A war of words has erupted in Apopka in the last couple of weeks, between our Mayor and the Chairman of the Lake Apopka Natural Gas District. For some undetermined reason, Mayor Kilsheimer wrote a letter to Chairman Ann Dupree of LANGD which started rather rudely, “What is the continuing purpose of the Lake Apopka Natural Gas District? .. I have yet to see one benefit that accrues to the City of Apopka as a co-owner of Lake Apopka Natural Gas”. Mayor Kilsheimer read this letter during the 2/17 Commission meeting, expressing concern and demanding accountability to Apopka citizens, not 10 minutes after reading from a prepared statement, chiding several citizens who dared bring up accountability issues of one very well compensated lobbyist/consultant to our City. Selective concerns, I guess. Several days after this meeting, the LANGD Board of Directors held their monthly meeting, where several Nursery growers expressed concerns over rising gas bills and the impacts felt on their businesses. Chairman Dupree wrote back, inviting Mayor Kilsheimer to discuss his concerns in an open format. Mayor K wrote another letter, rephrasing his question above, seemingly digging in his heels further
Just a couple of questions. It appears that the growers use natural gas mostly in the colder months to keep their plants warm; that’s about 4 months out of a 12 month period.. Do these growers not build this expense into their budgets? One grower stated they have to sell about $150,000.00 worth of product to pay the gas bills.. Aren’t you in business to sell your product? It also appears that after growers expressed concerns from 2012 – 2014 over rising gas prices, an agreement was worked out that apparently put some controls over the price increases until at least 2019. And one of the Directors states that he does not expect any huge increases after 2019.
So why is this all being raised now, just a couple weeks ahead of our City Elections and in the middle of Apopka’s wish list process, aka the Visioning Process. In Mayor K’s revised letter to Chairman Dupree he asked if it would be beneficial to Apopka to simply sell our 2/5 shares of LANGD to a private concern. This letter states in part to think about what selling our shares (about $10 million dollars) could bring to Apopka: Community pools, recreation centers, workout and gathering spaces, and skate parks, all things mentioned that residents want to see via the lengthy visioning process. Coindence? I wonder. The money for all these projects will have to come from somewhere. One Commissioner correctly pointed out during the 2/17 meeting that the City Budget sure could use the influx of cash that would come from selling our shares.
Another revealing fact is the most recently released contributions report for our Commission candidates. One of the candidates reports a total of over $3000.00 in contributions from various nurseries in our area, including $2000.00 from the Mercer family. This candidate shares campaign management services with sitting Commissioner Ruth, who strongly defended the nursery growers during the 2/17 meeting. Am I connecting imaginary dots, or is something else going on?
Again I have to ask, why is this issue being raised now? An issue that seems to have been partially resolved in 2014 with the pricing agreement between the LANGD and the nursery growers? Perhaps I am over simplifying here, and I expect that will be pointed out to me. This is not a rhetorical question: What is the real issue here?