The month of May might become especially merry for Pasco County residents who miss being able to address county commissioners in their chambers and have been chafing at restrictions to access the meetings.
County commissioners on April 7 agreed that residents should be allowed into the boardrooms in Dade City and New Port Richey, but that space limitations should be observed and, if they are exceeded, that residents at Dade City meetings should still be required to use kiosks or WebEx video conferencing during public comment.
Another problem in Dade City, County Administrator Dan Biles said, is that there is only Americans with Disabilities Act access to the building from its east side. “We’re still working through that,” he said.
But there are still regulations against large-scale gatherings. At New Port Richey, commissioners suggested people could filter in and out of the chambers through the building.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said that while she’s heard from one disabled resident that she appreciates the technology giving her access, it’s time to let people back in.
“I feel a little uncomfortable that they can’t come in and speak to us directly,” she said. “Maybe they can’t stay and sit in the room.”
Biles said they would work through the process, amend the rules, bring them in for the first meeting in May, and then have new rules in effect on May 18. “That’s kind of the timeline and the plan,” he said.
Commissioner Jack Mariano said that for public comment as opposed to a public hearing, they’ve never had more than five or 10 people at the most coming in. “I think public comment we can take everybody in, in this room and that room, and if not maybe 99% of the time have them wait outside,” he said. “We can bring them in the room, let them sit in here, and if they have to leave — especially in this building (in Dade City) — when they’re done speaking they can walk right out and onto the elevator. There’s no extra contact at all.”
“I think we can do it at the next meeting,” he added.
“Be careful what you ask for,” Commission chairman Ron Oakley joked. “Open that door and they’ll come.”
Commissioner Mike Moore asked about keeping WebEx operating, and County Attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder warned that they couldn’t limit access through WebEx just to the handicapped.
Commissioner Christina Fitzpatrick noted that WebEx could be used to let people who work during the day and cannot attend meetings have a say in government. She added that the opportunity to appear in person should be available in New Port Richey first.
Biles said he would prefer that the operations of meetings at Dade City and New Port Richey to be the same.
It could be tried at the next meeting on April 20 in New Port Richey, but that wouldn’t allow much time to test the process, Biles said.
Oakley said he just wanted to make sure it was done in the right way. “Bring it back to us and tell us how you are going to work it out,” he told Biles.
New fire stations
Commissioners approved a $4.7 million bid award to a Lutz company for the construction of Fire Station No. 42 in Land O’ Lakes.
Trias Construction LLC won the bid for the new 16,046-square-foot station, which will be constructed at 11425 Silver Palm Blvd.
Construction is expected to take 300 days from the county’s notice to proceed, according to agenda documents, and the new station should open sometime in 2022.
Also approved was a $5.6 million bid for demolishing and rebuilding Fire Rescue Station No. 17 by R.L. Burns Inc. of Orlando.
“The existing Fire Rescue Station No. 17 facility has reached the end of its life expectancy and is too small for the needs of the community,” the agenda documents said. “This project includes the demolition of existing Fire Rescue Station No. 17, and the construction of new Fire Station on the same property.”
That station is at 2951 Seven Springs Blvd., New Port Richey, and also should be completed sometime in 2022.
Both stations’ bids were approved 5-0 in the consent agenda.