting scenario in two years, why is it spending the entire amount of the proceeds of the Lowe’s purchase of the old Health Department site PLUS borrowing an additional $3.65 million dollars to build a new facility for mostly non-paying tenants, “such a great idea” as he likes to call it?

Simple — Ron Sanchez has voted for every scheme to raise taxes on county citizens during his tenure. He stated he favors the Sales Tax option in last Tuesdays Commission meeting. Because he has a never ending well of taxpayer money he can seize, his priorities are just different.

The Administration claims it is less costly to build a new Health and Human Services Center. Sometimes, that is true. In this case, totally dubious because the county budget office did not allocate the cost of land and it did not allocate the cost of financing the $3.5 million dollar loan in its construction costs.

For several years now, County Commissioners Sanchez and Morris, have been crying that they are “bonded out” for twenty years and have no way to borrow money. So how will they finance the $ 3.5 million? Their go-to method of late has been commercial paper — the equivalent of a “payday loan” for county commissions with short terms and higher rates.

Morris and Sanchez blamed the previous Commission for lavish spending on the likes of the Taj Mahal for the commissioners; although Sanchez could have voted to stop construction on the very lavish county administration building, and didn’t. As with the Hastings Equestrian Center, Chairman Morris claimed he would find the waste and cut it. He, too, has voted for every tax increase scheme in his tenure.

Sanchez stopped outsourcing the management of the Amphitheater. What we have now is a millstone that cost taxpayers over $800,000 in annual operating losses. Seems Sanchez cannot separate himself from his glory days as an “entertainment” professional.

The administration hid the contract for the architect to develop the program requirements to build the new Health and Human Services Center as well as their bid for the new veteran’s clinic in their favorite hiding place — the consent agenda.

As a St Johns County taxpayer, I am tired of being treated as if I am “too foolish” or “do not understand the nuances” well enough to be trusted with the county’s contract information. There is no transparency when the county administration hides substantial items on the consent agenda anytime they fear taxpayers will get wind of what they want to do; especially, if they might object.

Nor is there transparency when county officials don’t respond fully to information requests or ask for fees to disclose information that should already be in the public’s hands.

Lastly, when it comes to providing free and low cost office and clinical space, Commissioner Sanchez declares “we are obligated” to provide those accommodations. Actually, we are not. Chapter 154 of the Florida Statues says the counties “may” choose to participate. There is no written mandate that we provide a new Health and Human Services Center to our state agencies for free. There is also a real risk that state programs, which are available today, could be discontinued tomorrow. We won’t be able to “un-build” the building if that occurs.

Commissioners Sanchez claims that scattering health and human service operations around the county is less efficient. The Environmental Operations of the Health Department could easily be housed on the empty floor in the existing permitting building, were it not for a stupid restriction on the use of that space. Yes you heard me right — there is an entire floor in the permitting building sitting empty; yet we have an “emergency” and “obligation” to build another new facility for state agencies, that pay no rent, and whose programs are only funded on a year-to-year basis.

I have decided that building a new Health and Human Services Center is nothing more than a re-election year lollipop — driven by Commissioners Morris and Sanchez egotistical need for a photo-opportunity at the groundbreaking of their very own “Guaze Mahal”.

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