Council Watch 

Billy Manes paying attention to local government so you don’t have to

It was an auspicious beginning to a crunch of a year as the city’s design squad huddled beneath rumbling skies to address a number of fresh concerns: This new state government is not going to be easy for a mere municipality to work with; the proposed rail projects are seemingly up in the air; development life as we know it is over. Also, a few somber (if self-referencing) nods to the weekend’s political terror in Tucson made it all feel a little, well, hopeless.

“If you commit to public service, this is one of those things you do not expect to happen,” Commissioner Robert Stuart misted up.

So, the city could be forgiven for darting its eyes to shiny things and giggling at water features, right? Right?

Item: The city approves the construction phase of the design-build services agreement with Freeport Fountains LLC for the Lake Eola fountain refurbishment project.

Translation: Like a recurring case of blistering athlete’s foot, the dirty damp of the Lake Eola fountain conundrum resurfaced this week at the top of the city’s hypochondriacal ailments chart. Most will recall the bolt of God’s lightning that rendered the city’s central spurt inoperable in the summer of 2009; the more water-feature inclined are undoubtedly aware of last spring’s patch-up job that came on the heels of a $285,000 insurance check. Others with more to worry about – like feeding their children or patching their shanty roofs to avoid further fiscal floods – simply don’t care. 
But the city does!

Freeport Fountains won the city’s favor in a bidding war last August and now wants the go-ahead for some upgrades: new nozzles, new plexiglass skin and framing, colored LED lights and some magic youth water that dances in time to the park’s surrounding sound system. The city had set the maximum cost of the project at $1.7 million – an amount that quickly rose to a potential $1.9 million during Freeport’s exhaustive sales pitch for “show capabilities” – with $95,000 of that set aside for whatever “contingency” shooting water into the air might inspire. Commissioner Patty Sheehan declared herself “fiscally responsible” – as did most of the others on the dais – then suggested selling pieces of the old fountain to help fund some version of the project. In the end, nobody bought Freeport’s upsell attempt, and the fountain will just go back to being a fountain, albeit a $1.6 million one.

Item: The city authorizes the execution of the joint-use agreement between the state Department of Transportation and the city related to the SunRail funding agreement.

Translation: Even though all of the statewide political acrimony might mean the end to the workin’-on-the-railroad ambitions of the little city that could, Orlando is moving forward on the ancillary details for SunRail, the rattling commuter-rail carriage from Poinciana to Deland. This agreement – which is a portion of the original agreement signed in 2007 – accounts for the kept-up appearances of the train stations that fall within city limits. FDOT will provide “base” train stops, and the city will contribute $1.3 million in improvements for the Florida Hospital hub, $590,000 for the downtown Lynx stop and $570,000 for Church Street Station. The Orlando Amtrak station will apparently just remain an Amtrak station peppered with sleepy people. (Amtrak only softened to the SunRail premise last month.) In return for its efforts, the city will retain revenues from the myriad concessions to be offered at each stop, have the ability to sell “naming rights” and signage for each station and will be responsible for the maintenance of the stops but not the security. Whipping out its “public-private” wand, the city will also seek further agreements with adjacent properties to make some of its expenditures back. It thinks it can, it thinks it can, it thinks it can.

Item: The city approves a joint-participation agreement with the state Department of Transportation for an upgrade to video vehicle detection at the intersections of Colonial Drive with Westmoreland Drive, Shine Avenue and Ferncreek Avenue.

Translation: The city is finally acknowledging that the traffic stoplights on either side of the Orlando Weekly offices are ineffective. Have you tried to cross Colonial Drive on Shine Avenue during a road-rage rush hour? It’s like trying to squeeze your way from Jersey to Manhattan while drunk. Anyway, with $60,000 from FDOT, the city will give up on the in-pavement vehicle detection strips at three Colonial intersections and replace them with video monitors, a move that’s not likely to deter those selective drivers on Highway 50 who choose not to acknowledge that said intersections even exist.

Item: The city approves the use of a National IPA contract with Club Car of Augusta, Ga., for 78 golf carts and two utility carts for Dubsdread Golf Course.

Translation: In case you were wondering, moneyed leisure traffic through the rolling greens of Dubsdread has been booming! Nope, we don’t get it either, unless of course Tommy Bahama is the new sponsor of unemployment. The city says that the course’s “old” golf carts have “experienced higher levels 
of wear than anticipated due to increased golfing.” Oh, no! To remedy the embarrassment, the city will trade in some of its fleet – $195,000 worth – and drop an additional $173,000 on a new fleet of 80 vehicles. In related news, Orlando is a Huey Lewis album.

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