Monday night’s county meeting turned contentious after Buenaventura Lakes residents objected to continued government funding for a non-profit organization tasked with operating a local community center, which residents claimed was largely inaccessible.
Tensions centered around a new five-year contract between the county and the Boys & Girls Club of Central Florida for more than $1 million. The agreement grants the non-profit group access to the Robert Guevara Community Center in BVL, and in return, the organization is tasked with maintaining the facility and overseeing its day-to-day operations.
The five-year agreement continues a previous five-year contract between the county and the group signed by both parties in 2013.
The new agreement awards $223,788 to the Boys & Girls Club for fiscal year 2019 and increases that amount a few percentage points each year until it tops off in 2023 at $251,875.
Things heated up when a BVL resident took to the podium to protest the new agreement, claiming limited access to the community center due to activities and programs hosted by the Boys & Girls Club.
“The building was built for the benefit of the residents of Buenaventura Lakes, and we are the ones now who get to use it the least,” said resident Claire Dempster. “We have to work our time around what the Boys and Girls Club wants.”
Dempster went on to argue that the non-profit should host programs at schools, which can provide playground, school resource officers and larger facilities than the community center.
“We have nothing against the Boys and Girls Club,” Dempster said. “This just isn’t a suitable place for them to be.”
She said residents were originally told the arrangement was only supposed to be temporary until the group could build its own facility on Buenaventura Lakes Boulevard, which never happened.
Dempster found fault with County Commissioner Viviana Janer, whose district includes BVL, and who Dempster claimed refused to communicate effectively with residents or host town hall meetings.
Janer is up for re-election this fall.
Dempster asked the commission to refrain from voting on the agreement until after the November election.
Wanda Rentas spoke next. Rentas, a Republican Kissimmee Commissioner, is vying for Janer’s District Two seat. Five residents donated their time to her, giving Rentas a total of 18 minutes to speak.
Rentas raised questions about funding and cost analysis concerning the center.
She said no bids were sent out to see if a different group was interested in managing the site.
“The county just offers a lease agreement without offering a contract to any other organization besides the Boys and Girls Club,” Rentas said. “Do you believe there are maybe no other non-profits interested in the Robert Guevara Community Center?”
She also discussed rate increases. Previously, residents could use the center for free and non-profits were charged $15 an hour. Now, both residents and non-profits will pay $50 an hour plus a $100 fee under the new contract.
Rentas called for the commission to table the item until Janer set up a meeting with residents to discuss and explain the contract.
When resident comments ended, Chairman Fred Hawkins Jr., a former Boys and Girls Club board member, said he fully supported the organization, which struggles to generate operating dollars.
Then Janer spoke clarifying some issues raised by residents.
According to Janer, over the past 12 months, 454 non-Boys and Girls Club events have been hosted at the community center, including baby showers, birthday parties, neighborhood watch meetings and Osceola County Council on Aging events.
As to the increase in hourly fees, Janer said that BVL residents no longer pay a MSBU assessment on their property taxes, so that money no longer offsets hourly fees at the facility. Instead of getting it taken out of taxes, residents “pay as they go” to use the center.
She then made a motion to approve the new five-year contract.
Commissioner Peggy Choudhry noted that there seemed to be a lot of misinformation about the community center from residents. She suggested holding off on the vote until Janer could meet with constituents, explain it more clearly and answer their questions, as they had requested earlier.
“I was not called for a meeting in reference to this subject,” Janer said. “I found out via one of our staff members…that a meeting needed to take place on Thursday. I did afford the opportunity for a meeting to take place today at 11:30 a.m. and it was denied. So, just so you know, I did give ample opportunity and I invited the residents, as they have showed up now, to show up to this meeting…So, with that, my motion still stands.”
The new agreement with the Boys & Girls Club was approved 4-1, with Choudhry dissenting.