Status quo won’t cut it

Dec. 07, 2012 @ 05:00 AM

Many items from this week’s Lee County Board of Commissioners sparked interest from our county’s citizens, but one in particular caught the attention of the folks in City Hall over on Weatherspoon Street: the decision by the commissioners to terminate a number of the interlocal agreements the county has with the city.

Those interlocal agreements involve several joint city/county departments, including Community Development, Planning and Zoning, Building Inspections, GIS, Tax Collection and Animal Control Services. If no new pacts are reached, the current interlocal agreements would expire on June 30, 2013 – creating unique challenges particularly for the city, which would then have to hire additional staff to execute some of the tasks performed by those departments.

The dispute about the joint agreements comes down to money. County Manager John Crumpton stated: “Going through the budget process year after year, one area we have not been able to lower costs is in the agreements with the city. We are cutting, but those joint agreements seem to go up every year.”

Commissioner Charlie Parks, elected Monday as the board’s new chairman, said after the meeting that the city “clearly has no interest in renegotiating the agreements, so the commissioners were forced to make a difficult decision. Either keep these agreements which are inequitable or cancel them and offer the city one last chance to offer options for changing the agreements. Unanimously it was agreed that the time was up and it is time to move on.”

It was understandable that Sanford Mayor Cornelia Olive said — in reaction to the commissioners’ unanimous vote — that she hoped more communication would have taken place. “We know there is a new majority on the county commissioner board, and we anticipated some changes,” she said. “But we had hoped communication between the two boards would remain strong so that our planning process will be more predictable.”

The county, through the commissioners, has made its position clear. For its part, Sanford City Manager Hal Hegwer says he’ll circulate the information to his board. We’ll watch with interest how the process unfolds.

The interlocal agreements in question were intended to create a “one-stop shop” for businesses and residents, according to Crumpton, and they’ve done just that. Both county and city residents (remember that city residents are county residents as well) have benefited from this arrangement. But the commission board’s new majority has made lower property taxes a high priority, and it sees this move as a way to compel the city to agree to new partnerships that would help make that happen.

As it did with the School Resource Officer issue with Lee County Schools, this new commission board is plainly showing that the status quo won’t cut it. As long as the commissioners don’t see the schools and the city as their enemy, challenging the status quo is a perfectly good thing. But as with these interlocal agreements, having a suitable partnership is even better.