The TC Palm – St. Lucie County to consider using money from emergency reserves to fight All Aboard Florida

Posted on April 1, 2015

LUCIE COUNTY — Three weeks after the County Commission said it couldn’t afford to earmark money for a legal fight against All Aboard Florida, it decided it can’t afford not to.


The commission on Tuesday OKd exploring the use of $1 million from emergency reserves for legal fees to help stop the high-speed passenger train.


“I think it is time to get off square one and let’s go, let’s go, let’s go and give staff the gas they need to go,” said Commissioner Chris Dzadovsky, who asked to board to budget money to show the county’s commitment against the project.


Residents at the meeting urged commissioners to follow their Indian River and Martin County counterparts and reserve money for the legal fight.


The commission could vote on the issue as soon as April 21.


Tuesday’s actions stand in stark contrast to its decision on March 10, when it said it couldn’t afford to get into the legal battle because the county has a $4.7 million deficit and is using reserve fund to cover the budgetary gap.


In late February, Indian River County commissioners approved spending up to $2.7 million and Martin OKd $1.4 million to launch a legal fight against All Aboard Florida, a $3 billion high-speed rail project linking Miami and Orlando. Trains would begin running through the Treasure Coast in 2017.


Residents have sent dozens of emails urging St. Lucie commissioners to take similar action.


St. Lucie already has spent $5,593 fighting All Aboard Florida, paying a Tallahassee law firm it shares with Indian River and Martin counties. In addition, the county on Feb. 26 hired another Tallahassee law firm to look out for just its interests. Those payments come from $200,000 budgeted for general legal professional services.


The county’s two major reserves are operating and emergency. The $12 million in emergency reserves is used solely for natural or man-made disasters. According to county policy, emergency reserves are kept at an amount equal to 5 percent of the operating budget. The money comes from taxes. The county has no policy requiring a specific amount in the operating reserves. That money represents funds not spent in prior budget years.


County Commission approval is needed to use either account.


Commissioner Frannie Hutchinson urged caution is using reserve account to pay attorneys.


“I know the ordinance is very restrictive on what we can use the money for,” Hutchinson said. “I want to make sure if we take money from one area that we wouldn’t cause problem in another.”


Commissioner Kim Johnson said the board is cementing its position against the train and not changing course.


“Most of the time when people say they’re committed to something, you say, ‘Put your money where your mouth is,’” Johnson said. “This is us putting our money where our mouth is.”

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