Interview with Commissioner Fred Brummer, District 2
Conducted by: West Orlando News Online
Date: August 13, 2010
WONO: You were elected in 2006 to the Board of Orange County Commissioners, what has that experience been like?
Fred Brummer: It has been invigorating and time consuming. Previously, I was in the Florida Legislature for eight years, but serving the community in local government actually requires far more time to make sure that your constituents are getting served. It has been a wonderful experience, but it opens one’s eyes to the difference between theory, which would be the legislature, and practice, which would be local government in Orange County.
WONO: The unemployment rate in Orange County is over 11 percent and I am aware that job creation and economic development is one of your top priorities. What is being done to create jobs, particularly for the youths in District 2?
Fred Brummer: We’ve been doing two things, first trying to make sure that Mid-Florida Economic Development Council knows where Northwest Orange County is, so that when they’re bringing in new business to Orange County, Central Florida, they know what an asset Northwest Orange County is. Second, we have been an integral participant in the creation of the Pine Hills Redevelopment Task Force.
The Pine Hills Redevelopment Task Force is about innovative ways for land-use planning, zoning, and the other things government can do to make Pine Hills business-friendly, job friendly in this very very tough environment. We also have been working with the issues of job creation through Contractors Opportunities. Orange County has a very aggressive minorities contractors’ program. It continually seeks out minority contractors that can bid on Orange County projects. On this particular issue, by making sure that minority contractors have a chance to get Orange County jobs, you are being successful in creating opportunities for young people to find work.
WONO: What then do you see as the near-term and long-term prospects for attracting private sector investment particularly in the Pine Hills area?
Fred Brummer: As you do know the near-term prospects are very challenging, not because of the efforts that we are making, but given the overall economic situation in general. There are two issues that I see: As a practicing Certified Public Accountant, the financing mechanisms–the banking industry has tightened up its requirements so drastically that, any investment by businesses involving real estate, the banks want a matching reserve for their loan portfolio, making it highly challenging for a developer to get the financing necessary for a project.
The second is, redevelopment is much more difficult than initial development. When you have vacant land, it is far easier to get the approval, it is far less expensive to do the planning, architectural and engineering work on vacant property than to take a developed property and redevelop that for business purposes. So the challenges on the near-term are very, very difficult.
For the long-term, I sincerely believe that the Pine Hills Redevelopment Task Force and the message, Pine Hills is on the rise, is a great message to be getting out there and I think that we have a tremendous amount of opportunity. Further, I believe that my fellow commissioners recognize that, this type of effort being community-based, is the kind of thing where we will, as a commission, step up and make the commitments necessary to do the exceptional types of zoning and land-use changes necessary to facilitate redevelopment. But, it is a story of a journey of a-thousand miles which begins with a single step and a huge, giant stride was, creating the Pine Hills Redevelopment Task Force.
The next thing is to make sure we have persistent efforts to keep our Orange County Commission aware of the need for innovative planning, innovative zoning, and innovative job creation for land-use in the Pine Hills/Orlo Vista area so that three, or five years from now we are having significant success bringing new business investment into the community.
WONO: Once the work of the Task Force is completed, Commissioner Tiffany Moore-Russell recently said that she plans to brings proposals back to the Board of County Commissioners seeking support. I imagine that you would stand behind those proposals?
Fred Brummer: Yes. Commissioner Moore-Russell and I have worked shoulder-to-shoulder on this particular issue. Now, I will say to you it is not just blessing the suggestions of the Pine Hills Redevelopment Task Force that is necessary, equally important would be the ongoing efforts to make sure that the proposals are implemented and I will hope that we get some immediate results. But, I also hope that we will be able to continue the community involvement in the Pine Hills Redevelopment Task Force process so that three, or four years from now, we have suggestions arising, as we are going forward with those changes. Perhaps it wasn’t the Commissioner’s intention to go that far. But, the Board of Orange County Commissioners needs to continue to keep receiving suggestions, improvements, and innovative ideas from the Pine Hills community for the purpose of the redevelopment of the area.
WONO: Commissioner, I know that providing affordable transportation is another of your top priorities and you did sponsor the Wekiva Parkway and Protections Act. What is the status of this?
Fred Brummer: Well, the road is presently in the planning stage. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) must authorize a couple of hearings for the Orange County Expressway Authority to receive public input regarding the specific route of the Wekiva Parkway. The Parkway is about to go to tender, from the John Land Apopka Expressway, which is Maitland Boulevard extension SR 414, from there west to Plymouth Sorrento Road– and that construction will take place. North of US 441 and Plymouth and around the Interstate 4 in Sanford, is where we have FHWA involvement and this has been, in fact, held up for some time. We believe with the Lake and Seminole Counties Intergovernmental Agreements soon to be signed–in fact, Seminole County has signed theirs and Seminole County Expressway Authority is about to approve and sign theirs–we will shortly thereafter expect Lake County Commission will sign the Intergovernmental Agreement necessary for the Orange County Expressway Authority to build the road in those two counties.
Presently the Orange County Expressway Authority is not authorized to operate outside of Orange County. So that process has taken a longer time than we would have liked and so we still are at the mercy of the FHWA. Until they give the Orange County Expressway Authority the go ahead to hold that public hearing, irrespective of those Intergovernmental Agreements, we won’t be able to move forward. However, we are hopeful the go-ahead will be granted shortly. Now, the engineering planning takes about two years and we are looking at the end of the year for Public Hearings. So construction should start perhaps around 2013.
WONO: Why has it taken this long?
Fred Brummer: Unfortunately it is a contentious issue. Back in 2004, when legislation was passed there was no specific agency that could be responsible for the actual construction of the parkway. Now, the Orange County Expressway Authority has offered itself to do that construction– that is, plan it, do the engineering work and construct, operate and maintain it. But, the Orange County Expressway Authority is authorized to operate only in Orange County. The next step is to get an agreement between the Orange County Expressway Authority and the counties of Seminole and Lake in order for the Expressway Authority to actually operate, construct the parkway and do those other things. So, it is far more complicated than initially envisioned. Also because of the political implications, the mindset you get from people which says, “Wait a minute, you’re going to let somebody from Orange County come here and build a road next to my house?” So, it has been far more challenging than we would have expected.
As far as the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), perhaps they would not have had the difficulties and challenges that the Orange County Expressway Authority has had. However, I am also comfortable in saying that it would not have been the priority for FDOT, which it has been for the Orange County Expressway Authority. So, I am not questioning the decision to have the Orange County Expressway Authority in charge. I would say that perhaps we should have foreseen these challenges and said, “Okay, these are the steps we need to take to facilitate the parkway, so let’s put them in place before we give the challenge to the Orange County Expressway Authority.”
WONO: LYNX cut its bus routes last year, is the funding in place to avoid further cuts this year?
Fred Brummer: I’d say to you yes there is, presently. However, it is very concerning because the funding after next year is going to be tenuous. There is no question that we must continue to make it a priority for LYNX to be provided with a dedicated funding source. When I was in the Florida Legislature we passed a bill for a rental car surcharge that would have been paid for by our visitors. Residents would have voted on it and this could have been a funding source for LYNX and I believe this would have greatly facilitated the bus system. For instance, Pine Hills is a huge contributor to the fare box. However, we also know that under no circumstance could the fares ever pay for the operation and maintenance of a bus system. We have the ridership in Pine Hills that provides the demand necessary for LYNX not even to consider cutting back on the routes. However, some of the outlying areas, such as Zellwood, Winter Garden and further west where ridership is not nearly as intense as it is in Pine Hills, those routes are going to be at risk. I am very concerned not about the coming budget year, but after next year.
WONO: At least one of the candidates running in the mayoral race is not supportive of SunRail because of its cost. Are you a supporter?
Fred Brummer: Not just SunRail, but we are working with Commissioner Moore-Russell and Representative Brian Nelson specifically for another commuter rail project, called the Orange Blossom Express which can bring people from Eustis, through Tavares to Downtown Orlando. This one actually has a much closer impact on Pine Hills and I think it would have a job creation effect for that area as well. Further, the Orange Blossom Express has a substantially much lower cost to riders than the SunRail. We are presently working on funding–a $15 million grant to support the freight infrastructure for the rail system, something that is also necessary for the commuter rail.
The point is, we’ve long been advocates for the Orange Blossom Express and I think the Orange Blossom Express could actually be operational in about two years. While SunRail is the number one priority, we believe that we could show Orange Blossom Express commuter rail operates at a much lower per-rider cost than SunRail. Now that SunRail is proceeding, we are working to get those infrastructures in place for the Orange Blossom Express. We believe that cost-wise it will prove to be a valuable asset, and I also believe that for the Pine Hills community in particular, it will help spur job creation for the area.
WONO: Could you elaborate a bit more on the stage of development of the Orange Blossom Express?
Fred Brummer: The two issues presently in consideration are: First, we need an Alternative Analysis Study and Commissioner Moore-Russell and I traveled to Washington, D.C. almost one-year ago to meet with Congresswoman Brown and Congressman Mica to request the funding. They were both very supportive of our request for the funding for the Alternative Analysis. Second, the grant that I mentioned earlier, part of that is to provide continuous welded rail out to Eustis. Now, you can run a freight operation on non-welded rail, but in order to have a commuter operation, you need much higher speeds to make commuter rail work and there must be continuous welded rail. Several years ago grant funding provided continuous welded rail out to Plymouth, which facilitated freight. That was as a result of the freight infrastructure grant application process which was undertaken. We requested similar funding for Orange and Lake Counties. Irrespective of the fact that it is actually for freight, you have to do it for commuter rail too.
So, in sum, the first thing is the Alternatives Analysis, which will estimate the ridership and the need for commuter rail. The continuous welded rail out to Eustis will provide the infrastructure necessary to consider a commuter rail option that would fund this proposal. Ten years ago when we looked at this, the local daily poo-pooed the idea saying this was a pie-in–the-sky initiative. But, with the grant that has already been received for continuous welded rail from Orlando to Plymouth, the fact is that, the cost of the commuter rail infrastructure will be less then it was ten years ago, which is amazing.
The second thing is that we didn’t see huge support from Lake County for this project. We feel comfortable that the support from Lake County effectively works on what we call the trickle-down theory that will wind up creating jobs for our residents in Pine Hills and in District 2 and provide commuter rail from Eustis all the way down to Orlando.
WONO: Commissioner, you voted against the Venues Project. Why did you take that stand and do you feel vindicated by that decision now that many say the venues project is a failure, when measured against the community mission?
Fred Brummer: I sincerely believed at the time that we were not making the best use of our Tourist Development Tax dollars. I see the Tourist Development Tax dollars as pump-priming dollars. In other words, we have to put some water into the pump in order for it to draw more water up from the well. In this particular situation, I don’t see the Downtown facility as a tourist development item. Had the same kind of facility been built immediately adjacent to the Convention Center, I would say to you that it would have been a benefit to the tourist development community. Now, what has happened is, with the huge decline in Tourist Development Taxes because of the economy, the cut-back in travel by businesses has had a negative impact on the two projects that actually would have provided community benefit, namely the Performing Art Center and the Citrus Bowl.
The Citrus Bowl is well ahead in attracting tourist dollars. For example, events such as the Florida Classic and Outback Bowl are held at the Citrus Bowl and folks come to town and stay at the hotels and this generates tourist tax dollars. That’s not the case with the Amway Center. In other words, we put the cart before the horse and now that economy growth has slowed significantly, we don’t have the funding to go forward with the financing of the Performance Arts Center or the Citrus Bowl, at levels previously envisaged.
So, in sum, I think the Amway Center was an unwise decision for the use of Tourist Development Tax dollars. Also, the concerns that some people had about the future of the economy have come true. So now, instead of living the dream, we are now living the nightmare of what happens when you stretch your dollars too thin, take a gamble and you lose.
WONO: With safety and security always in the forefront of everyone’s mind, how do you assess the progress in reducing crime and violence in Orange County, particularly in the context of shrinking resources moving forward?
Fred Brummer: Two things: First, I am very pleased with the response from the community in the Pine Hills area and the interest the community has shown. I was at the Pine Hills Safe Neighborhood Program’s quarterly meeting recently and was very impressed with the number of residents that were there. That factor is hugely important because when people care about their community, the impact could only be positive. Further, not only do they care and this has a positive impact on their neighbors but, this has a strong influence on us as elected officials.
Second, we have been very fortunate to have had some success with the efforts in the first two years under the new Sheriff. I applaud his effort in allocating his resources. Also, as the Orange County Commission we have made every effort to keep in place the levels of funding for the public Safety areas of the Sheriff’s Office, the Orange County Fire Department, Corrections Department and Emergency Management. All of those have been held safe from cuts that we have seen in other departments and divisions. Now, this is not a carte blanche situation, not like it was three, four years ago where new programs could be added. When I first got elected, the first thing we did was add 80 deputies to the Sheriff’s Department. We can’t jump out there today and say, “Okay, we are going to add another 80 deputies,”. I respect the Sheriff for doing the things he needed to do to make sure that all those deputies are used as efficiently as possible, to make our community safe. So, the fact is that we are not only blessed with a Sheriff that is working diligently to make sure he uses every dollar wisely, but we have a Commission that is willing to make the commitment to provide every resource possible to the Sheriff and to the Fire Chief.
WONO: Mayor Crotty in his last State of Orange County said that the state of Orange County remains strong, despite the worst economic recession since the Great Depression. With unemployment more than 11 percent, is the state of Orange County strong?
Fred Brummer: Well, I will say this, we are in a better position than we might have been. I think the fact is that, compared to other major counties around the State, Orange County has wisely not spent its every last tax dollar. The Mayor’s proposal for Capital Improvements several years ago, if the county had stayed the same, would have been a strong benefit to our communities and to employment throughout Orange County. However, the fact is that because we didn’t pump those dollars into programs we have not had to cut programs and cause layoffs. Despite the fact that Orange County has about 450 fewer positions in its budget today than it did when I was first elected, there has not been layoffs. Layoffs of County employees are just as traumatic as layoffs in the private sector.
On the other hand, we have not increased taxes, while maintaining the decision to try to avoid layoffs; surrounding counties have had to layoff employees. We have not increased taxes and we have not had to layoff. Now, when you increase taxes what you do is automatically increase the monthly payments for folks who have a mortgage–escrow payments increase when property taxes go up. So, you wind up increasing the monthly payments of folks that are perhaps laid-off and are struggling to retain their homes. That is just the wrong thing to do – to increase folks’ taxes when they are either out of work or worried how much longer they are going to be able to keep their jobs.
We need to do more and be as aggressive as possible as a County Commission to facilitate businesses—expanding existing businesses and attracting others to locate in Orange County. We need to make the environment for businesses very friendly because we need folks willing to say, “Okay yea, this looks like a good time to invest, to expand my workforce or this looks like a good time to invest in Orange County, to locate to Orange County and hire some people and do business there.”
WONO: Do you anticipate a much more heightened approach to encourage businesses to locate in Orange County, moving forward?
Fred Brummer: Yes, but we are going to have a substantial change to the Orange County Commission. We don’t know who the new mayor will be, we don’t know who the new County Commissioners for Districts 4 or 5 will be. But I believe that we have some opportunities. I think Commissioner Moore-Russell, Commissioner Boyd and myself, recognize the need for a pro-business environment in order for us to get folks back to work. So, I will say to you that over the next three or four years I believe we will see the re-invigoration of our economy. Now I wouldn’t call that necessarily a positive prediction because as I said, it will likely take the next three or four years, when really we need this to occur in the next three or four months. But, the reality is that it will probably take that amount of time to get our unemployment rate back to 5 percent or something in that range.
WONO: As you seek to be reelected as Commissioner for District 2, do you have any opponents?
Fred Brummer: Yes, there is a fellow, Bruce Birkrem, who is running against me from Kingswood Manor over on the east side of the district. He has filed and qualified and will be on the ballot on November 2.
WONO: If reelected what would be your four or five top priorities particularly for District 2?
Fred Brummer: Well, economic development and job creation that is number one. The second is to continue the efforts on public safety. Clearly for me, the success and future of the Pine Hills Redevelopment Task Force is an item that is a high priority. Hopefully, the work of the Task Force will continue and bringing those proposals to fruition in the community where they enhance the economic and social life of its residents, will remain an ongoing and top priority for me.
WONO: How is your campaign going and will we be seeing Fred Brummer re-elected for a second term to the Orange County Commission?
Fred Brummer: I am doing the things that I need to do. I know we have to get a message out and in this time of economic challenge it is hugely difficult to raise money for reelection, but we are using direct mail to assist with this. The second thing is that my reelection has always turned on the number of front doors I am able to knock on asking people for their vote. I am doing that right now—going back to some of the communities where I have not knocked on doors for a couple of campaign cycles and we are getting tremendous response.
But those are the two things that I need to do. First, to raise money and that is hugely challenging, and then I have to focus on knocking on front doors. This is very rewarding and I feel very good about the response we are getting, the name recognition, and willingness of constituents to listen to Fred Brummer when he is at their front door.
WONO: Why should voters reelect Fred Brummer?
Fred Brummer: Well, I believe that I bring to the Orange County Commission a viewpoint from working families and working families remain my highest priority. I think I understand the trials and tribulations for families and what it takes for them to do well. They are my raison d’etre. You know, when I look at an item that is going to be on the agenda for the voter, I try to make sure to look at it from the viewpoint of a family that is out there working and trying to get by.
WONO: Thank you, Commissioner.
Fred Brummer: Thank you, too.
More About Commissioner Fred Brummer
President of Brummer & Rogers, P.A., C.P.A.’s
Practicing as Certified Public Accountant in Apopka, since 1981
Controller and Accountant, City of Hollywood, FL 1969-1981
Member American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, 1979
Member Florida Institute of Certified Public Accountants, 1978
Member F.I.C.P.A. Committee on State and Local Taxation
Public and Community Service:
Member Orange County Commission 2006-present
Member Florida House of Representatives 1998-2006
Chair: Finance and Tax Committee 2005-2006, Chair: State Administration Appropriations Committee 2003-2004, Chair: State Administration Committee 2001-2002
Member Orange County Value Adjustment Board – Chair
Member Orange County Community Advisory Board
Member Apopka Rotary Club
Member Apopka Area and East Lake County Chambers of Commerce
Apopka Rotary Club Board of Directors (President 1991-92)
East Lake County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors
Orange County School Overcrowding Committee – Chair
Orange County Board of Education Finance Advisory Committee
Orange County Membership and Mission Review Board
Lake County Fire and Emergency Services Advisory Committee
City of Apopka Fire Pension Board
Foliage Sertoma Board of Directors
Pete Weitzel Friend of the First Amendment Award, 2002
Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award, 1995
Apopka Daybreak Rotary Outstanding Service Award, 1995
Apopka Area Chamber of Commerce Businessman of the Year Award, 1991
Apopka Rotary Club – Rotarian of the Year, 1993
M.B.A., Florida Atlantic University, 1974
Bachelor of Science in Business Administration, Florida Atlantic University, 1968
Graduated from South Broward High School, 1963
Born October 28, 1945; Married to Catherine A. Brummer since 1972
Florida resident since 1957
Mailing address: P.O. Box 788, Apopka, FL 32704 Office address: 246 S. Park Av, Apopka, FL 32703
Telephone: office 407-886-4522 home 407-884-6057 Fax: 407-886-4560
Home address: 191 E. Ponkan Road, Apopka, Fl 32712
Contact Commissioner Fred Brummer
P.O. Box 788
Apopka, FL 32704
Orange County Commissioner Fred Brummer
201 S. Rosalind Ave., 5th Floor
Orlando, FL 32801
Email: Commissioner Brummer
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