Yesterday, Florida's new Surgeon General issued a new Rule regarding students and COVID-19 quarantines. In accordance with the rule, a parent or guardian of a child who has been exposed to a person infected with the virus will still be notified by a school official. If the student shows any COVID-19 symptoms, they must stay home as outlined in the rule. Free COVID-19 testing is available at local pharmacies and the Lake County Health Department. However, if the exposed student has no symptoms, parents or the legal guardian can opt to quarantine the exposed child, without penalty for being absent, or to allow the exposed student to attend school without restrictions. Students that test positive for COVID-19 are still required to quarantine and will not be penalized for being absent. With the new rule, a child currently under quarantine, but not positive for COVID-19 and showing no symptoms, can return to school if decided by the parent or guardian. Lake County Schools is encouraging parents to regularly monitor their child’s health for any COVID-19 symptoms and if present they must stay home as outlined in the rule. Additionally, the school district recommends that all students exposed to COVID-19 wear a mask for seven to ten days when they return as a precautionary measure.
By Marc Crail Mount Dora City Council Representative, District 4
First allow me to apologize for being so late in sending out these meeting notes. I've been experiencing "technical difficulties" since last Friday that prevented me from sending or receiving email from the City's platform. If you've sent me an email and I haven't responded I will soon. We're good to go now although what was once Breaking News has turned into Yesterday's News.
Our 9/7/21 city council meeting was just shy of 5 hours long with many important discussions and action items. I've selected a few of them that I think you might be most interested in. As usual, please understand the I'm not reporting on behalf of Mount Dora City Council, what follows comes from me alone.
We heard an encouraging update from city staff regarding the rail-trail project. Tavares and Mount Dora have each approved sharing the project costs. Lake County Commissioners also were meeting on 9/7 and hopefully they have also committed to spend about $15 million of their American Rescue Plan funds on this important project. I haven't heard the results of their meeting yet. If all the partners are in, we will attempt to strike a deal with CSX Railroad to purchase their right away.
There was another long discussion and vote following our City Attorney's presentation on the petition seeking to amend the City Charter with language limiting building heights in the Historic District. This may seem like an open and shut issue but like many things, simple answers to complex questions are not adequate. Here's the quick and dirty version from last night's meeting, from a non-lawyer's perspective. Here goes...
Council had asked our City Attorney to give us her best thinking on a "Sufficiency Determination" in regards to the petition on building heights. I am not an attorney so I readily admit that I have no expertise in the legalities involved. I depend on our City Attorney to guide me. In essence, our City Attorney strongly suggested that because of several changes in Florida case law over the past decade or so, this kind of land development code issue would not be able to be the subject of a City Charter amendment. That is her legal opinion. Other attorneys may have other opinions but our attorney was adamant in her advice to us.
After the discussion a motion was made to waive the improper form used by the petitioners (it lacked either the signer's date of birth or the signer's Voter's I.D. number) and to move forward allowing the petition being validated. That motion failed in a 3-4 vote. Voting "yes" were Doug Bryant, Pam Burtnett, and Cathy Hoechst. Massy, Rolfson, Gunther and I voted "no".
I suggested that in order to work toward resolving this issue that is creating such ill will and divisiveness among our residents we should convene a blue-ribbon commission (not unlike a citizens' Charter Review Commission) to carefully study and come up with a set of recommendations that would meet the needs of our citizens and help mend the rift we are experiencing. We need to get to work on this asap.
The petitioners seem likely to proceed with their plans to ask the Lake County Supervisor of Elections to verify the signatures and if they have a sufficient number, they can come back to City Council then Council will consider it again.
Plans were approved for adding 20 additional parking places at the W. T. Bland Library.
You're probably aware that we are looking for a new City Manager. We had over 50 applicants and cut the field to 9 semifinalists. We ranked those semi-finalists at the meeting and will invite the top 5 to come for in person interviews, meet with city staff and have a reception to meet and greet the Mount Dora public later this month.
After months of work we have decided that we can reduce the Fire Assessment fee down from $219 per house to $209 per year.
You'll recall that just to be safe, we had preliminarily proposed a maximum millage rate of 6.2 mills for owner occupied houses for next year. Our goal was to reduce that initial tentative millage 6.2 mills to 6.0 mills. We were able to come in a little bit under that at 5.9603 mills.
That's what I have for you today. Please be sure to fact check and double-check that information that is being circulated about current issues. It's important to make certain that you are getting factual information. That leads me to a quote by Mark Twain who said; "A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes".
Thanks for allowing me to serve as your District 4 Mount Dora Council member.
By Marc Crail Mount Dora City Council Representative, District 4
Last week Lake County Schools Superintendent Diane Kornegay proposed a plan that would require students and staff at schools with the highest COVID-19 positivity rates to wear masks until the rates drop. Masks would continue to be strongly encouraged, but not required, at schools with lower positivity rates. Kornegay called the proposed policy “a risk-based, data-driven system that allows for a targeted rather than a sweeping approach” to help reduce the spread of the virus in schools and the growing number of students being sent home for quarantines because of exposure. School Board took no action on the plan at their special meeting on September 2, however, it plans to vote at its Thursday, September 9th special meeting. Under the new policy, staff would review the positivity rate for each school over a two-week period. Any school with a positivity rate below 3 percent would be categorized as “Green.” Those between 3 and 4.9 percent would be identified as “Yellow.” Those at 5 percent or higher would be classified as “Red.” When a school reaches “Red,” students, parents and staff would be notified and masks would be required until the positivity rate at the school drops below 5 percent and is maintained for 14 calendar days. “If the fire alarm goes off at Treadway Elementary, we don’t evacuate the students at Beverly Shores Elementary,” Kornegay told the board in her presentation on September 2. “But we react to the alarm at Treadway. Looking at the data, we can see that the alarm has gone off at Treadway, which has a positivity rate of 8.27 percent (for Aug. 16 – 27) while the positivity rate at Beverly Shores has remained under 2 percent.” Other Lake schools in the “Red” zone based on data from Aug. 16-27 included: ·Seminole Springs Elem – 6.00% ·Umatilla Elementary – 6.88% ·Eustis Middle – 6.83% ·Mount Dora Middle – 6.41% ·Umatilla Middle – 7.01% ·Umatilla High – 5.70% Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order prohibiting school districts from implementing mask requirements without allowing parents to opt out, and the superintendent’s proposal allows parents to opt out of having their child wear a mask, even when their school has a positivity rate higher than 5 percent. To initiate an opt-out, parents would be asked to complete a form or send a letter to the school. Leon County Circuit Judge John C. Cooper recently ruled that the governor’s order is unconstitutional. But the governor’s order remains in effect until the judge’s final written order is submitted. If the law changes and the School Board approves Kornegay’s proposal as it currently stands, Lake County schools that move into the “Red” category would require masks and accept parent opt-outs for medical reasons only. Under this scenario, students whose parents opt against them wearing a mask when their schools are in the “Red” zone could choose to allow their children to temporarily work from home without being marked as absent. They would complete assignments through Google Classroom with the help of teachers from the district’s Lake Assist after-hours student support program until the positivity rates drop and the mask requirement is lifted.
The September 9th special meeting will begin at 9:30 at the Lake County Administration Building, rather than the school district office. The livestream of the meeting is available here.
It’s anything but just another year for Mount Dora High School. 2021 marks its 100-Year Anniversary, and one of the ways the school is marking the milestone is with a community fundraiser to improve its deteriorated stadium and peripheral athletic facilities.
The school’s principal, Marlene Straughan, along with an energized group of parents, organized a fundraiser for renovating the two aging concession stands and restrooms which are in severe disrepair, as well as adding a press box and sound system. The group also intends to address problems with the Hurricane locker rooms and PAC House.
The Hurricane’s football field has been plagued with drainage issues because of the natural spring that flows underneath. Currently, any period of heavy rain renders the field unsafe for sports until it has had an appropriate number of days to dry out. Lake County Schools has pledged $250,000 toward fixing the drainage and re-sodding the approximately 97,000 square- foot field. The drainage work is set to begin in February, 2022.
The goal is to raise $2 million to include design, construction, potential overruns and an endowment for future maintenance of the almost 50-year old stadium and auxiliary structures. The top priorities are the concession stands, restrooms and press box, however if the entire fundraising goal is reached, the secondary improvements can be done, as well as the endowment.
Families and businesses can purchase engraved bricks that will be installed on the home side of the stadium for $100 to $250 depending on the size. Donors of $1000 or more will receive an appreciation plaque on the building, and naming rights for both the field and stadium are separately being offered for donations of $250,000 or more. All donations are being handled through Mount Dora Community Trust and can be made online here. Logistics and bids will be handled by Lake County Schools.
By Marc Crail Mount Dora City Council, District 4 Representative
Mount Dora City Council held its last in a series of Budget Workshops this morning. It's difficult to condense all of the details into a few paragraphs but I'm going to try. If you have specific questions about the proposed budget, feel free to contact me. Just as always, please be aware that what follows comes from me not from City Council as a whole.
You've heard me say this before but it's important to know that creating a budget is a moving target. If a hurricane hits in the next few weeks or city hall burns to the ground tomorrow our "budget" will need to be changed drastically. We are still receiving new figures from the State of Florida. A new batch of numbers arrived late yesterday afternoon and more could follow in the upcoming days or weeks.
The next steps for adopting our FY 2021-22 budget will consist of a first public hearing at 5:30 p.m. on September 7th. when we will adopt a tentative millage rate and budget. Then at a second public hearing on September 21st. at 5:30 we will adopt the final millage and budget. These are public meetings at City Hall.
One important factor that is totally out of our control is inflation. The August 2021 CPI shows overall prices are rising by 5.4% year over year. Will that rate of inflation slow down or will it go even higher in the upcoming months? Who knows for sure, but we have to plan for higher energy costs, higher costs for construction, gasoline, etc.
I got my TRIM Notice in the mail yesterday. When you get yours, you will notice that in the line titled "City of Mount Dora", in the first blue column (Column 7) that our anticipated millage rate is listed as 6.2. That will almost certainly be reduced to 6.0 mills and potentially even lower. At 6.0 mills, the owner of an "average" Mount Dora house that is owner occupied will pay $25.10 more next year. Thats about $2.09 more per month on a house with an assessed valuation of $182,607. Your house value could be higher or lower.
Our property taxes (Ad Valorem) provide about 1/3 of our city's revenue. Roughly another 1/3 of our revenue comes from charges for services (utilities, etc.) and the final approximately 1/3 comes from transfers. About 65% of our budget is used to pay personnel costs (salaries and benefits). Another chunk of our revenues goes to pay for capital improvements that include major building & equipment items, renovations, new facilities, etc.
One major budget item for next year, that we have been discussing for months now is the reduction in force of 7 firefighters who have served our city well for the past 3 years. These staff reductions became necessary because the Federal SAFER Grant that covered the lion's share of their salaries comes to an end this December and because our need to construct a third fire station has been delayed for the foreseeable future. Losing these employees saddens me. Our Personnel Department is working diligently to help those 7 fire fighters to secure jobs in the area. I think they will all find new jobs nearby.
Kudos to our City staff for all of their hard work to get us to this point in the budget process. I'll keep you informed as the final steps occur in the next month.
My quote of the day comes from Oprah Winfrey. "God will not look you over for medals, or diplomas but for scars."
Thanks for your interest in your city government!
By Marc Crail Mount Dora City Council, District 4 Representative
It’s officially campaign season in Mount Dora and this year there will be only two races. All Mount Dora voters will be able to elect a Mayor, and those voters that reside within District 1 will also choose a new Mount Dora City Council representative since incumbent Pam Burtnett opted not to run for re-election. Two Mount Dora City Council seats, District 4 and District 5, had unopposed candidates.
Cathy Hoechst Currently the incumbent mayor and past president of Mount Dora Area Chamber of Commerce. Crissy Stile Currently a downtown business owner (Barrel of Books & Games) and past Mount Dora City Council Member
DISTRICT 1 CANDIDATES
John Cataldo Currently a downtown business owner (Adora Inn), and past member of Mount Dora Planning & Zoning Commission and Mount Dora Economic Advisory Committee. Carroll Jaskulski Currently a project manager for Florida Realty & Development Group (Cottages on 11th), and Chair of Mount Dora Planning & Zoning Commission.
UNOPPOSED CITY COUNCIL SEATS
District 4 Marc Crail, incumbent Mount Dora City Council Member.
District 5 (new district) Nate Walker, currently employed by a communications company (Comcast) and member of Northeast Community Redevelopment Advisory Committee (NECRA).
Due to its recent charter revisions, the City is in the transition process from 2 year terms to 4 year terms. Council members elected in 2021 will serve 3 year terms ending in 2024, as part of this process. Additionally, a fifth district was added (District 5) and one of the at-Large seats was eliminated. The other district seats were not up for re-election this year. Election Day is November 2.
“Let the voters decide.” That’s the mantra of the bevy of volunteers circulating a legal petition to place a new Mount Dora charter amendment on the ballot.
The referendum seeks to reinforce the height limit within the city’s historic district to 35 feet and 25 feet within 100 feet of the lakefront. Organizers of the initiative believe such a charter amendment is necessary to stop recurring efforts by special interest groups to bypass or change the existing building height ordinance. The petition does not oppose or prevent a parking garage.
“We hoped the City Council would put this issue on the ballot to let Mount Dora voters decide,” said Crissy Stile, a downtown business owner who is spearheading the referendum effort. “Unfortunately, the most expeditious, representative and cost-effective option wasn’t chosen by the council, so now residents are working together to put it on the ballot,” said Stile. The former city council member recently declared her candidacy for mayor after the council declined to put the charter amendment before voters.
The new petition will require approximately 1700 signatures of registered voters that live within Mount Dora’s city limits and who were registered to vote in the City by last November. Interested residents can sign the petition at Barrel of Books & Games located at 128 W. 4th Avenue in downtown Mount Dora on Wednesday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. In addition, volunteers will be visiting neighborhoods within Mount Dora's city limits to gather signatures.
Below are some frequently asked questions about the petition and the answers:
F.A.Q.s 1. Does this petition and proposed charter amendment allow for a downtown parking garage? Yes. Mount Dora City Council already passed an ordinance allowing a parking garage with a maximum height of 55’. This charter amendment would not repeal any existing ordinances.
2. What is a ”City Charter?” A city's charter is the most important governing and legal document of a city. It defines a city government's organization, powers, functions and essential procedures. Federally, it is comparable to the Constitution of the U.S. The only way to change a charter once it's been adopted is by a voter referendum.
3. How would a charter amendment protect Mount Dora's Historic District more than existing ordinances which limit building heights? Ordinances can easily be changed by a vote of the City Council. Council members and/or Planning & Zoning Commission members affected by undue influence or conflicts of interest can pursue changing the ordinance. By contrast, if the charter amendment passes it could only be changed by residents that are registered voters.
4. Mount Dora has a Historic Preservation Board. Aren't their guidelines and protections enough? City Council can always vote to overturn the vote of the Historic Preservation Board (HPB), In two significant cases earlier this year, HPB rejected two submittals to increase building heights in excess of 35 feet, yet Mount Dora City Council overruled those rejections and voted to let the projects proceed.
5. The issue of increasing building heights was recently tabled. Does that mean the issue is moot? A tabled issue can be brought back for a vote at any time. Controversial issues can be tabled and then brought back after an election or at any time.
6. If this charter amendment passes, could it be overturned in the future? Yes. If the majority of voters chose to overturn it.
7. Do other historic downtowns in Florida have height restrictions for new buildings? Yes. Through various mechanisms, the historic downtowns of Fernandina Beach, Naples, Winter Garden, Dunedin, Winter Park and others have height restrictions.
8. Do charter amendments require a special election? No. If a vote by a city council places a charter amendment on the ballot with ample time, the referendum can be included on the regular election's ballot. Likewise, if ample time is given to collect and process petition signatures, the referendum can be included on the regular election's ballot.
By Marc Crail District 4 City Council Representative
This morning (8/3/21) City Council held a Budget Workshop between 9:00-12:00. The single agenda item was the Fire department's budget for FY2021-22. A Work Session or Workshop is a public meeting and it was held at the W.T. Bland Library's meeting room. Work Sessions give council members a chance to hear information, ask questions and discuss things. Today members of the public were invited to provide their opinions as well. What follows come from me not from city council as a whole.
Normally I report to you retrospectively about what has happened at a Council meeting. I might say that we voted to approve this or that and the vote was 5-2. I can tell you who voted yes or no because it's already happened. No votes were taken today so I'll concentrate on letting you know that we reviewed the historical timelines of our plans to build new fire stations and staffing. We discussed our future plans to build 2 new fire stations and a public works facility.
We talked about the fact that Mount Dora's fire department became fully accredited in March of 2020. There are only 88 accredited fire departments in the United States and just 286 in the world. Our fire department is among the very best in the world.
Our fire department has set 4 Key Expectations:
Response times benchmarked against national standards
Well trained & proficient firefighters
Community outreach & public educations
The major questions at hand involve how much staffing is needed to do the job and how to balance our high service expectations with our City's budget constraints. We talked about The Fire Assessment Fee that has been set at $219 per year for the past few years and our ad valorem taxes that support our fire department. This year we spend $936.63 per household on fire services. That totals $6,796,701.00 for our city of 15,200 residents. We discussed the federal SAFER Grant that allowed us to hire 12 new firefighters three years ago and is sunsetting this December.
We looked at and discussed 3 different proposed staffing models. Each has pros and cons. We've asked our Finance Director to bring us back information on a model for consideration at a future meeting. In the end we are struggling with providing excellent fire services to Mount Dora while at the same time keeping taxes reasonable.
Like every aspect of our City Budget we will need to weigh our options and collectively come up with an option that will likely involve compromises.
Our regular City Council Meeting has been moved to Wednesday 8/4/21 at City Hall. You'll here from me again tomorrow evening.
My quote today is from Marcus Aurelius. "The opinion of 10,000 men is of no value if none of them know anything about the subject."
By Marc Crail District 4 City Council Representative
By Dr. Marc Crail District 4 City Council Representative
This evening's Mount Dora City Council Meeting ran from 5:30 to about 9:00. I've chosen some discussion items and some action items to share with you. As you probably know, I'm not reporting on behalf of City Council, what follows comes only from me.
Let's start with updates about the 2 items that have attracted lots of attention recently but were not on the regular meeting agenda.
Yesterday on Monday 7/19 a "Letter of Intent to Amend the City Code of Ordinances to limit building heights" similar to the another letter that I mentioned in my report from our 7/6/21 meeting was delivered to City officials. This one was added as an addendum to tonight's regular agenda by the mayor. I'm attempting to be brief so I'll give you the high points.
The petitioners propose limiting building heights to a maximum of 35 feet anywhere in the Historic Preservation District (that area runs roughly from 1st. Ave. to 11th. Ave. and from Highland to Helen). They also want to limit building heights to 25 feet anywhere within 100 feet of Lake Dora.
After public comments and from council members there will be more discussions between the City Attorney and the Petitioners' Attorney about the legalities of the proposal as it is written. Potentially, this could become the subject of a ballot issue if enough electors sign petitions. My understanding is that it would take about 1,600 verified signatures from registered Mount Dora voters to get this proposal on the ballot. Council didn't take any action today. Stay tuned for future developments.
The second important issue that has been garnering discussion and questions lately involves the possible layoffs of up to 12 fire fighters who were hired about 3 years ago through a Federal SAFER Grant that is going to end this December. Our next Budget Workshop will be on Tuesday August 3rd. beginning at 9:00 a.m. at the W. T. Bland Library meeting room. That topic will be the primary subject of the meeting that is open to the public. If you'd like to read about the sequence of events related to the SAFER Grant, Fire Department Budgets, etc. please go to: http://cityofmountdora.com/FireFacts? You can follow the timeline dating back to 2017 that will provide you some background information.
As I wrote in my most recent report we did TENTATIVELY set the MAXIMUM millage rate for FY 21-22 at 6.2 mills. We think it will be reduced somewhat in the upcoming weeks as we get more and better data. This maximum, 6.2 millage rate will appear on the TRIM Notice that homeowners will receive in the mail in August. For several years now we have been able to reduce the millage so don't panic when you open that TRIM Notice. Nothing is final yet.
We approved an agreement with Waterman Village enabling them to build a 17' tall private golf cart and pedestrian bridge over Donnelly St. This will allow Waterman Village residents and staff to safely get from the existing part of their campus to the new section currently under construction. The Bridge will have an attractive "Welcome to Mount Dora" sign on it and a display of public art as well.
My quotes for you today are by Shirley Chisholm. Ms. Chisholm was a long time member of Congress from New York. She was the first female African-American to make a serious run for the Democratic nomination for President in 1972. My friend Joe told me about the first Chisholm quote and I came across the second one. "If they don't give you a seat at the table, bring in a folding chair." She also said; "You don't make progress by standing on the sideline, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas."
Thank you for your interest in your Mount Dora city government!
Dr. Marc Crail District 4 City Council Representative
By Marc Crail District 4 City Council Representative
Today Mount Dora City Council held its third budget workshop from 9:00 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. I'm going to attempt to condense four and a half hours work into a few paragraphs so I'll be painting in broad strokes. I hope to hit the high points for you. I am not reporting on behalf of City Council. This comes from me as an individual Council member.
We are using five Guiding Principles to decide what will be included in our budget for the upcoming fiscal year. These
Guiding Principlesare: 1. Maintain City service levels. 2. Maintain the City's basic infrastructure. 3. Maintain the public's safety. 4. Comply with all federal, state and local laws. 5. Retain competitive pay and benefits.
You already know that this is going to be a very challenging year for several reasons. We are just now emerging from the Pandemic. We anticipate that our funding from the State will be down as a result of the Pandemic and a substantial decrease in tourists this past year. Costs of materials and supplies are going up. You see that every time you buy groceries, go to the home improvement store, or buy gasoline. Here's one example. Our gasoline budget will likely be up 60% over last year. The good news is that the economy is roaring back and the bad news is that prices are up due to inflation. The job market is tight. We need to pay our employees more or they will be tempted to leave us to make higher salaries elsewhere. None of this is news to you.
Every time we meet we get updated information so what I tell you today will change tomorrow or next week. For instance, as of 7/7/21 we don't yet know what our funding will be from the state of Florida so our staff has given us their best estimate.
Our overall FY2022 Citywide total budget will be about $100,486,264. Our General Fund Budget will be about $24,391,741.
Our City staff and your City Council think that we can balance our FY22 budget by setting our millage rate a 6.000 mills. That is slightly higher than last year but not much.
We think that we will be receiving $6,100,000. from the Federal government's American Rescue Plan but as of today we haven't gotten a penny. By the way, ARP money can only be spent on a few things. We plan to use most of ours to improve our water, sewer and broadband infrastructure if and when we get it.
We don't think there will be any increases in your City utility rates like water/wastewater, sanitation, or stormwater until 2022 but then they will probably go up incrementally because of inflation.
We think that our Citywide budget and our City's debt will be lower in FY 22 than they were in FY19.
We have managed to reduce the number full time (FTE) employees by 7 in the past year.
If you've been reading my meeting notes for a while now you'll probably recall that City Council traditionally tentatively sets the "Maximum Millage" in July higher than we think it will end up in September. We do that to sort of hedge our bets that a huge natural disaster such as a major hurricane doesn't blow through town in August and ruin our budget plans. If that doesn't happen, then on September 20, 2021 we fully expect that the final millage rate will be set at 6.000.
Keep in mind that when you get your TRIM Notice in the mail in August it will show the higher 6.200 millage rate that will almost certainly be reduced in September. It probably won't help me any to tell you; "Trust me. I'm from the government and I'm telling you the truth", but it's exactly what I think and we have been able to deliver on that for the past several years. I feel pretty sure that we will be able to do that again.
One thing is for sure, we will always have more "wants" than "needs". City Council is committed to meeting all the "needs" but not many "wants" this time around.
Thanks for allowing me to be a part of of City Council.
I've got a quote for you from Albert Einstein who was a pretty smart man. "Two things are infinite, the universe and stupidity and I'm not sure about the universe."
By Dr. Marc Crail District 4 City Council Representative