Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Taxi rules, fire fee changes advance in St. Augustine: SAR


Taxi rules, fire fee changes advance in St. Augustine
Posted: June 27, 2016 - 11:53pm | Updated: June 28, 2016 - 6:52am





By SHELDON GARDNER
sheldon.gardner@staugustine.com


Changes to St. Augustine’s taxicab standards and the city’s fire assessment fee are moving forward.

St. Augustine commissioners moved to second reading, the adoption hearing, two ordinances on Monday that address those issues.

The taxicab ordinance would set a 10-year age limit and a 250,000-mile limit for the vehicles, with time allowed for existing cabs to adjust.

Thomas Strickland, who drives a taxi in St. Augustine, said the proposal is unfair.

“My vehicle is 14 years old, it has 215,000 miles on it ... and it’s as clean as any other taxi in the city,” Strickland said.

Strickland also said that old cabs serve a need. They can provide lower fares to people who need it. He also said cabs in bad shape should be fixed up or taken off the road.

Officials discussed where the proposal came from, after a question from the public.

City Attorney Isabelle Lopez said a business owner reached out, but an ordinance wasn’t drafted based on that. Assistant City Attorney Denise May said the changes came from the City Commission’s request.

Strickland said James Howard, owner of St. Augustine cab company Sax Taxi, is trying to put other cab companies out of business.

Howard said in a phone interview after the meeting that he “didn’t have anything to do with these changes” and that the city is behind them.

Responding to Strickland’s comments, Howard said, “If he’s upset about the regulations on the mileage of the vehicles, then that already says that he’s part of the problem. ... Vehicles have as shelf life.”

Howard has voiced support for the changes and submitted suggested changes to the city that were presented in January. Those suggestions included the age and mileage restrictions. The current ordinance includes other regulations as well.

The ordinance also defines and sets standards for pedicabs and low-speed vehicles.

Both Mayor Nancy Shaver and Commissioner Todd Neville agreed the age and mileage requirement seemed arbitrary.

Commissioner Leanna Freeman said later, “I don’t want to put our local ... drivers out of business, but I think the goal has always been that we have standards that will protect our riders,” she said.

Commissioners sent the draft to second reading to get public comment on the issue. People who spoke on first reading Monday spoke during general public comment, as first reading ordinances don’t have public comment.

Changes to the city’s fire assessment fee also got rolling Monday.

Commissioners voted 4-1, with Neville dissenting, to move forward on changing how the fee is assessed. Commissioners are expected to vote on the rates in July.

A special meeting earlier Monday focused on the fee, and the ordinance was discussed at the regular commission meeting.

Neville voiced concern about charging residential and nonresidential buildings differently. Other commissioners agreed with charging more for buildings that demand greater services.

According to the consultant’s presentation, nonresidential buildings request more services, based on call data.

The city charges 6 cents per square foot of enclosed building space regardless of the type of building — though some government buildings are exempt. The recommendation to the City Commission, after an analysis by consultant Government Services Group, was to increase the fee to 7 cents per square foot for residential buildings and to about 12.7 cents per square foot for nonresidential buildings.

The increase would mean a $15 per year increase for a 1,500-square-foot residential building and a $135.40 increase per year for a 2,000-square-foot nonresidential building, according to data in the consultant’s presentation.

That would raise the amount of the St. Augustine Fire Departments’ budget covered by the fee to about 53 percent. That would be more than an estimated $1.68 million in revenue, according to the consultant.

In other business

■ Neville, saying he didn’t “want to sound like a broken record,” cautioned Shaver against speaking publicly in a way that reflects the whole commission. He’s done that before.

Shaver recently spoke to Action News Jax about her concerns with the city’s mobility plan project. She has said a detailed work schedule had not been delivered to the city as specified in the contract with Littlejohn Engineering Associates.

Neville said, “I know that there are First Amendment rights here, but I also ask you to remember that the perception is you’re speaking on behalf of all of us. And it’s detrimental to our projects and to our city when you go off of that will and ...

“I believe that is a completely incorrect characterization of how I hold this office, and how I speak to the public,” Shaver said. “I said nothing in that interview that was not already in the public record at this commission meeting. In no way do I represent myself in any other way. I am always quite frankly operating at an extremely high level of professionalism and respect for this office, for the people I serve with, and I believe that it is beginning to sound like a broken record. I appreciate your concern. We do this every meeting. But I’m not sure it’s really helpful.”

“I just disagree with your interpretation. ...” Neville said.

“I realize you do, and I think I’ve heard that before. OK? Thank you.” Shaver said.

The story focused on the project being delayed, though officials with the city and consultant have said it’s on track. City officials plan to meet with Littlejohn on Wednesday and will discuss the work schedule.

■ Chuck Bromirski, a St. Augustine resident, called for City Manager John Regan’s contract to be re-negotiated.

He said he’s a former member of the military and General Motors employee. He said, “I believed in checks and balances, and I believe our country was founded by this principle. And I believe currently our city does not have this. I believe ... I as a citizen am not being adequately represented by the city manager, John Regan, and wish to ask his contract with our city be re-negotiated. I further state that the Littlejohn contract to be a dog-and-pony show with [no] good result except $108,000 of our money being spent, and of course more dollars are at stake. ... This contract and more were not a good-faith representation of money spent.”

Regan said he’d be happy to sit down with Bromirski. He also said nothing has been paid yet to Littlejohn Engineering Associates. The consultant is paid as work is done and city officials have been waiting on a bill from the consultant. Regan said after the meeting that he’d given Bromirski his business card, and that he is “always looking to be a better city manager.”

■ Commissioners gave consensus to move forward with getting a loan with Capital City Bank to pay off 2005 water and sewer revenue bonds. The principal amount is $4.71 million, according to Mark Litzinger, director of financial services. A resolution making the deal final is expected to come in July on the consent agenda. The new debt would have a fixed interest rate of about 1.4 percent, according to a memo from the city’s financial adviser, Public Financial Management.

1 comment:

Staugustine goldtours said...

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