Monday, December 31, 2007

State of the City

On January 18 I will make my annual “State of the City” presentation at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon. This event will be held at the First Baptist Church at noon.

This year’s presentation will reflect the accomplishments of the past year but will focus on what we expect in 2008. The new year has the potential to be the most rewarding year in quite some time, as a number of projects that are being planned are scheduled to come to fruition. The areas of high expectation include downtown re-development, Lincoln Ave re-development, and City capital projects.

Downtown Re-Development
There are signs of a positive momentum beginning to take shape downtown:
  • The renovation of old city hall is now well-underway, with a new branch campus of Polk Community College set to open in 2009;

  • The Bullard building at Scenic and Stuart is being re-modeled at a sizeable cost to create office and apartment lofts upstairs;

  • Tres Jolie has opened in their new location on Park Avenue with a substantial investment for its bakery, restaurant, and catering business;

  • In anticipation of their mall lease expiring, Brenda’s gifts has opened a new store on Park Avenue;

  • The Bank of America building has been sold to the 610 Corporation, a firm with holdings that include properties in downtown Winter Haven. Peterson Myers has leased the upper two floors and construction plans are being drawn. The third floor of that building has never been occupied!

  • The City and the County have agreed to waive impact fees (except City water and sewer impact fees) in a “core improvement area” that includes downtown and the Lincoln Avenue neighborhood commercial district;

  • The Chamber’s new CRA (Community Re-Development Agency) steering committee has hired Martin Vargas to do the first phase of a downtown study with a $25,000 donation from Richard Quaid, who purchased and just completed the remodeling of the north arcade. The study is scheduled for completion in February, and it is anticipated that some recommendations will be implemented immediately with CRA funds budgeted in this fiscal year;

  • The City has received title to the Grand Hotel, and proposals for its use are being solicited with a deadline of March 31.
Lincoln Avenue Neighborhood Commercial Re-Development
There is progress being made in re-developing the Lincoln Avenue Neighborhood Commercial District:
  • The first new business on Lincoln Avenue since the hurricanes is preparing to open! Massey’s Meat Market is located at 344 Lincoln Avenue, between C and D Streets;

  • The Green and Gold Foundation operates a Farmer’s Market in the vacant lot at the SE corner of Lincoln Avenue and C Street on Fridays and Saturdays;

  • The CRA has acquired the Walker Building at the SW corner of Lincoln Avenue and C Street and is working with an architect to explore re-modeling options;

  • City staff is also exploring the feasibility of building a police sub-station at the corner of Lincoln Avenue and B Street with the help of an investor who is working with the Green and Gold Foundation.
City Capital Projects
The CRA Board, consisting of the City Commissioners, recently approved a $9.5 million bond issue for capital projects. The biggest single project will be street re-surfacing, with funds also budgeted for utility projects. All funds will be spent in the CRA area, which is generally the historic area of the City and includes downtown and the Lincoln Avenue/Northwest area.

Our town is welcoming the new year with great anticipation. Happy New Year, Lake Waleans!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

The Community's Recreation Opportunities

Our town is blessed with many active and passive recreational opportunities. Let’s explore them:
Active Recreation Opportunities for Adults
  • Softball – There is a senior softball league that plays at the Northwest Sports Complex (Frasier Field), located on Florida Ave. Contact: Ken Duel at 679-7783

  • Basketball – The City operates periodic leagues for adult basketball at the Albert Kirkland Sr. Gymnasium, located one block east of Scenic Highway (take Sessoms Ave east and turn left onto Fourth St.) The gym is also open at the following times for pick-up games: Mon., Wed., Fri. from 3:30 to 6 p.m.; Tu., Th. from 4:30 to 6:00 p.m.; Sun. from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Contact Burney Hayes at 678-4088

  • Tennis – The City has two tennis court locations:

    • Five courts are located at the corner of Sessoms and Fifth Street. These courts are lighted for evening play; and

    • Three courts are located at the Northwest Sports Complex at the western end of Florida Ave, off of Scenic Highway;
  • Shuffleboard – The City’s shuffleboard courts are located in Crystal Lake Park, near the five City tennis courts noted above. The courts are operated by volunteers from the Senior Center; Contact Hubert Becker 676-3764

  • Hiking, walking – The paved trail around Lake Wailes is well used. A new trail connects the Hardman Recreation Complex on Fourth Street, one block from the Albert Kirkland Sr. gymnasium, with Kiwanis Park;

  • Weight lifting, fitness – Equipment is available at the City’s Albert Kirkland Sr. gymnasium, and at the YMCA on Burns Ave.

  • Boating – The City has a boat ramp on Lake Wailes. This ramp is scheduled for renovation in the spring.
Active Recreation Opportunities for Youth
  • Baseball – Lake Wales Little League is a parent-run league, in operation for over 50 years! Girls and boys of various age groups play at the sports complex on Lakeshore Drive;

  • Football – there are two youth footballs leagues:

    • The Steelers, in operation for over 20 years! Contact Richard DeLoach at 605-0265

    • The Gators, which started three years ago. Contact Tim Burns at 528-8197
  • Basketball – The City operates the Junior Magic program at the Albert Kirkland Sr. gymnasium. Contact Burney Hayes at 557-2047

  • Soccer – there are two youth soccer programs:

    • The YMCA operates a recreational program of youth soccer; Contact Leah at 676-9441

    • The Ridge Soccer League, a parent-run organization, operates a competitive league. Contact Robbie Shields at 528-1921.
  • Sailing – the Lake Wales Pram Fleet has been in operation since 1948 and is the 2nd oldest pram fleet in the world! It provides sailing lessons on Lake Wailes for youth ages 9 – 15. Their new laser fleet is available for all experienced sailors. Contact Patty McKeeman at 638-3546.
Future Active Recreation Programs
  • Tennis – We need someone to organize a league at the City tennis courts.

  • Volleyball – We need someone to organize a league at the Albert Kirkland Sr. gymnasium.

  • Swimming – The City is planning to build a swimming pool. More information on this project will appear in future columns.

  • Bicycling – Bicycle Bob will help at 678-9611

  • Skate Boarding – The City is planning to build a skateboard park in Kiwanis Park.
Recreation is good for the mind and body. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The Historic District Ordinance

On January 2 at 6 pm the City Commission will continue the public discussion of the historic district ordinance. The draft document, presented at the December 4 Commission meeting, is available for review on the City’s website at (The City’s website can be viewed from internet access computers at the library.)

The ordinance has been recommended for adoption by the Planning Board, which reviewed its provisions at their October and November meetings, and will be fine-tuned before adoption hearings by the City Commission early in 2008.

Some frequently asked questions about the ordinance
  • Who wrote the historic ordinance? Where did it come from?

    The ordinance was written by Planning and Development Director Margaret Swanson, following a review of a number of ordinances from various cities around the state and guidelines from the state’s historic preservation office.

  • What does the ordinance do?

    The ordinance primarily does four things:

    1. It designates our downtown area as a historic district, specifically the area between the Scenic Highway and First Street including the Dixie Walesbuilt Hotel and the post office block, and both sides of Park and Stuart Avenues. This area includes twenty-seven buildings identified in a 1988 study as potential National Register properties. The portion of the proposed district east of Market Street was designated a historic commercial district on the National Register of Historic Places in 1990.

    2. It requires review of new construction or exterior changes, including signage, to buildings within the district. The purpose of the review is to determine if the proposed work complies with standards for historic renovations based on the Secretary of the Interior’s guidelines. These standards are used nation-wide by local historic boards. Property owners will be issued a “certificate of appropriateness” if the proposed work complies with the requirements and will be allowed to move forward with their plans.

    3. This review will be the responsibility of a new board, the “historic district regulatory board.” Board appointments are made by the City Commission and must include persons with demonstrated technical expertise in areas related to construction and historic preservation.

    4. It sets up criteria for evaluating other districts that may be proposed. New districts may be proposed by the City Commission, the Planning Board, or by property owners. If initiated by property owners, a petition with signatures of at least 51% of the owners of property within the proposed district is required.

  • Don’t we already have historic districts?

    Yes, we have three National Register Historic Districts. The register is recognition of the historic value of a district, but does not regulate changes to buildings within the district.

  • Don’t we already have a historic preservation committee?
    Yes. The existing historic preservation commission will continue with its current charge to carry out educational programs, undertake studies, and make recommendations on general historic preservation matters.

  • Does the ordinance say anything about the murals downtown?
    The ordinance also provides for the regulation of murals, as do many of the ordinances that were reviewed prior to the preparation of this ordinance. Gainesville has one such ordinance.

  • Is there a charge for the review?
    Yes. The ordinance contains a fee schedule. City staff is already working on a revision of the schedule, to require a low or no fee for signs and minor projects. The fee for a major project or new building is proposed at $200 plus $75 advertising fee.

  • Will downtown property owners receive a letter about the ordinance?
    City staff plans to send an informational letter to downtown property owners to let them know about the January 2nd discussion. Legal advertisements will be published prior to formal readings of the ordinance, as required by law.
In order for an ordinance to become law, it must be approved by the City Commission at two separate meetings; that is, to have two “readings.” The historic district ordinance has not yet been “read” as it is still under review by the City Commission. Comments and suggestions are welcome.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Tax Reform and the City's Budget

Our state legislature set up the second wave of tax reform as a proposal to be decided by the voters. The vote will take place at a special, statewide election on January 29. A 60% approval is needed for passage.

This proposal covers a range of complex items. If approved, it will have a destructive effect on the City of Lake Wales budget, and it will be the first time that school tax revenues will be affected. Let’s review the effect of the first wave of tax reform, and then look at the “second wave” tax reform proposal to be voted on, and the projected effect of the second wave on our town.
The Effect of the First Wave of Tax Reform
The first wave of tax reform contained a provision that allowed local governments to override it. Over one-third of the local governments in the state did so. Our City Commission voted to comply with the state legislature’s intent, and this year’s tax rate is 1.1 mills less than last year. The effect of this reduction, had the City Commission kept the same tax rate as last year, is as follows:
  • The General Fund was reduced by $645,108;

  • The Community Re-Development Agency (CRA) fund was reduced by $201,098;

  • The Library Fund was reduced by $75,070

  • Total reduction in tax revenue: $921,276
In order to meet the challenge of balancing the budget with such reductions, the City Commission took a number of cost-cutting measures, including:
  • Trimming the City workforce by 13 full-time and one part-time positions. All of the full-time positions were, in effect, vacant – some employees were shifted to other positions, and police dispatching and payroll preparation were contracted out at a lower cost;

  • The City changed from a self-insured health insurance plan to a less-expensive traditional plan, selected after bids were received;

  • Finding other ways to accomplish tasks, such as closing the cemetery office and moving those two positions to the Parks Maintenance division, which allowed the termination of the contract for grass cutting at Lake Wailes and other parks.
The Second Wave Tax Reform Proposal
The proposal includes the following:
  • It doubles the homestead exemption, from $25,000 to $50,000. This would not apply to school taxes;

  • It ensures the “portability” of the “save our homes” provisions, up to $500,000. This allows homestead property owners to transfer their Save Our Homes benefit to a new homestead within two years of giving up their previous homestead. This provision will apply to school tax levies;

  • It ensures a tangible personal property exemption of $25,000. This exemption will apply to school levies;

  • (Note: if approved, these three items would take effect January 1, 2008; the item below would take effect January 1, 2009)

  • It provides a 10% cap on assessments for non-homesteaded property. This cap does not apply to school levies and will sunset in 10 years unless re-approved by voters.
The Projected Effect of the Second Wave on Our Town
The second wave of tax reform, if approved by the voters on January 29, will have the following projected effects:
  • It will cut the General Fund tax revenue another $276,486;

  • It will cut the CRA tax revenue another $293,838;

  • It will cut the Library Fund tax revenue another $31,148.
The City Commission had already reduced the City’s tax rate by one mill over the two years before the first wave of tax reform. The first wave then cut the rate an additional 1.1 mills. Managing the second wave of tax reform, should it be approved by the voters, will be much more difficult.