PORT ST. LUCIE – The City Council voted unanimously Jan. 22 to approve a 10-year infrastructure project matrix utilizing revenue from the new half-cent sales tax that will now have the city borrowing against its own reserves to complete the projects in a timelier manner.

A month made a big difference in the attitude of City Council members, who rejected the matrix that staff initially created as a pay-as-you-go schedule and presented to them on Dec. 10. Although the new tax approved by voters last November will generate up to $7.5 million annually, the city will have to wait for quarterly payments that would extend the time significantly on cash-only projects. The majority of the Council balked last December at waiting several years to modernize certain roadways, in particular the Floresta corridor.

“I mean this is great, pay as you go, but when it comes to Floresta, we’re never going to get there that way,” Vice-Mayor Shannon Martin said Dec. 10. “I would like to see a plan presented with all the [financial] options in front of us.”

Mayor Gregory Oravec was the first to mention the idea of internal borrowing, which as proposed will cost the city approximately $1.1 million in interest payments to itself over the 10-year period of the tax.

“I think Floresta is a priority, and I think not being done until the end of the year in 2025 is not good enough,” he said during the earlier discussion.

In the weeks since the December meeting, city staff met with each individual Council member to gather input as they revised the project matrix to incorporate internal borrowing.

Assistant City Manager David Graham told the Council in the latest meeting he appreciated the opportunity to consider funding alternatives.

“We did revise the plan based on Council direction, and we also appreciate the one-on-one opportunities that you gave us to glean even more information on how to make this program even better,” he said. “In essence, we’ve created a 10-year capital improvement program with a dedicated funding source. It’s flexible in that it can adjust to your priorities as they change over time… and also provides the ability to respond to opportunities as they present themselves, whether it’s through partnerships or grants.”

Assistant City Manager Patricia Roebling then brought them the news they’d wanted to hear since Dec. 10 as she detailed the revised scheduling and reminded them that the first phase of Floresta Drive from South Bend to the Elcam Waterway had already been permitted.

“One of your major priorities that we heard you talk about is the Floresta Drive corridor,” she said. “Based upon the internal borrowing, we have been able to move that project up two entire full years. Construction of the first phase, could actually be complete by the end of 2021. The second phase would be designed by the end of 2020, which includes the bridge over the Elcam Waterway and runs to the new Crosstown Parkway connection… [with] construction complete at the end of 2022. On the third phase, the design would begin in 2021 and construction complete by 2023.”

Councilwoman Jolien Caraballo had also insisted staff find a way last December to expedite Floresta Drive since so many residents had already provided their input on the roadway.

“Great job and thank you so much for the one-on-one meetings,” she said Jan. 22, expressing her satisfaction with the revised matrix schedule. “I loved the adjustments -- I know it was tough because when we initially looked at Floresta, we were going to try and figure out how we can and cannot make it happen.”

Ms. Roebling emphasized the entire length of the Floresta Drive corridor needed to be designed and constructed by the same person or firm for continuity even though it was planned as a three-phase project.

“We’d like to see an engineer design the project basically all the way from South Bend Boulevard to Prima Vista Boulevard,” she explained. “We recommend that we hire a design/consultant, and we could get someone onboard in May. It is a two-lane divided section with bike lanes, curbs and gutters, underground drainage, sidewalks and beautification amenities, as well as roundabouts. We feel we could get that design performed within a year’s time, go to bid and start construction.”

The City Manager’s Department has also contacted St. Lucie County about the possibility of that municipality spending some of its tax revenue updating the intersection of Floresta Drive and Prima Vista Boulevard.

“That’s the northern end of Phase 3, and we’ve already talked to St. Lucie County about contributing to those intersection improvements as it is a county-owned-and-operated intersection,” Ms. Roebling added. “They also have this half-penny sales tax, which I know they are dedicating money toward Prima Vista.”

“What’s the initial response to that out of curiosity?” asked Vice-Mayor Martin.

“It was positive,” the assistant city manager responded. “The initial response that we got back was that they are discussing it with their powers that be and seeing if they cannot be a part of that.”

Ms. Roebling also detailed the rest of the projects in the revised matrix, which include numerous intersection improvements, roadway repaving, sidewalk construction and traffic signal coordination. One of the first projects to be completed under the new schedule will be the addition and extension of turn lanes where Bayshore, Cashmere and Peacock boulevards intersect with St. Lucie West Boulevard.

“We should be able to bid and start construction in the fall of this year and finish before spring training the following year in 2020,” she explained.

The schedule also includes the completion in mid-2020 of a much-needed redesign of the Torino-area roundabouts at Cashmere and California boulevards to be patterned after one at the southern end of Floresta Drive.

“These intersections are at a failing level of service at peak hours and having a yield condition would be a great benefit,” Ms. Roebling emphasized. “As with the one that we created down at the Canal Park where we have South Bend intersecting with Floresta and Oak Ridge, they would be similar but smaller with landscaping in the center. These roundabouts are under design as we speak with our continuing services contracts.”

The Torino area will also see simultaneous sidewalk construction under the revised matrix to connect the revamped roundabouts, tying into existing sidewalks and extending all the way to Midway Road and the new Winterlakes Park.

“All of that would be done by the end of 2020,” Ms. Roebling added.

Councilwoman Stefanie Morgan then had questions on proposed sidewalk construction along Floresta Drive between Prima Vista and Airoso since she said sidewalks already existed in that area. The assistant city manager explained, however, that the idea was to connect the existing sidewalks to make them complete.

“You have the sidewalk there, it exists, but they go around the corner, and they do not have a little ramp that ties across your intersections of your roadways,” Ms. Roebling explained. “It basically completes your intersections with your sidewalk fill-in.”

The half-cent sales tax matrix will also add to the $3 million in repaving projects already approved as part of the city’s 2018/19 Fiscal Year Budget in an effort to eliminate a backlog.

“We have already added and expedited some roadways in the master plan,” Ms. Roebling said. “After these first two years, the repaving ramps up in addition to your annual budget. “We’ve be repaving quite some amount of roads over the next 10-year period with the mission of catching up on all the repaving that Council has directed us to do.”

In addition, the matrix funds $1.5 million of a planned $4 million in beautification improvements along U.S. 1 as well as traffic signal coordination in other parts of the city, with the later scheduled for completion between 2027 and 2028 near the sunset of the half-cent sales tax.

At the end of the presentation, Mayor Gregory Oravec lauded the work of city staff in expediting the half-cent sales tax projects.

“I’d like to tell you how proud I am of you responding to Council input and putting together a project proposal that accounts for the projects, the scope of the projects, the time and money and then who’s essentially responsible,” he said. “Those are the keys to any successful project management.”

The mayor also wanted assurances from City Manager Russ Blackburn that the city would prove itself responsible to the residents who voted to tax themselves an additional half-cent.

“We want a culture of promises made, promises kept, and we have no better opportunity than this, because we all worked so hard on the education campaign,” he said. So those are promises made, now let’s talk about promises kept.”

Mr. Blackburn assured the mayor that his office would be publishing regular updates on where and how the city was spending the additional tax revenue.

“We’ll provide an accountability update that’s monthly at least for the first two years because that’s when we are in design of a number of different projects,” he said. “We’ll probably go to quarterly instead of monthly after about two years, but the first two years our plan will be to do a monthly update. We’ll provide a memorandum to you with that status report, and we’ll provide an update to our website.”

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