The Cocoa City Council held its annual Priorities and Planning Workshop on Thursday, February 23, 2023 at Cocoa City Hall to outline and prepare for the fiscal year 2024 budget preparation process. Below is a recap of the meeting:
Review of events:
- The City Manager gave an overview of events currently happening including the Annual City of Cocoa Job Fair on February 23, 2023 at the Dr. Joe Lee Smith Community Center which is held in conjunction with CareerSource Brevard. Over 20 employers were on hand, as well as the City of Cocoa seeking out potential candidates for open positions. The City of Cocoa's UpStart Cocoa Small Business Development Program application period is ongoing and ends March 15, 2023. This unique program offers new or expanding minority or woman-owned businesses the opportunity to get up to $10,000 in a forgivable loan. This program also includes a partnership with weVENTURE for business education and mentorship.
- The City Manager also previewed a video announcing that the City of Cocoa Police Department has seen another drop in crime for the second consecutive year based on the latest crime statistics submitted to FDLE.
Parks Infrastructure and Master Plan Review and Approval with Project Updates:
- In 2020, the City of Cocoa hired S&ME to conduct a Parks Master Plan. The plan was created with input from city staff, a volunteer steering committee (made up of community volunteers), and the community at large. Surveys and committee focus groups were conducted to get input that shaped the resulting Parks Master Plan. This plan was a very high-level and long-term plan for city parks with input from single end-users. City staff, along with input from City Council, recognized that there were more immediate needs in our city parks that weren't identified through this Parks Master Planning process. Staff coordinated with other end-users of the parks including sports leagues and with Brevard County Parks and Recreation to identify those more immediate needs and created the Parks Infrastructure Plan. Prior to the 2022 priorities and planning sessions, staff combined the Parks Master Plan and Parks Infrastructure Plan to create a document that identified both short-term needs and long-term goals for Cocoa parks. The Parks Infrastructure and Master Plan was approved by Council at the workshop on February 23, 2023 with some additions including outlining neighborhoods that currently do not have access to a park nearby including Pine Ridge, College Manor, and Cocoa Hills. The need for sound dampening and additional landscaping at Travis Park was also identified to include in the plan. As soon as the few approved changes are made to the Parks Infrastructure and Master Plan, it will be uploaded to the City's website.
- District 1: Provost Park - This project is at 90% design and is anticipated to go out for bid in the next six weeks. It includes a new multi-purpose field, two full-size basketball courts, pickleball courts, restroom building modifications, lighting and safety enhancements, fencing, benches, and future parking. Council stated that security and lighting as well as cleaning out the over-grown vegetation was a priority for this park. It was also approved to use the City branded logo and colors on the courts.
- District 2: Bracco Pond Park - This project is nearly complete. It included multi-station static exercise equipment around the walking path. The stations have been installed and the pads will be installed soon.
- District 3: Junny Rios Martinez Park - This project is at 90% design and is anticipated to go out for bid in March. It includes a new ADA-compliant splash pad including a pumphouse and equipment and a 44'x32' pavilion.
- District 4: Don "Mo" Stradley Park - This project is at 90% design and is anticipated to out for bid in March or April. It includes reconstructing the football field with related stormwater and irrigation improvements and renovation of the field house. Some renovations including restroom fixtures and stairs leading to the field house are currently underway.
- Other discussions included the need for more community gardens and dog parks. Council also asked staff to look into the costs to add sound dampening at the Travis Park Community Center and look into the pricing of recreational programming at Travis.
- During COVID, Council approved for the temporary expansion of outdoor dining permits to include parking spaces to account for the restrictions placed on capacity at businesses. The emergency ordinance approving this expansion was extended a few times by Council, most recently in December 2022 when Council asked for staff to come back with options for making the expanded dining option permanent. Staff gave examples of several other communities that offer this same type of expanded seating capacity including Winter Park, Delray Beach, Key West, and Orlando. Staff then gave Council three options: discontinue on-street dining, continue with just the current users of the on-street dining, or to establish a new Sidewalk and Outdoor Dining Permit Ordinance that included set fees and policies. Council approved for staff to bring back a new ordinance allowing outdoor dining options with the fees and policies. That ordinance will be brought back to Council in March or April for approval (first and second reading).
- The City Manager explained to Council that currently in the Financial Operations Manual (FOM), the City Manager is authorized to assign any unassigned fund balances. The City Manager explained that he felt more comfortable giving the recommendations but allowing Council and community input before those balances were assigned. Council asked the City Manager to look at making that permanent change to the FOM. The Finance Director reviewed what Unassigned Fund Balance was and how it was allowed to be used. Then the City Manager reviewed several focus areas that needed to be addressed with estimated costs including increased funds for road paving projects ($500,000), additional money for the Fiske and Broadmoor Acres drainage project ($1.1m), a new fire pumper truck ($850,000), a police and fire high school cadet program ($300,000), additional funding for affordable housing or downpayment assistance programs ($400,000), funds to assist with the recruitment of new firefighters and police officers ($300,000), funds to help with the matching grant awarded to elevate Indian River Drive at Dixon Blvd. to help with flooding and drainage ($250,000), and capital for the museums ($240,000). Council approved this allocation of unassigned fund balance.
- The City Manager outlined the following legislative priorities this upcoming fiscal year:
Funding for all phases of the State Road 524 and State Road 501 Capacity and Safety Projects: This is a 4.2 mile stretch of roadway from the I-95/SR 524 intersection to the SR 501/Michigan Avenue intersection. These projects will help to provide the necessary corridor improvements that will be regionally significant for the City of Cocoa, Port Canaveral, Kennedy Space Center, and the Central Florida Region. Filling the funding gaps of these projects is critical for the possibility of a Brightline Station and the continued development along this corridor which will help to fill the current shortage of housing options in this area and citywide. Safety is also a major consideration for this stretch of roadway which has limited safety features leading to increased injuries and fatalities.
Additional state funding for the SHIP Program for Affordable Housing initiatives: Each year the City of Cocoa receives one of the lowest allocations of SHIP funding in the state of Florida. The funds received are used to help low-income families with home rehabilitation. Currently, there are over 70 families on the waitlist for this program and with the current allocation, the City is only able to assist about two families per year.
Supporting additional funding for the conversion of the former Dr. Joe Lee Smith Community Center located in the Diamond Square Community of Cocoa: The Diamond Square RDA was created in 1998 to leverage the neighborhood’s existing asses, remove the blight, improve existing conditions, and stimulate new development activity in one of the more underserved communities of Cocoa. The new Dr. Joe Lee Smith Community Center opened in 2020 allowing for recreational programming for youth and community assistance services through the County. The former recreational facility can now be used to serve the greatest needs within the Diamond Square community. However, the facility needs to be renovated to allow for these various functions. The City of Cocoa would like to work with community partners such as a healthcare organization or provider to assist with providing healthcare services to this community. Receiving the necessary funding to renovate this facility and repurpose it for continued use will allow the city to provide much-needed services to a community where gaps in service exist.
Additional funding for Sustainability and Resiliency Projects/Initiatives: The City of Cocoa has limited stormwater funding but a great need to improve infrastructure to ensure resiliency and sustainability. There are great needs in the community when it comes to rising sea levels and flooding concerns. The City received a state grant for a project along Indian River Drive and Dixon Blvd. to help with flooding but will have a difficult time funding the match for this grant. Other similar projects such as the Fiske Blvd. and Broadmoor Acres drainage project have been priorities to assist with these types of concerns. Additional funding will allow us the ability to complete some of these much-needed projects.
Funding for the redesign and construction of day slips at Lee Wenner Park: Following the recent devastating storms, Ian and Nicole, the City of Cocoa’s day slips located at Lee Wenner Park were destroyed. These slips allowed boaters to dock for a short period and enjoy the Cocoa Village area, increasing economic development to the area. The City will seek FEMA reimbursement and work with the Florida Inland Navigation District to secure the necessary funds to replace these slips with a more resilient and sustainable option.
Funding for infrastructure improvements to facilitate the siting of a Brightline Station in Cocoa: The Brightline Commuter rail is one of the most significant improvements this region has experienced over the last few years. The new system will make it easier for communities to tap into new markets and welcome visitors, workers and new business to the area. Currently the plan does not include a stop along the route from South Florida to Orlando. The City of Cocoa would like to secure that stop by ensuring the necessary infrastructure improvements that would facilitate the station in our community. A stop in the Cocoa community would be transformative for the city, the entire County and the region due to our central location, making it a multi-modal hub for the Central Florida region.
Protection of local Home Rule: The City of Cocoa supports the right for local governments to maintain Home Rule and allow local governments the authority to conduct municipal government functions and provide local services to the community.
Continued funding of bonus and incentive pay for first responders: First responders are at the heart of every community. First responders put their lives on the line every day to protect the members of this community. Recruitment and retention efforts for this profession are the hardest it has been in some time. We are continually having to find ways to remain competitive to recruit and retain qualified individuals to fill these vital roles in the community. The City of Cocoa supports bonus and incentive pay for first responders to further assist recruitment and retention efforts.
The next Council Priorities & Planning Workshop will be held on Monday, March 20, 2023 beginning at 10am at Cocoa City Hall.