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County to vote May 4 on eliminating 11 citizen advisory panels

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Hundreds of barrier island residents with time and talent serve as volunteers on various city and county advisory committees, dealing with issues that affect the community.

On May 4, the Board of County Commissioners will vote on eliminating a total of 11 citizen advisory committees — including the Utility Advisory Committee — to save staff time and tax dollars.

Commissioner Bob Solari has championed the idea, suggesting that committee meetings suck up hours of staff time, take resources away from other tasks and occupy citizen volunteer time that could be put to better use.

Earlier this year, Solari offered a Powerpoint presentation to his fellow board members, citing numbers in the neighborhood of millions of dollars annually (about $177,000 for one committee alone) that could be “saved” by eliminating committees that meet infrequently or failed to assist the decision-making process.

Although he came up with those numbers by assigning arbitrary hourly rates to volunteer time and calling it a “cost,” Solari defended his stance that the measure will save real money. “With the major budget cuts we’re looking at, those cuts will affect staffing and work will need to be reallocated among the remaining staff,” Solari said.

“The time saved that would have been spent on these committees will free those people up to take on the duties that are reallocated from the staff positions that will need to be cut.” In some cases, committees are made up of appointees who show up out of a feeling of civic duty, but rarely get much accomplished.

Other committees have long been criticized as a political reward system for commissioners, who are responsible for appointing members, most of whom turn out to be political supporters or allies.

“I’ve never looked at them that way anyway,” said Solari. “When a committee position becomes open, I try to appoint a young person — under 40 — to get younger people involved in their government.”

Depending upon the subject matter of the committee, Solari said he looks for an interest or expertise in a particular area. Commissioner Gary Wheeler said he looks at the makeup of a committee and tries to appoint people who will inject diversity of thought onto the committee.

“I think we need to take a step back on this and let people know, give them a chance to give us their input on what they think about the committees they serve on and whether or not they think they should be eliminated,” Wheeler said.

Most committee members have not been notified that they might be losing their posts. Some might be elated at having one less meeting to attend, Wheeler said, but some who are passionate about the issues that come before their committee might feel very differently.

The committees proposed for elimination on May 4 are those that have been deemed as “not required” by legislation or a grant the county receives.

They are the Conservation Lands Advisory Committee, Emergency Services District Advisory Committee, Historic Resources Advisory Committee, Land Acquisition Advisory Committee, North Barrier Island Corridor Ongoing Review Committee, Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee, Professional Services Advisory Committee, Public Library Advisory Board, State Road 60 Corridor Plan Ongoing Review Task Force, the Utility Advisory Committee and the Wabasso Corridor Plan Ongoing Review Task Force.

Wheeler said he would like to hear from members of these committees – as well as from members of the public – prior to the final decision to eliminate the volunteer boards.

Commissioner Joe Flescher also said he thought more input was needed and that the commission should move cautiously in permanently doing away with committees.

Solari said the issue has been publicly discussed several times and published on meeting agendas and that there had been no public outcry to keep the committees.

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