Tuesday, September 25, 2007


In this space two weeks ago the City Commission’s economic development initiatives were listed. Among these initiatives there were several references to the CRA – the City’s Community Redevelopment Agency. The CRA is the key to the City’s redevelopment efforts – downtown, on Lincoln Ave, in the Scenic Highway industrial area, in the residential rings surrounding these areas, as well as in the Longleaf Business Park and areas nearby. It is important to understand the organization of the CRA, how it is helping us, and what it will do in the future.
CRA refers to ‘Community Redevelopment Agency’, and its purpose is to address slum and blight conditions. Any city or county can adopt a CRA organization per state law Chapter 163, and there are currently 178 CRA’s across the state. The steps for adoption of a CRA include:
  • The designation of a distinct area of the City as the CRA area;

  • The adoption of a redevelopment plan that specifies how CRA funds will be spent. The plan must follow the guidelines in state law; and

  • The designation of a base year.
In the base year, the total taxable value in the CRA is frozen for the length of time the CRA is adopted, usually 30 years. As taxable value in the CRA increases with development activity or increased assessments from the County Property Appraiser’s Office, the City and the County taxes on the increase above the frozen value in the base year go to the CRA.

The CRA is governed by a board, and in Lake Wales our City Commission also sits as the CRA Board.
How it is Helping Us
As noted above, the CRA achieves two important purposes:
  1. It brings a focus to areas that are in need of redevelopment activities; and

  2. It provides funding – from both City and County funds – that is restricted to the uses outlined in the redevelopment plan.
As noted above, the Lake Wales designated CRA area is quite large. By including undeveloped areas of the City (the Longleaf Business Park and the Mayfair development on south US 27), the CRA budget can be expected to grow dramatically. In the base year of 1999, there was no development on these two properties. Now the business park has seven buildings with a total taxable value exceeding $7.5 million, and the City and County taxes on these properties go to the CRA. Development in Mayfair is anticipated to begin soon, which will continue the growth of CRA revenues. Current year CRA revenues exceed $2.6 million.

CRA funding is used for development incentives and capital improvements (such as street, water, and sewer improvements), as well as the work of several staff members and consultants involved in redevelopment efforts.
What it will do in the Future
The CRA has partnered with the Chamber’s new Redevelopment Steering Committee, and it is anticipated that this partnership will bring a new focus to the CRA: the use of funds to finance improvements that will be specifically designed to facilitate the expansion of an existing business or the location of a new business in the redevelopment area. The expansion or new business will in turn result in a higher tax base, and the higher taxes paid will go to the CRA to pay off the debt that the CRA used to finance the improvement. The key to this effort is planning, and the first of several studies to identify projects and opportunities is now underway.

The future for redevelopment in Lake Wales is very promising!

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Condition of City Streets

One of the areas the City Commission is very concerned about is the condition of our city streets. Many of our streets and alleys are in need of maintenance work due to one or more fundamental problems:
  • The street was not constructed properly in the first place, with the asphalt being too thin. Two streets that fall into this category are Grove Avenue, between First and Fourth Streets, and the northern end of Carver Drive. On both streets there are numerous places where potholes were patched, and the original asphalt is very thin – about ¼ to ½ inch in some places. City specifications call for the top level of asphalt on a street to be 1 ½ inches thick (or compliance with state specifications).

  • The street was not constructed properly, with inappropriate materials. Blackwood Drive is an example of this type of problem. The underlying soil condition is seasonally moist, and in such case engineers typically call for a base material such as “soil cement” which will not break down beneath the asphalt due to the moist conditions. On this street it appears that limerock, the standard base material used for dry, well-drained soils, was used instead. This has caused the base to fail and the street surface to break up.

  • The drainage system is lacking or not working properly. This is often why potholes repeatedly turn up in the same spot. On Fourteenth Street between SR 60 and the entrance to the Sunoco station, there is a pothole that appears periodically because the drainage system for that street is inadequate. The same is true at the corner of Carlton and 12th Street.

  • The asphalt is just plain worn out. This is the case on much of Lakeshore and many other streets.

  • Most alleys were not constructed for heavy vehicles. Many alleys were built with a clay base and a layer of asphalt. This may be fine for light traffic but it will not hold up when traveled regularly by one of the heaviest trucks on the road – garbage trucks.
To address these problems, the City Commission has directed staff to step up pothole patching efforts, street sweeping with a new vehicle (which keeps drainage pipes clean), and the inspection and cleaning of drainage systems. In addition, the CRA board (consisting of the five City Commissioners) is planning to issue a bond that will include over $2 million of street re-surfacing and the application of millings (recycled asphalt stones) on some alleys. The issuance of the bond has been delayed - first due to questions on the state legislature’s tax reform package, and now there’s a second delay due to a court case in Escambia County. We all hope that question will be resolved quickly so that we can move forward.

In addition, there are a number of streets in the City that are the responsibility of other governments or CDD’s. For example, Burns Avenue is a County Road and it is scheduled to be resurfaced by the County in the 2007-08 fiscal year. Buck Moore was resurfaced last year, and Thompson-Nursery is being studied for a widening project to add another travel lane in each direction. The Lake Ashton Community Development District (CDD) is responsible for the maintenance of streets in Lake Ashton.

The State is responsible for Scenic Highway, and City staff has been working with the Florida Department of Transportation to encourage them to place a traffic signal and turning lanes at the corner of Scenic and Mountain Lake Cutoff. State staff says the intersection does not meet their criteria for a signal but they are looking into it. City staff has also asked for more lighting on SR 60 east, and this is in the design phase.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Service Upgrades in the Fire Department

The City Commission has approved major service upgrades that have been implemented by the Lake Wales Fire Department over the past two years, and more are on the way!

In May 2005, a second fire station was opened in a temporary location on Thompson Nursery Road just west of US 27. This station was opened to reduce response times to the growing northern areas of the city. We are working with a developer who intends to donate 1.5 acres on Chalet Suzanne Road for a permanent station in the future.

In February 2006, our first ladder truck went into service. The ladder has a special platform enclosure and elevates up to 70 feet high! It is used to combat fires that need an elevated water stream. One such fire occurred downtown at the corner of Wetmore and Orange in a two-story building being remodeled for a funeral home. With the advanced firefighting capability provided by the ladder truck, the fire was confined to that building. Our city also has many two- and three-story apartment buildings that house families with young children, as well as senior citizens. Our firefighters and officers have become very proficient at operating the truck and value the additional rescue ability that the ladder truck provides.

Earlier this year the department instituted an engine company inspection program. One of the biggest problems that growing communities like ours has is in the area of fire inspections and fire prevention. The Fire Marshal is very busy reviewing plans for new buildings, and, unfortunately, the older buildings are more likely to experience fires rather that newer buildings with modern sprinkler systems. Fire inspections have now been transferred to the Lieutenants on each shift, who were given a salary incentive to carry out this additional duty. Each Lieutenant has a fire inspector certification and completes inspections every Thursday. The crew creates a drawing of the building, which is completed on a computer at the main station and added to the laptop computers kept on the fire engines and in the Deputy Chief’s command vehicle. Every restaurant in the city has been inspected, and convenience stores and gas stations are next.

The department is also moving ahead with increasing the level of rescue service from "Basic Life Support" to "Advanced Life Support." At present, all of the department members are certified Emergency Medical Technicians as well as certified firefighters. Six of our firefighters are taking additional training to become "Paramedics," the certification that is commonly held by ambulance personnel. Advanced Life Support basically brings the life saving equipment from a hospital emergency room to a home or accident scene until the ambulance arrives. Over 80% of our emergency responses are related to medical emergencies and vehicle accidents, and our fire department vehicles almost always arrive before the ambulance. The only cost related to this service upgrade is the salary increase for the additional duties taken on by the six paramedics. All of the costs for medical equipment, drugs, supplies and the oversight of a medical director will be paid by Polk County.

The department also provides public education. Please call the main fire sation at 678-4203 to make arrangements for Fire Prevention and Safety Specialist Johnny Harris to make a presentation.

Fire Chief Jerry Brown extensively contributed to this article.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Committed to Economic Development

"Economic development" is a broad term referring to efforts to encourage business growth –either the expansion of existing businesses, or the attraction of new businesses. The City Commission is committed to economic development and included it as one of the six foundation statements in the City’s Strategic Plan (available of the City’s website, in the budget section.)

This commitment is linked to the recognition that the tax base of Lake Wales is out of balance when compared to other similarly sized cities. The cities of Auburndale and Haines City both have a higher valued tax base than Lake Wales for commercial and industrial property. In addition, we want to provide career jobs for our residents... and for our children when they are ready to enter the workforce.

The City Commission has taken a number of steps to enhance economic development, with more to follow:
  • The creation of the Longleaf Business Park. The park is an outstanding business address;

  • The approval of the master plan for the Mayfair development. Across from Longleaf on south US 27, this development includes a commercial center and hotel;

  • The vision for West S.R. 60. The area from West Central Avenue west to the railroad track is a future commercial/industrial area for the City. A new City water plant is being built at the airport to serve the area, and several industrial parcels have been annexed. The airport is a key factor, as improvements are being made that will help attract new businesses, and property on site not used for airport operations is being considered for potential industrial sites. Senator J.D. Alexander and the Airport Authority are advancing this project;

  • Approval of commercial development around the Eagle Ridge Mall. These approvals include the new Chili’s and Lowe’s; the building of a new Hampton Inn and Suites across from the south entrance to the Mall on US 27, and an adjacent planned shopping development; and the approval of plans for a shopping area between the Publix center and Home Depot, and across US 27 at the corner of Thompson Nursery Road;

  • Approval of the location of PCC’s (Polk Community College) branch campus downtown. The location of PCC in old city hall can also be viewed as an economic development project. A recent study of "great small towns" across the country noted that many have a downtown college presence;

  • The partnership with the Chamber of Commerce’s new Re-development Steering Committee. The Committee is off to a great start with a $25,000 donation from developer Richard Quaid, to be use for one of several area-specific studies;

  • Approval of funding to encourage neighborhood commercial uses to return to Lincoln Avenue. Kimbrough & Associates is facilitating this and other re-development efforts. A Farmer’s Market will soon open on Fridays and Saturdays at the corner of Lincoln and C Streets, and a building nearby is being renovated for a meat store;

  • Approval of site plans for new business locations on Scenic Highway. Several businesses have opened in new buildings north of Burns Avenue;

  • Consideration of a new industrial park. On September 18 the City Commission will consider the annexation of existing industrial property on Hunt Brothers Road, as well as adjacent property for a new industrial park with railroad access;

  • Approval of funding for on-going Economic Development efforts. In addition to Kimbrough & Associates, Dolly Pelletier is the City’s full-time Main Street Manager; and the City’s efforts are anchored by Economic Development Director, Harold Gallup.