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Solari: New county offices on island ‘wasteful’


You might think it odd that the county commissioner whose district includes most of the barrier island would gripe about the opening earlier this month of a satellite government complex, which allows beachside residents to visit the offices of the county’s Tax Collector, Property Appraiser and Clerk of Court without crossing any bridges.

If so, you don’t know Bob Solari, the District 5 commissioner who prides himself on being a staunch fiscal conservative – so much so that he was willing to challenge the need for the Oceanside County Complex and attack the motives of fellow Republicans who run the constitutional offices.

“Just because they’re Republicans doesn’t mean they don’t spend as wastefully as Democrats,” Solari said last week. “There’s no justification for this. It wasn’t done to provide service to the community. It was done for political purposes.

“It’s absolutely corrupt to use tax dollars to buy votes for the next election.”

The Oceanside County Complex, located at 3003 Cardinal Drive in the Central Beach business district, opened June 3 and provides island residents more convenient access to the services offered by the three county agencies that will share the $4,000-per-month rent for the 1,200-square-foot space.

The Tax Collector’s Office will pay $2,000, while the Property Appraiser and Clerk of Court each will pay $1,000. Renovating, furnishing and equipping the new facility has cost the agencies more than $20,000 thus far, said Tax Collector Carole Jean Jordan, the driving force behind the project.

The new facility allows beachside residents to register motor vehicles, get marriage licenses, question property taxes, apply for passports, pay traffic tickets and file for homestead exemptions without leaving the island.

Tax Collector Carole Jean Jordan, the driving force behind the project, said her beachside branch does not offer driver’s-license testing, renewals and replacements.

“This is a tremendous convenience for the people who live on the island,” Property Appraiser Wesley Davis said. “They no longer need to leave the island, and they can do all their county business in one place. It’s one-stop shopping.”

“The main office is crowded, and it’s getting more crowded every day,” Jordan said. “People don’t come in just to pay their taxes. They come in for their driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations, hunting and fishing licenses and birth certificates.

“We’ve talked about expanding the Tax Collector’s Office at the County Administration Complex, but I’ve consulted with our public works director, Rich Szpyrka, and he said it will be difficult to do and that it would take at least three years. I’ve also spoken with our county administrator, Jason Brown, and he said it likely would be more like five or six years before we could do anything.

“The beachside office makes it more convenient for people on the island and, at the same time, will reduce some of the crowded at the main office.”

Solari said the convenience argument was concocted, given how rarely residents typically visit those offices, and called the beachside branch a waste of county tax dollars. He questioned the wisdom of operating a complex from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to accommodate only a handful of people each week.

“They’re saying it’s a great convenience for island residents? How many people in our community have told you there’s a need for these constitutional offices on the beach?” Solari asked, adding that he has lived on the island for 37 years and such a thought “never occurred to me.”

Solari said driving across the bridges to the agencies’ main offices at the County Administration Complex on 27th Street was “not a hardship” for beachside residents, even for those who live on the northern and southern tiers of the island.

“If you live in the Town of Orchid or The Moorings, you drive across the bridges to go to Publix once or twice a week,” Solari said. “You’re telling me it’s too inconvenient to drive across the bridges to go to the County Administration Complex once or twice a year, if that?

“They still need to drive 9 to 11 miles to get to Cardinal Drive,” he added. “You’re only going three miles more to get to the County Administration Complex.”

To further bolster his argument, Solari said: “They’re opening a complex to handle one or two people a day. What private-sector business would do that? But because we’re using tax dollars, it’s OK.

“That’s just wrong.”

Solari also wondered how county residents on the mainland would react when they learn that their tax dollars will cover half of the costs of operating the beachside complex – a facility from which they’ll get little or no benefit.

He said Friday he had not yet spoken to Jordan about the new island office and probably wouldn’t do so any time soon. “I haven’t calmed down enough yet,” he added.

Jordan could not be reached for comment on Solari’s remarks.

Back in March, however, when news of the project was first reported by Vero Beach 32963, Jordan said the new facility will lessen traffic at the agencies’ main offices and save island residents time and fuel.

“It’s great that we’re all working together for the public good,” she said.

Davis said the lease agreement is for only two years, and he’s willing to invest that amount of time and $1,000 per month to see how island residents respond to the new facility.

He said Solari’s arguments against the beachside branch – particularly in terms of need versus convenience – also could be applied to the county’s satellite offices in the Sebastian area.

While Solari conceded the costs of operating the island office were not excessive, he said the county government continues to recover from the Great Recession and every dollar matters.

“It might not seem like a huge amount of money, but there’s not much to cut, except on the margins,” Solari said. “We’re probably down 50 to 60 people from where we were at our peak in the county, and we continue to try to keep our costs in check.

“This is a weedy kind of thing that people don’t notice, because they’re busy and it’s not a big-dollar amount,” he added. “But we’re going to start our budget sessions next month, and the constitutional officers – including the sheriff – are going to be asking for more money. We also have unfunded mandates from the state.

“So people might not be paying attention now, but they’ll notice if we have to increase the millage rate.”

The County Commission had no say in the decision by Jordan, Davis and Court Clerk Jeff Smith to open the beachside branch, but Solari said he doesn’t believe the move will significantly impact how county residents vote.

Nor does he think his opposition to the facility will hurt him politically.

“I don’t believe this will do them any real good,” Solari said of the constitutional officers. “Nobody has told me, ‘This is great,’ so I’m not too concerned. There are more fiscal conservatives on the beach.”

As for attacking fellow Republicans, Solari said: “I don’t really care. I am a conservative. I’m aligned with the Republicans because that’s as close as I can get to any conservative values.”