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City Commissioner Heather Moraitis’ November 2019 Newsletter

City Commissioner Heather Moraitis’ November 2019 Newsletter

Commentary

*In her November 2019 Newsletter, District 1 City Commissioner Heather Moraitis addresses the concerns of her Telephone Town Hall Meeting participants, outlining City plans to mitigate the adverse impacts of sea level rise by implementing long-delayed infrastructure improvements and citing detailed Master Plan objectives to contain stormwater threats and strengthen seawalls. Moraitis also invites constituents to attend the annual Light up the Galt, visit Santa on the Beach, snatch a free tree from the City, and serve on a municipal board.

Public Works Band-Aids or Resiliency?

In aspiring to resiliency, Fort Lauderdale had to change the primary beneficiaries of its municipal maintenance protocols. No longer solely placating the Developers, speculators and other deep-pocketed transient property owners (mostly major campaign contributors), the City Commission suddenly shunned a decades-long predisposition for inexpensive firehouse-style repairs in favor of sustainable development – finally addressing the needs of current and future long-term residents.

Growing Number of Exploding Water Mains

For decades, City Administrations neglected sewer systems, water treatment & distribution venues, storm drains and seawalls for fear of how increasing the millage might undermine their prospects for re-election. Also left to rot were roads, sidewalks, traffic control systems, parks, municipal structures (i.e. FLPD Headquarters, City Hall, etc.), canals, bridges, and other municipal infrastructure.

Instead of adapting inadequate infrastructure to meet the exigencies of advanced deterioration, commercial expansion and population growth, Commissioners restricted allocations to repairing catastrophic failures in aging sewers, storm drains and water lines that were originally built to service the city’s population when it was a fraction of its current size.

Despite repeated City assurances of infrastructure sufficiency, the increasing frequency of exploding water mains, sewer failures and backflowing storm drains often immersed entire neighborhoods knee-deep in seawater. Minimizing the specter of infrastructure collapse, water and sewer funds were annually hijacked and used to balance the budget.

A cyclone of public blowback pressured the City to empanel an infrastructure task force, and quantify the structural and financial impact of ongoing chronic maintenance failures. Official findings confirmed that the City’s future functionality would minimally cost $1.4 billion to salvage heavily eroded infrastructure, $1 billion for stormwater improvements, and roughly another half $billion to upgrade roads, seawalls, sidewalks, bridges, etc. Whether financed through bond issues or direct levy, taxpayers and ratepayers will have to cough up roughly $3 billion to help secure the City’s future.

Stantec vs. the Galt Mile

Eleven years ago, Galt Mile officials uncovered a shell game in a Water & Sewer rate schedule created by City consultant Burton & Associates. While publicly applauding the plan’s standardized rate tiers for all residential customers, City officials never mentioned how an accompanying block rate schedule forced multi-family homeowners to subsidize their counterparts in Single Family homes.

After a decade of fighting to mitigate this abuse, Galt Mile officials finally achieved rate parity for association homeowners in September 2019, when the City Commission approved the proposed 2020 Water & Sewer rates. Since city consultant Stantec acquired Burton & Associates in 2016, the same “expert” who created the billing disparity in 2009 was integrally involved with the new rate schedule, and had attempted to once again skew multi-family Water & Sewer rates.

With the support of City Commissioners Heather Moraitis, Steve Glassman, Ben Sorensen, Robert McKinzie and Mayor Dean Trantalis, Stantec’s poison pill was excised, and an equitable new rate schedule was enacted. However, while Galt Mile water & sewer customers finally won a level playing field, Stantec was planning to create a new billing disparity – in a proposed formula for Stormwater rates. 

Burton – An Old Dog with Old Tricks

The City’s projected $1 billion stormwater plan will allocate the proceeds of an initial $200 million bond issue to control the watersheds in the 7 City neighborhoods most vulnerable to flooding – including Dorsey Riverbend; Durrs, Edgewood, Progresso, River Oaks, Southeast Isles and Victoria Park. Funding these projects will require a 54 percent increase in stormwater rates. Instead of assessing ratepayers a citywide 54 percent price hike, the Wonder Boys in Stantec decided to impose a 34% premium on Single Family homes while burdening association homeowners with a crushing 84% cost increase.

Not surprisingly, the basis for this new disparity has no relationship to a property’s exposure to stormwater impacts nor the actual cost of mitigating those impacts. As such, Galt Mile officials will have to educate Commissioners about the inherent inequity in Stantec’s formula, while illuminating a predilection of Stantec Guru Michael Burton to craft irrational criteria that fiscally abuses association homeowners 

Otherwise, association homeowners will once again be forced to subsidize their neighbors in Single-Family homes, an outcome that has long resonated with Mr. Burton. For District 1 Commissioner Heather Moraitis’ November 2019 message to constituents, see elsewhere in this edition. – [editor]*


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ELSS Scam: Bolstering Legislative Plan with Regulatory Inquiry

Text Box: Ellyn Bogdanoff Addresses Committee
Ellyn Bogdanoff Addresses Committee

High-rise associations across Florida (including those on the Galt Mile) threatened with an onerous assessment to fund an Engineered Life Safety System (ELSS) coalesced to form the “Florida Association of Condominiums to Support Self-Determination” or FACTSS. A statewide advocacy organization, FACTSS adopted a central legislative objective with the help of former State Senator Ellyn Bogdanoff – to provide association homeowners with a legal right to forego retrofitting a gratuitous, budget-busting ELSS (i.e. enacting an ELSS Opt-Out). Having authored the 2010 Statutory amendment that empowered high-rise association homeowners to opt-out of a fire sprinkler retrofit, Bogdanoff’s conversance with this issue is unparalleled.

Governor Ron DeSantis Signs House Bill 7103

On June 28, 2019, Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill 7103. Despite the efforts of Fire Sprinkler Associations finger-puppet Senator Ed Hooper and an army of well-funded lobbyists,  Representatives Michael Grieco and Chip LaMarca, Senators Jason Pizzo, Jeff Brandes – and Tallahassee pundit Ellyn Bogdanoff – shifted a December 31, 2019 ELSS retrofit deadline to January 1, 2024, providing several million at risk Florida residents with a variety of regulatory and legislative opportunities to thwart this $multi-billion scam.

Senator Ed Hooper

However, when convened during election years (such as 2020), Florida legislative sessions typically degenerate into hotbeds of campaign fund-raising – as contributions are bartered for political patronage. In this mercenary slop sink, legislative outcomes typically succumb to the dictates of deep pocketed special interests – like the corporate juggernauts that anchor Fire Sprinkler Associations. In response to this prospective pitfall, FACTSS complemented its ongoing legislative struggle with a collateral legal strategy.

Representative Michael Grieco

Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis serves as the state’s Chief Financial Officer, the State Fire Marshal, and as a member of the Florida Cabinet. Among the state agencies that comprise his fiefdom are the Department of Financial Services and the Division of State Fire Marshal.

FACTSS has filed a petition for Declaratory Statement with Patronis’ Department of Financial Services. In short, it questions whether local Fire Marshals have the right to require that an ELSS include fire sprinklers in associations that legally voted to opt-out of a fire sprinkler retrofit. To help edify millions of Florida condo residents subject to this regulatory extortion, the following update was posted on the FACTSS website:


FACTSS Files Challenge to ELSS Sprinkler Requirement

FACTSS, the Florida Association of Condominiums To Support Self-Determination, Inc., filed a request for a declaratory statement from the Florida Fire Marshal to validate requiring sprinklers as part of the Engineered Life Safety System (ELSS) requirement. 

The main question posed to the State Fire Marshal is this: “Under what authority can the State and/or local Fire Marshal require a fire sprinkler system, whether in the units or in common areas, as part of an ELSS if the association followed the proper procedures outlined in statute and opted out of retrofitting sprinklers anywhere on its association property?” 

Galt Mile President Pio Ieraci Testifies

This challenge is in response to FACTSS member associations throughout the state being told by their local fire marshals that pursuant to the fire code adopted by the State of Florida, they may be obligated to install fire sprinklers as part of an ELSS. Many associations are being told by the local fire marshal that their ELSS plans would not be approved if it did not include a sprinkler system.

Associations affected by ELSS are those whose owners voted to opt-out of retrofitting their entire building under state law passed in 2010. Owners had until 2016 to conduct the opt-out vote.  FACTSS’ argument is basically that if associations voted to opt-out of a sprinkler retrofit under state law, then an administrative decision by the State Fire Marshal cannot overrule state law by mandating fire sprinklers. 


Digging Out the Truth

As questionably interpreted in a May 4, 2016 Declaratory Statement, the office of State Fire Marshal contends that although demanding fire sprinklers in associations that opted out violates State law, mandating fire sprinklers under the guise of an ELSS complies with the Florida Fire Prevention Code.

Text Box: Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis
Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis

Although the Florida CFO (State Fire Marshal) and his Department of Financial Services have broad discretion in crafting Declaratory Statements, Patronis can neither ignore nor revise the Florida Statutes. As such, his agency’s response to this tactical inquiry should clarify that the current policy is based on the mistaken premise that an Administrative Code interpretation trumps a Statute enacted by the Florida Legislature. Needless to say, it doesn’t.

The impact of this strategy could resonate in the Legislature – and the courthouse – where several Florida associations have filed legal actions against their respective local fire marshals for allegedly exceeding their authority. Stay tuned!!!