LPCC Chairman Jared Grifoni
The Libertarian Party of Collier County (“LPCC”) has been fighting the creation of the La Peninsula MSBU (Municipal Service Benefit Unit) since December 2013. After conducting significant research into the issue the LPCC filed a petition with the Collier County Board of County Commissioners (“BCC”) in early January demanding that the board rescind the MSBU approval based on the unconstitutionality under the Florida Constitution, Article VII, Section X and the lack of a paramount public purpose. After a five-month long battle, the Libertarian Party of Collier County was able to save approximately $4 million in debt (with the possibility of hundreds of millions more) from being added to the Collier County books on May 13, 2014.
MSBUs are often used throughout the state of Florida and within Collier County to maintain and improve public property where access is open to all members of the public equally through the use of special assessments on property owners in a designated area levied under the taxing power. Frequently, easements and property dedications are required to ensure that the funds collected are utilized in accordance with applicable laws regarding the use of public funds. La Peninsula is a private, gated community where there is no public access. The seawall in question is privately owned by the condo association. Article VII, Section 10 of the Florida Constitution is crystal clear on the issue: “Neither the state nor any county… shall… lend or use its taxing power or credit to aid any corporation, association, partnership or person…” At the end of the day, public money must be spent on a paramount public purpose, not as a bailout for funding for private entities.
In addition to the Constitutional and other legal concerns this action would have created, it would have resulted in adding approximately $4 million to the Collier County debt (added to the approximately $600 million in existing debt) for a big government effort that has never been done before in Collier County or the state of Florida according to the Collier County attorney. This would have set a terrible precedent for the 500 other homeowners associations in Collier County alone, letting them know that they need not manage their properties with proper fiscal responsibility because at the end of the day, the county government will be there to bail them out. The Chairman of the Collier County Commissioners estimated that funding similar projects for seawalls across the county would cost over one billion dollars.
LPCC leaders spoke at the county meetings, citing their concerns to the Commissioners. Chairman Jared Grifoni, an attorney and radio show host, led the fight and was supported by many local libertarians including Vice Chairman and former 2012 candidate for FL House Peter Richter, and 2014 Libertarian candidate for US Congress Ray Netherwood. LPCC Secretary Elsa Martinez was a key figure in conducting the research and organizing the Libertarian opposition to this issue. The efforts extended well beyond the County meetings however. After the initial approval of the MSBU creation, LPCC leaders attended several meetings at La Peninsula to encourage the residents there to seek a private sector solution rather than getting trapped into a government bailout. This outreach by the LPCC and their initial petition to the BCC was cited by the condo residents as one of the primary reasons why they have changed their minds from being once in favor of the government plan to preferring a private option.
The LPCC organized email alerts, utilized social media, sent robocalls to county residents, had letters to the editor published, conducted a public records request on a member of the board, and received media coverage from local outlets. The LPCC has also cut video of the meetings and placed them on their county affiliate YouTube page for sharing and informational purposes. Had it not been for the Libertarian Party of Collier County not only would this MSBU still be alive and well but most residents of Collier County never would have even known about the issue to begin with because it was passed quietly with no organized opposition and it was driven by strong Republican support in a right-leaning county.
The justification for maintaining the county funding mechanism changed time and time again but the facts never stood up to questioning from the Libertarian Party of Collier County. After initially claiming that the seawall was in danger of complete and imminent collapse, the LPCC uncovered reports from the County Engineer indicating that there was no imminent or current failure of the seawall. At the May meeting, the County Engineer confirmed this on the record. The LPCC also received a copy of a memo dated February 3, 2014 that notated that there appears to be “no immediate public safety concern at this time.” Without a “paramount public purpose” and opposition to the government plan by residents of the condo association, the Commissioners were left with little alternative except to accept a delay in the MSBU implementation.
The board voted 3-2 to hold the MSBU in abeyance while the community pursues a private funding mechanism (which they have already secured from at least two lending institutions). This has effectively removed the $4 million in debt from county books until and unless the private funding for the project falls through. The LPCC is very passionate about fiscal conservatism and accountability and works very hard to hold government’s feet to the fire based on these principles. The LPCC will continue to monitor the situation and will continue to advocate for private, market-based solutions without government intervention.
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For anyone who wants to find out more about the Libertarian Party of Florida, please visit www.lpf.org.