ORANGE PARK – After a debate that lasted nearly an hour, Orange Park Town Council voted to stay the course and keep its River Road Improvement Project on its Capital Improvement Projects list but …
ORANGE PARK – After a debate that lasted nearly an hour, Orange Park Town Council voted to stay the course and keep its River Road Improvement Project on its Capital Improvement Projects list but not before the project appeared to be doomed.
In what could be described as the 11th hour, council members Ron Raymond, Roland Mastandrea and Alan Watt almost killed this project until Watt changed his mind in what ended as a 3-2 vote with Raymond and Mastandrea voting no.
Improving the pot holes and manhole covers that extend above the roadway on River Road has been debated for at least a year. In a previous debate about the project, the council directed staff to finalize design plans to prepare for it to go out to bid. After receiving those directions, Public Works Director Chuck Pavlos made his way to the podium during the June 26 regular council meeting to explain that the final design is ready. Unfortunately for Pavlos, Raymond and Mastandrea were unhappy and Watt had questions.
The source of Raymond’s unease came from a lack of full public consent, which according to Raymond, was supposed to happen. Pavlos, though, said that 100 percent consent was never a part of the direction given to his team, but rather, a general consensus instead, which the River Road community did get involved.
“All of the specific items you mentioned are in here, but the thing in question is the term, ‘consensus of the homeowner,’,” Pavlos said. “I don’t know how we’re defining that, but I think we have consensus of the homeowner. We’ve had 10 meetings, I think, on this project and many public hearings, so I think the homeowners have expressed their concerns and we’ve addressed those concerns.”
This did little to soothe Raymond’s concerns, despite Pavlos clearly explaining that he followed the direction from the previous council. When it came time for Mastandrea to speak, he showed concern over the lack of future proofing in the final design, and problems that grew from previous project involvement from the firm that helped design the River Road Project Improvement plan.
Watt’s concerns revolved around the lack of ribbon curving in the final design, which Pavlos said could quickly and easily be added in, and the utilization of non-bump traffic calming, which John Bartholomew, one of the masterminds behind Orange Park’s traffic calming policy, explained falls on the residents of the area rather than the final design of the project.
According to the traffic calming policy adopted by the council, the residents of an area would have to band together with a majority opinion on which traffic calming devices would be deployed before the council discusses them in a public setting.
Mayor Gary Meeks and Council member Connie Thomas had little to say except that she was satisfied with the final design presented by Pavlos. Thomas and Meeks expressed the opinion that the council has sat on this for long enough and that it was time to get this project out to bid.
“We’re going to kill this thing tonight if we continue like this,” Meeks said.
When it came time to vote, the council was polled individually. Meeks and Thomas voted yes. Mastandrea and Raymond voted no. Watt, after expressing that despite his feelings it was time to move forward with the project, voted yes, finalizing the River Road Improvement Project design plans. Now, this plan will seek bids for construction.
Next up was council approval of a finalized five-year CIP, which has been a topic of discussion for quite some time. According to Town Manager Sarah Campbell, the June 26 meeting was the last meeting the CIP could be adopted before moving into budget planning for 2018-19.
“The CIP has been prepared using the strategic priorities established by the Town Council in 2018. The Town Council may certainly adjust the CIP to reflect different priorities prior to the final adoption,” states a letter from Campbell to the council. “Per the Town Charter, Council must adopt the CIP before the end of June. The public hearing for final adoption is scheduled for [the night of the June 26 regular council meeting].”
One of the most notable changes the CIP endured came after a vote made during the Feb. 6 regular council meeting where the council voted 5-0 to move $500,000 from the town’s balance, or reserve fund, to the general fund budget. At the time, then-council member Meeks cited that the purpose of the reserve was for times like these, referring to the town’s need for money to continue Hurricane Irma cleanup and stormwater maintenance.
“If we are going to do this, $81,000, I just don’t think that’s going to touch it,” Meeks said, referencing the $81,000 freed up for Irma cleanup from the CIP. “This is what the $5 million is for – it’s for a rainy day and the rainy day is here.”
Toward the latter half of the meeting, the council voted 5-0 to spend $75,258.61 on a Bobcat Skid Sheer vehicle that, according to Pavlos, will speed up street debris cleanup by 25 percent following storms and other natural events.
The almost three-hour meeting ended with Meeks calling for faster meetings and suggested council ask their questions to staff before each meeting so as not to spend time doing so during the regular meetings. Raymond expressed his disagreement and stated he would do no such thing.
“I hate to disappoint you Mr. Mayor, but I think the time to ask those questions is here, right in front of God and everybody,” Raymond said.