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Lake County Fire & Rescue “Fire Assessment” (aka tax)

Lake County Fire & Rescue “Fire Assessment” (aka tax): Revisions made in 2017 reduced the residential and commercial assessment rate

Since 2003 "improved" parcels of land in unincorporated Lake County (outside of city limits) have paid an annual fire assessment to fund the County’s fire department which serves the unincorporated areas, including providing first response for medical emergencies. The amount of the assessment is based on the type of use (e.g. residential, commercial, industrial) and is a standard amount for each category and is not based on the value of property like ad valorem taxes are. For example, each home in the unincorporated area pays $173 annually to help fund Lake Fire & Rescue.

A recent audit of the county's fire assessment concluded it was not equitable for vacant land to have zero assessment while all other property was being assessed, thus it was recommended that the annual fire assessment include a vacant land category for non-agricultural property that is considered to be a “buildable” parcel. The assessment was set at $50 per vacant, buildable parcel; and individuals who own multiple adjacent parcels are permitted to aggregate their parcels by contacting the Property Appraiser’s office (352-253-2150).

By including a $50 fee for non-agricultural vacant parcels in the unincorporated area, the County Commission was able to lower the annual assessment on 4 of the 5 other categories, including residential and commercial -- and is able to adequately fund its annual operational costs for fire related and basic life services.

*A tremendous amount of fire resources were used this year (and in past years) to fight wildfires and brush fires which occurred on vacant land or threatened homes by spreading across vacant land. Lake Fire & Rescue responded to 770 confirmed fires last year. In addition to actual fires, there were 6,513 fire-related incidents (hazmat, fire alarms, etc.) and 15,268 emergency medical incidents.

**While some residents may own a vacant parcel adjacent to their homes or hold vacant lots as investments, many of the vacant parcels that were included in the assessment are subdivision lots owned by builders/developers who are in the process of selling lots for new home construction.

***Florida law requires paramedic services provided by county fire departments to be charged as a millage rate on our property tax bills, not as a property assessment, which is why unincorporated residents have a separate millage for paramedics who provide advanced life support (ALS). These paramedics who respond to medical emergencies on a fire truck often make the difference between life and death (strokes, heart attacks, trauma) in suburban and rural areas because Lake EMS ambulances are primarily located within city limits or may be in route to or from a hospital -- to assure quality care and continuity, Lake EMS supervises emergency medical care provided by Lake Fire & Rescue and municipal fire departments.

NOTE: If your tax bill included a $50.00 vacant property assessment for property and you do not believe should have been included, please contact the Property Appraiser’s office at 352-253-2150 and corrections will be made.

Making the CR 435 ramps south of Mt. Plymouth Permanent

Saving Mt. Plymouth, Lake County and the Wekiva Basin from the “unintended” consequences of the “three interchange” limitation

by Lake County Commissioner Leslie Campione, District 4


Summary Position: Making the CR 435 ramps south of Mt. Plymouth permanent combined with prohibiting commercial uses and residential development at this interchange (and the surrounding area) would provide greater protection to wildlife, save the Mt. Plymouth community, and protect its quaint, quiet and natural character by intercepting the onslaught of traffic that will otherwise use CR 435 to reach the Camp Challenge interchange on SR 46.


Editorial: If you’ve ever driven north on CR 435 during rush hour from Apopka to the Orange-Lake County line, then made your way through the small, quiet community of Mt. Plymouth on your way to SR 46, you fully understand why many residents in this quaint area of Northeast Lake County would like to see the temporary ramps at the intersection of CR 435 and the Wekiva Parkway become permanent, with one proviso: that the zoning laws in Orange County and Apopka prohibit any new commercial or residential uses immediately surrounding this area and these restrictions be added to the “Wekiva River Protection Act” and the “Wekiva Parkway and Protection Act” (referred to herein as the “Wekiva Act”), just as they were years ago for property within Lake County.


Despite what you’ve read in the newspaper, or heard from environmental advocates and politicians who brokered the Wekiva Parkway deal, there is no secret agenda here to “open up the door” for more development of this area, in fact, just the opposite is true. Sorrento and Mt. Plymouth residents in Lake County relish the fact they live in an area where the residential densities from CR 435 to the Wekiva River are primarily 1 unit to 40 acres or designated for perpetual conservation or owned by State agencies; and no new commercial land uses are permitted in the Wekiva Protection Area outside of the Mt. Plymouth-Sorrento Urban Compact Node (a small area along SR 46) except for a few existing land uses which were “grandfathered in” during the adoption of the “Wekiva Act”.


The abundant wildlife that traverses this area makes no distinction between where the Wekiva Parkway begins or ends, and arguably due to fencing and other improvements designed to protect wildlife from approaching the Parkway, there could be more incidents of deer and bear being hit along CR 435 once the temporary ramp is closed due to the sheer volume of traffic that will travel this road daily to reach the Wekiva Parkway interchange on SR 46 at Camp Challenge (where they will take the Parkway east toward Seminole County).


Most of the rhetoric against leaving this ramp open centers around the “promise” that there would only be three interchanges on the Wekiva Parkway (Kelly Park Road in Apopka, Mount Dora, and Camp Challenge on SR 46) with the hope that the “if you build it, they will come” phenomenon would never come to fruition in this environmentally sensitive area. The Kelly Park Interchange has been designed as the mega interchange with a large amount of retail uses while the City of Mount Dora has limited retail and residential uses at its interchange with the primary focus on targeted industries such as technology, health care, research and education. Ironically, it is the Camp Challenge interchange on SR 46, which is restricted forever from having commercial development and housing developments around it, that will pull traffic from the south and wreak havoc on Mt. Plymouth, which is essentially a residential neighborhood bifurcated by CR 435.


Before the temporary ramp was built, a steady stream of Apopka and Orange County residents used this route daily to travel east to Seminole County, I-4 or beyond. But with the current configuration these motorists can slip onto the Wekiva Parkway and avoid the corkscrew turns and bends on CR 435 as it winds into Lake County. Some say that once the temporary ramp is closed, these same motorists will drive west on Kelly Park Road to get onto the Parkway where they will then begin driving east again — this would only be the case if it takes them less time, real or perceived, and if it is less distance, which it is not. Therefore, once the temporary ramp is closed, CR 435 will be inundated daily with traffic traveling from Orange County to SR 46 through Mt. Plymouth and that small neighborhood will be congested and changed forever for the worst.


The Lake County Comprehensive Plan and “Wekiva Act” prohibits commercial and residential development at the interchange at Camp Challenge on SR 46. Apopka’s current Comprehensive Plan already limits the land uses around CR 435 to conservation, agricultural homestead, rural settlement and rural - but these limitations could be memorialized by amending the “Wekiva Act” to include them, which would assure they could not be changed or “upzoned” in the future. This is the best course of action for protecting Mt. Plymouth from an onslaught of congestion and traffic that will otherwise use CR 435 to reach the Camp Challenge interchange on SR 46.

Cemex Sand Mine Settlement

Cemex Sand Mine Settlement: Facts that Won't Be Reported by Some

After a two and half year legal battle between Cemex and Lake County, the Board of County Commissioners approved a settlement agreement with Cemex on November 20, 2017, to allow dry sand mining on approximately 600 acres south of Clermont near the large reclaimed water rapid infiltration system owned by Orange County and the Orlando Utilities Commission referred to as Conserve II.

This settlement agreement stopped the time clock on legal fees being paid by taxpayers to defend several legal actions filed against Lake County as a result of the Lake County Commission's 3-2 vote in 2015 to deny the proposed sand mine on the Cemex property. I did not support the denial at that time because I knew the permit was allowed under local and state law and that denying the permit would likely result in protracted and costly litigation, and for that reason I proposed a variety of strict conditions as a way to prevent excessive truck traffic, conserve water, and assure only small areas could be mined (and then reclaimed) before sand could be removed from new areas.

At that time, one outspoken local commentary writer sharply criticized me, as if the County really had a choice in the matter, and one Lake County Commissioner made his denial vote the cornerstone of his re-election campaign despite the fact the requested land use was permitted by the County's zoning regulations.

After more than two years of litigation, Cemex resubmitted its application in conjunction with a negotiated Settlement Agreement between the County and the adjoining landowners. The Settlement Agreement resulted in several beneficial concessions including the donation of a 100 acre park on the site that can be used for either passive recreational uses or a regional park with ballfields.

In addition, of the 600 acres being mined within Cemex 's 1200 acre parcel, only 100 acres can be mined at any one time and thereafter that 100 acre area must be reclaimed and contoured to look like non-mined property so no evidence of prior mining can be seen. Plus, Cemex must construct an east to west road from U.S. Highway 27 to the Orange County line where Schofield Road goes on to connect to the 429 Beltway. Other important conditions include the following:

*There will be no hydraulic mining (that is, no lakes may be created and only "dry excavation" is permitted);

*Cemex must recycle all water used to wash sand as an alternative to drawing water from the aquifer;

*Cemex must request to use reclaimed water from Conserve II as an alternative to well water;

*There will be no excavation activities adjacent to the Hill’s blueberry farm;

*There will be no batch plants, block plants or cement plants;

*No sand trucks can leave the site until Cemex constructs Schofield Road to the Orange County line (which intersects with the “429” Beltway);

*Cemex must construct and maintain clay running trails around the perimeter of their property for residents and athletes;

*Cemex must construct a 100 foot earthen berm around their land with trees planted on it; and

*They are not allowed to create dust or noise offsite, and they must reduce their hours of operation once any development occurs on adjacent land.

Finally, as part of the mining approval Cemex must adhere to the "Wellness Way" Plan which requires that future uses on the Cemex property (i.e. post-mining) must create 3400 jobs through the allocation of 154 acres of land that can only be used for commercial uses and targeted industries (medical, research technology, etc.) with 239 acres that can only be used for “wellness” land uses and 120 acres that must be designated as green space.

These are really good conditions that are far better than rolling the dice and spending more taxpayer dollars litigating with Cemex. Our choices were limited and to say "no" again would have cost Lake County residents millions of dollars in legal challenges and potentially an inverse condemnation lawsuit. I hope this information gives you some insight into the difficult situation our County Commission was up against and the positive results we were able to obtain by imposing strict limitations and conditions on Cemex’s activities.

Leslie Campione, Lake County Commissioner District 4

Amendments to Lake County’s Fertilizer Ordinance

Amendments to Lake County’s Fertilizer Ordinance: Reducing Nutrient Loading and Algae Blooms in our Lakes without violating “property rights”

How do you merge concerns about over-reach by government into our lives with a genuine desire to improve the water quality of our lakes, rivers, springs and aquifer? Make it easy for people to find information on fertilizer and lawn care "best practices.” For example, grass clippings being put into canals or lakes is one of the worst contributors to nutrient loading; and fertilizer that falls on a hard surface and as washed into a storm drain is a major contributor to nutrient loading. Encouraging these "best practices" is a great starting point for reducing nitrogen and nutrient loading in our waterbodies in Lake County.

Until the debate about amendments to Lake County’s fertilizer ordinance went public, a lot of people didn't know that using nitrogen fertilizer in the summer when it rains hard with very little warning, is a contributing factor to algae blooms in the warm summer months, and that there are non-nitrogen fertilizers that can be purchased if you choose to fertilize in the summer. Otherwise, by fertilizing in the Spring with slow release fertilizer you can keep your yard green and healthy throughout the summer.

There are definitely other nutrients finding their way into our aquifer and surface water that could be reduced if individual people just take a few simple steps like checking their septic systems periodically and pumping them as a proactive way to avoid a septic tank failure. In addition, new homeowners using septic tanks can elect to utilize the newest technology on the market or performance based systems.

In addition, retrofitting old stormwater drainage systems and diverting direct discharge of stormwater from roads and yards into our lakes is another important part of reducing nutrient loading, but these improvements are very costly undertakings and most jurisdictions are taking on these projects incrementally.

The purpose of having a summer “black out” on the use of nitrogen fertilizer products in the summer is to set a standard and to bring awareness to nutrient loading in our waterways, not to “police” activities of Lake County residents.

If we just get the information out, encourage people to do the right thing, make it easy to do the right thing, we will probably see better results in the long run.

Unfortunately, a lot of misinformation was spread to the public through an advertising campaign by large fertilizer companies prior to the Commission hearing on the fertilizer amendment. For example, they told residents the County Commission was considering banning the use of fertilizer by individuals so that only professional companies could be used which was never under consideration. Here are the facts:

1. Includes seasonal blackout of applying fertilizer containing phosphorous and nitrogen between June 1 and September 30.
2. Increases application and low maintenance zone setback to within 15 feet of waterbodies.
3. Establishes minimum 50 percent slow release nitrogen content.

Fertilizer Ordinance Facts:

  • Lake County is included in the Wekiva and the Silver Springs “BMAP” (Springs Basin Management Action Plan”) and was required by State law to adopt a fertilizer ordinance by July 1, 2017.
  • 34 Florida counties have adopted a fertilizer ordinance.
  • Neighboring counties that have adopted a fertilizer ordinance include Marion, Orange, Volusia and Seminole.
  • 44 percent of counties with a fertilizer ordinance have a slow release requirement.
  • 50 municipalities statewide have adopted a fertilizer ordinance.

Medical Marijuana

Medical Marijuana: Zoning and the Location of Dispensaries

Florida voters made the decision to make medical marijuana available to residents with a prescription for such treatment, but voters were not asked where and how many dispensaries there should be across the State. Ordinarily decisions about the appropriate locations for particular land uses are considered “zoning” issues and they are 100% under the purview of local governments with the caveat that they must be consistent with that government’s comprehensive plan and future land use map.

After the referendum on medical marijuana passed, the legislature tied the hands of local governments by giving them only two choices with regard to “where” dispensaries should be located and “how many” there should be in a given area: local governments either had to (1) disallow dispensaries in their jurisdiction or (2) allow them in any zoning category where pharmacies could be located (typically pharmacies can be located in any type of commercial zoning district) without any consideration of proximity to schools, churches, playgrounds, etc. If a local government opted for choice #2, then no limitations could be placed on the number of dispensaries in that jurisdiction.

It is important to note that delivery of medical marijuana to someone’s home is allowed anywhere in Florida regardless of whether dispensaries are allowed in a particular county or city, so dispensaries aren't the only way to get a prescription filled.

Because the legislature gave local governments only two choices for deciding where dispensaries could be located, the Lake County Commission opted to take a cautious approach by disallowing storefronts (i.e. dispensaries) in the unincorporated areas for the time being while we see whether home delivery is effective and whether patients have sufficient access using dispensaries in adjoining jurisdictions or cities within Lake County who have opted to allow dispensaries (Mascotte, Mount Dora and Astatula). We can also watch to see how this plays out in neighboring counties who have no limitations such as Volusia, Marion, Orange, and Polk counties and most of Seminole County.

Considering that growers who have been issued a license by the State Health Department are currently the only ones allowed to dispense, and there are a limited number of growers with licenses in the entire state right now, it is highly unlikely that these growers would select low density, rural, unincorporated areas to operate a dispensary - however, this is uncharted territory and it is possible that dispensaries might be opened in remote locations for the purpose of securing that location for future related uses.

Once such a business is opened it would have to be “grandfathered” should the State rules change in the future limiting the number or location of dispensaries across the State. In addition, it is unknown whether additional law enforcement would be needed around dispensaries to protect this “all cash” business (due to the status of Federal law on the use of marijuana, banks and credit card companies will not participate in any business activities currently so all purchases must be made with cash); furthermore, we don’t know whether dispensaries will attract other commercial uses and residential development in the rural areas which is generally contrary to the County’s comprehensive plan.

As noted above, growers can deliver directly to someone's home, which may prove the most convenient way for patients to get their prescription. The bottom line is that medical marijuana is clearly accessible to those who have a prescription -- thus, the voters' will is being carried out. This is all new territory and the Lake County Commission is not thwarting or ignoring the voters who voted to amend the State constitution. Instead, the Lake County Commission is being cautious with regard to opening the door to dispensaries in the rural or unincorporated areas.

No Kill Animal Shelter

This was written by Leslie Campione for the Daily Commercial in late 2016. The Lake County Animal Shelter has since achieved a "no kill shelter" designation through the diligent efforts of volunteers, rescue organizations and County staff.

It is now time for Lake County to transition to a county animal shelter that will exhaust all reasonable alternatives in order to save a healthy, treatable pet before killing that animal. This type of a shelter is labeled a “no kill” shelter, and communities across America are making this goal a reality in their counties and cities.

Naysayers will say its unrealistic, too costly, and that some animals must be euthanized, but as explained below, euthanasia in a “no kill” shelter is a last resort. A transition can be undertaken in a relatively short period of time if we look to the lessons learned in other communities and combine public and private forces to make a “no kill” animal shelter in Lake County a reality.

First, under a “no kill” program, animals that are irremediably suffering, hopelessly ill, or truly vicious beyond any behavioral modification will still be euthanized, but determinations regarding rehabilitation are made using proven, objective techniques. Currently when the shelter is out of room, euthanasia is used for the purpose of freeing up space, albeit those animals least likely to be adopted are the first chosen for euthanasia. This is where we are today, and it is time to change.

Second, additional costs associated with the start up costs of “no kill” shelters are often offset through enhanced volunteerism which naturally occurs because volunteers want to be associated with the ultimate mission of saving lives (versus working in a “kill” shelter), plus there are new techniques that can be used to maximize volunteer labor and involvement. But ultimately it is an aggressive spay and neuter program that will save the most money because there will be less unwanted and abandoned pets in the general population. In addition, effective adoption programs that are well-coordinated with private and not-for-profit rescue groups is a critical part of saving lives and saving money.

Successful “no kill” shelters use creative outreach to make spaying and neutering affordable and accessible. For example, coupons covering a large part of the spay or neuter cost could be sent to a specific geographic area or honored for a limited period of time for a specific breed. Some shelters will even pick up pets to facilitate the procedure and return them to their homes.

To promote the adoption of puppies and assure their health and protect them from negative socialization, babies (kittens and puppies) can be placed in foster homes until they are ready to be adopted. Older dogs can be trained in order to promote their chances of adoption. And all adoptions should include follow-up visits, calls or technical support so that families have the tools they need to succeed so that the animal is not returned to the shelter.

Another essential element of a successful, animal shelter is a shelter director or manager who believes in the “no kill” mission and is equipped with essential management skills, practical experience and knowledge, and a tremendous amount of compassion and willingness to go the extra mile.

If you have ever visited Lake County’s animal shelter, you already know that the current building is hot, old and not physically able of being insulated and air-conditioned in any meaningfully way (it is essentially a glorified pole-barn). It is unsafe in its present condition for a variety of reasons. The Sheriff has done a good job working with what we have, including accepting donations of labor and materials to add insulation, more natural light, and better exercise areas.

We desperately need one or more new buildings at the current shelter, but a fancy, oversized building is not necessary or desirable. The key is to have separate spaces so that animals ready for adoption are in one area, and those that are in a “hold” status or that are quarantined can be held in separate spaces with separate ventilation systems; in addition, feral cats and domesticated cats cannot be kept in one location, and again, there must be separate areas for those who haven’t been tested for illnesses. The design of the kennel spaces is also important in order to prevent negative socialization; and cleanliness, enforced with stringent protocols and practices, is the only way to assure against sickness within the shelter.

I am asking for the community’s support to utilize penny sales tax funds to replace the current structure with the hope that private donations and fundraising may allow us to fast-track this process. At the very least, we could accept private donations and fundraising to assist with providing low-cost spay and neuter vouchers.

Lake County is blessed to have a highly dedicated and talented veterinary community and incredibly dedicated and caring animal welfare advocates, including several private and not-for profit shelters and rescue organizations. These individuals will stop at nothing to improve an animal’s qualify of life and we cannot achieve a “no kill” shelter without their help and the support of our veterinary community.
We need their input and participation in order to developer a strategic plan for transitioning from our current system to a “no kill” program, which should also include reforms to our current regulations to effectively deter and punish those who neglect or abuse animals. It is time to eliminate current policies that undermine the public’s trust in our county animal shelter.

Becoming a “no kill” shelter does not happen by declaration, but it can be achieved by creating a road map, and then practicing slow and steady implementation with the assistance of a politicians, pet owners, foster families, volunteers, the local veterinary community, private and not-for-profit rescue and shelter organizations, traditional media outlets, social media, and a highly motivated, competent and compassionate animal shelter director and staff.

There is no place for politics or negativity in this equation if we are going to be successful, yet prudent financial planning, an “investment” mentality and common sense should be paramount along with a willingness to learn from leaders and experts who have successfully implemented “no kill” shelters. This entire process will require patience, both in the initial implementation and the much desired outcome. You have my commitment, can I count on your support? I encourage you to contact your county commissioners at or write me directly at