From Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson

During last week’s Board meeting, Orange County Public Works Director Mark Massaro presented the Board with a presentation on storm debris removal in gated communities. Back in December of last year, two work sessions were presented to the Board relative to Hurricane Irma, specifically in regard to debris removal and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)’s policy on reimbursements for debris pickup on private property. By picking up debris on private roads in gated communities, such actions jeopardize the possibilities for reimbursement from FEMA to these communities and the entire County. Following the discussions that took place at these work sessions, staff had been asked to summarize how debris removal in gated communities could be addressed. Thus, the purpose of last week’s presentation was to give the Board options for addressing debris removal in gated communities and which would be best for Orange County residents.

Orange County Commissioner Bryan Nelson

At the end of the work sessions, four questions that Public Works staff took note of were: “Should anything be done or “undone” to provide for a uniform level of service between gated and non-gated communities?”; “Are all gated communities approved under the current ordinance complying with storm debris removal requirements for establishment and maintenance of an HOA account for storm debris removal?”; “How do we address older gated communities that are not subject to the storm debris removal account requirement?”; and “How do we address newer gated communities that are not complying with the storm debris removal account requirement?” For Orange County gated communities, there are: A total of 270 subdivisions/communities (consisting of 345 plats); 300 miles of private roads behind the communities; 16,170 acres that are not all developable; 28,189 parcels; and an estimated population of 60,000 to 65,000 residents (approximately 5% of the total County population). Out of all the Orange County Districts, Districts 1 and 4 have the greatest amounts of plats.

Prior to 2009, storm debris removal accounts were not required for gated communities, where 170 communities did not have an account. In February 2009, the storm debris removal account requirement was codified (Section 34-291(a)(5), O.C. Code). Under this new requirement, since 2009, 100 gated communities do not have an account. In addition, according to Section 34-291(c)(5), after 5 years, a fully funded storm debris removal account is supposed to equal $500 per developable acre in a platted subdivision, plus the annual construction cost index.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, 125 storm-related calls were made to Orange County’s 311 line from 54 gated communities. Public Works teams arranged field visits with HOA representatives and estimated approximately 32,000 cu/yds. of storm debris (3.5% of Countywide storm debris total). The options offered to the gated communities seeking assistance were to: Bundle up the debris and put it on their curb for waste management collection, placing a dumpster containing the debris for collection by the County contractor, a letter from the County approving the community’s hired contractor to dispose of their debris at an approved Citizen Debris Site, and for the County and community’s contractor to coordinate the debris removal once it was brought outside of the gated area. Of the 54 communities that called, the County assisted 18 of 270 (6.7%) gated communities with debris removal 93.3% of gated communities in Orange County removed their storm debris themselves; Public Works staff attributes this number to the fact that these communities saw this as a time sensitive issue and could not wait for the County’s assistance.

The estimated cost to remove storm debris from public rights-of-way was $20 million; given that Hurricane Irma was a Category 1 storm by the time it had hit Orange County, staff did note during their presentation that a Category 2 or greater storm would likely have been more costly. 2,700 miles of the public roads are maintained by the County, with an estimated cost per mile for storm debris removal being at $7,400. Given that there are 300 miles of private roads within gated communities and had the County elected to remove the debris from behind the gates, the estimated cost to remove storm debris from these private roads would have been approximately $2.2 million (300 x $7,400=$2.2 million). The process to clean up the County roadways took 90 days.

Public Works staff developed three options for the Board’s consideration on how to best handle storm debris removal in gated communities. Option 1 proposes maintaining the status quo in continuing with the storm debris removal process followed after Hurricanes Charley and Irma. As previously mentioned, this option proposes that staff respond to storm debris removal inquiries from gated communities (Homeowner’s Associations (HOA’s) or management companies), meet with the HOA’s to discuss removal methods, and facilitate with the HOA’s chosen method(s).

Option 2 proposes the County’s establishment of a Municipal Service Benefit Unit (MSBU)(s). The utilization of this option in the future would require certain prerequisites to be met: Amending the gated community ordinance; sending ballots to gated community residents and the HOA to gauge interest in this option; those communities expressing sufficient interest in the MSBU process would be required to execute a hold harmless and indemnification and right-of-entry agreement as well as amend the Covenants Conditions and Restrictions (CC&Rs) prior to adopting this option. Amending the gated community ordinance would involve creating an MSBU option for storm debris removal and addressing whether such an option would be limited to pre-2009 gated communities. If this option were to apply to all gated communities, the County would need to remove the storm-debris removal account requirement for post-February 2009 gated communities participating in the MSBU option and authorize the return of storm debris funds to the HOA. The scope of the MSBU options was: Countywide limited to pre-2009 gated communities or geared to specific communities. Some concerns raised by staff regarding this option were whether gated communities would have priority over non-gated communities; whether storm debris would be removed on the County’s schedule; and whether this method would be eligible for FEMA reimbursement. This process would take several years to complete and implement.

The third option proposes establishing a program that authorizes the removal of storm debris from all gated communities (including pre-Feb 2009 and post-2009). This options also has several prerequisites that need to be satisfied if selected: The Board would need to amend the gated community ordinance; right-of-entry and hold harmless and indemnification agreements would need to be executed with HOAs; CC&Rs would need to be amended by the HOA’s; a public interest determination would need to be made by the County for each storm event to allow public funds to be used for private purposes; and the declaration of a local state of emergency finding of an immediate threat to life, public health or safety or economic recovery of the community at-large would have to be issued. Concerns raised for this option where that gates would need to remain open during a period of immediate threat; gated communities would not have priority over non-gated communities; storm debris would be removed on the County’s schedule, and it is questionable as to whether this method would be eligible for reimbursement from FEMA.

At the end of the presentation, given the complexity and time involved with implementing Options 2 and 3, staff recommended continuing with the current process, with an improvement in outreach efforts to the HOAs to help educate them on this option and the process it involves prior to a storm event. The Board agreed and concurred with this recommendation, and strongly believed that increased outreach efforts would help increase the number of gated communities who utilize the County’s assistance in removing their debris.

Residents who wish to view the full presentation from the Board meeting may do so here: http://netapps.ocfl.net/Mod/meetings/1.

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