Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Backflow Prevention

The City of Lake Wales Utility Department recently sent letters to a number of businesses setting a deadline for the installation of backflow preventers. These devices prevent a reverse flowing of water from the business into the City water system and are required by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. From the inquiries being called in to City Hall, there are some questions as to what the devices do, who can install them, and why they are needed. Let’s take a look at this timely topic.
So just what is a Backflow Prevention Device?
In the City water system, water normally flows under pressure from the well at the water plant through water pipes to the City water customers around town. As noted above, a backflow preventer prevents a reverse flow of water, where water could possibly flow backwards from a customer and back into the system. (This backflow is sometimes referred to as a “cross connection.”) That sounds impossible, but there are some very rare situations in which it could happen. One such situation is in fighting large fires. The fire truck arrives and places a large and sudden demand for water on the system in a particular location. Let’s imagine that a nearby business owner is getting ready to clean his building and needs to use a special concentrated chemical solvent for this purpose. He has placed the concentrated solvent in a 55 gallon drum, and has a hose in the drum to fill it up. The hose is underwater, and if there were a drastic and sudden demand for water - such as in fighting a large fire – the water from the drum could be sucked out of the drum and into the water system.

Such a scenario would be very rare and has not ever happened in Lake Wales to my knowledge. But the state agency that regulates all water utility operations across the state has determined that this is a possible hazard that must be addressed. There are a variety of backflow prevention devices, ranging from an inexpensive device that can be placed on a homeowner’s faucet, to large and elaborate devices to ensure water safety in a high hazard business use.

The basic means of preventing backflow is an air gap, which is simply a vertical, physical separation between the end of a water supply outlet and the flood-level rim of a receiving vessel. There are also a variety of mechanical backflow preventers, which provide a physical barrier to prevent the possibility of a backflow. Some of these devices are costly, involving two independently acting, spring loaded check valves.

Who can install them?
As prescribed by the state, only a state certified backflow prevention installer can install the devices. Once they are installed, state regulations require that some types of the devices must be inspected and maintained annually by a state certified backflow prevention inspector.

Why do we do this?
Ordinance 96-06 describing the City’s backflow prevention program was approved in 1996 and now appears in Section 21-72 of the City Code. This ordinance refers to rules in the Florida Administrative Code as the basis for the ordinance. The ordinance prohibits cross connections in the public water system and requires that all connections have a type of backflow device depending upon the hazard present from the particular water user, as determined by the City’s Utilities Director.

Additional information is available from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection website: www.dep.state.fl.us/water/drinkingwater/bfp.htm

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Public Information Sources

In the aftermath of hurricanes Charley, Frances, and Jeanne four years ago, one of the many problems that we faced was finding a way to reach the public with critical information. The problem was especially acute after Charley, as the post-hurricane experience was so new and different for most of us. There was no electricity for days, and we needed to alert everyone that there were water, ice, and supplies available at city hall. It struck me that there really is no one way to alert citizens to essential information. We then came up with the idea of posting temporary signs around the city and distributing flyers door to door. It wasn’t long before there were cars lined up around the block to come through the supply line.

It has occurred to me more recently that we are thoroughly blessed to have so many cultural events right here in town to choose from. We also have many different organizations and committees that all have meetings going on in various locations around the city. The question is, how do we learn about all of these events? It is neither practical nor legal to have temporary signs all over town, just as we did after the hurricanes. So where do we look to find out what events and meetings are scheduled, and where? And do these outlets meet your needs for this information?

Three Sources for General Information
I have found that there are three sources of general information about the events and meetings that occur in our town:

  1. The Lake Wales News: a section of this paper lists “Community and Area Events,” organized by the sponsoring organization. A sampling of the events listed in the last issue of this paper includes events at The Arts Center, the James P. Austin Community Center, the B Street Center, Bok Tower Gardens, the Care Center’s Youth Coffee House, and the Library. The events listed tend to be cultural and educational in nature.

  2. The Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce website (lakewaleschamber.com): This site lists events in a calendar format, listing a number of events each day. Many of the events are similar to those found in the newspaper.

  3. City of Lake Wales website (cityoflakewales.com): A new feature of the City’s website lists “Meetings, Events, Free Activities, and Notices.”
That we have three dependable sources of general information for events and meetings may seem to be adequate… but is it? Not everyone reads the newspaper, and not everyone has easy access to the internet (the library does has 12 public access internet stations). So what other methods of publicizing information are available?

Television and Radio
The first medium that comes to mind is television. While visiting relatives in another state years ago, I noticed that there was one channel that was simply called a “Community Bulletin Board.” Notices of meetings and events were listed, scrolling down the screen.

We have two cable television services serving different parts of our town. I went on the Comcast website and found a reference to their Community Calendar service. The site invites you to enter your zip code to see if the service is available in your area… but when I entered our zip code the website informed me that this service is not available to us.

In checking the Brighthouse website, I could not find where they have such a service.

For radio listeners, there is a show on WIPC (am 1280, on the web at WIPC1280@yahoo.com) hosted by Rev. Lawrence Epps on Sundays from 8am to 10am. Rev. Epps has been hosting this radio program since 1978. He makes many announcements of upcoming events during his gospel music program, including many church meetings and functions, as well as family and class reunions, birthdays, and special requests.

The other programs on WIPC are in Spanish, and event and meeting announcements are given throughout the day.

In summary, are your needs for event and meeting information being met? Or do you sometimes say, “I wish I had known about that.” If you have any suggestions on this topic please let me know.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

City Planning

One of the keys to a healthy community with a high quality of life is good planning for the use of land. This planning effort includes both public property, such as parks, as well as private property that is scheduled for development. Good planning must determine the best future land uses, as well as the provision of roads and utilities. Let’s take a look at some of the planning that has been recently completed or is in process for the benefit of our town.

Downtown
Before the recent proposals for the renovation of the Grand Hotel were received, the City’s CRA board gave $25,000 to the Chamber’s CRA Steering Committee to conduct a study downtown. The money had been donated to the CRA by Richard Quaid for this purpose, and the study focused on the area around the Grand Hotel.

Contract negotiations have commenced with the selected firm, Dixie Walesbilt LLC, for the renovation of the Grand Hotel. This project is scheduled to be done in concert with the downtown plan.

Park Planning
City staff is working with representatives of Bok Tower Gardens, Green Horizon Land Trust, and others to develop a trail network. Developers who have projects along the network will be requested to construct links as a part of their sidewalk/parks requirements.

Planning has been completed for a renovation of Kiwanis Park, and a grant application has been submitted for funding. Parking lot reconstruction, baseball field reconfiguration, trees, benches, and restroom gates are included in the plan.

Comp Plan Amendments
The City’s Planning and Development staff is working to update the Capital Improvements Element of the Comprehensive Plan. This element outlines what facilities will be needed to serve growth and how they will be paid for. The City already has in place a menu of “impact fees” that are charged to new developments for this purpose.

City staff is also working with the Planning Board on the “evaluation and appraisal report,” which is an evaluation of the Comprehensive Plan.

Roads
The “East Polk Road Study” is being conducted by Polk County in an area that extends from Haines City to Frostproof, east of US 27. Some of the recommendations that are currently under review include:
  • The extension of Venus Lake Blvd in Hunter’s Glen (north of Peddler’s Pond on US 27) to CF Kinney Rd

  • The extension of CF Kinney Rd to Starr Blvd at Home Depot

  • A new road connecting Starr Blvd going south to Chalet Suzanne Rd, across from the western-most entrance to the Eagle Ridge Mall. A traffic signal is proposed for that intersection

  • The extension of Hickory Hammock Road to US 27

  • A new road connecting Scenic Highway to US 27, north of Mountain Lake Cutoff Road

  • A new street connecting Burns Ave at Scenic to Wiltshire to make a connection to US 27


There are a number of other recommendations in this study that can be viewed at ftp://ftp.glatting.com/ with the network password of Polk.

Selected Area Studies (SAS)
A number of “selected area studies” are being conducted by Polk County. These studies recommend future land uses and services to developing areas:
  1. East Polk SAS – this study includes the City of Dundee and a portion of Lake Wales in the area of Lake Annie, Waverly, and Tindal Camp Road;

  2. Southeast Polk SAS – this study includes the area south of SR 60, and east of US 27. City Planning Board Chairman Chris Lutton is serving on the focus group for this study.

  3. Gateway area SAS – this study covers the area to be impacted by the CSX development in Winter Haven. The area is west of US 27 along SR 60. Masterpiece area SAS – This study is proposed for the area including Chalet Suzanne Road and Masterpiece Road, east of US 27. City staff is working with the County on the scope of work and an interlocal agreement for the County to reimburse the City for the study.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Update on FDOT projects

This week is a holiday grab bag of items. Let’s start with a welcome, a quick update on FDOT planned activities, and a reply to the letter in Saturday’s paper on debt.

Welcome
We were sad to see Sylvia Edwards leave last July to become the Finance Director of Sanibel. The City now welcomes our new Finance Director, Dorothy Pendergrass. Dorothy’s experience includes working as the Finance Director for the cities of Deltona, Florida and Monett, Missouri. She also has seven years’ experience as a public auditor. She has a BA in Business Administration and has held a Missouri CPA license for 13 years. Welcome, Dorothy!

Road and Street Projects
Many people are not aware that planning and maintenance responsibility for streets in our town is shared between the City, the County, and the State depending on the particular street. Most streets and alleys are the City’s responsibility. Certain streets, including Buck More Road, Burns Ave, South 9th Street (south of the railroad tracks), South 11th St, and Hunt Brothers Road are the County’s responsibility. The State, through its Department of Transportation (FDOT), is responsible for State Road(SR) 60, SR 17 (Scenic Highway), and US 27.

The FDOT 5 year Capital Improvement Program lists a number of projects in our area:

  • SR 60, construction of medians between 11th St and Capps Road: FDOT staff is planning to conduct an open house meeting with the anticipated date to be in early February. The plan for this project is available for review in the Planning and Development office at City Hall.
  • SR 60 re-surfacing projects:
    • Scenic Highway overpass to 11th Street;
    • Peace Creek to US 27
  • Scenic Highway: Two sections of Scenic Highway are scheduled for resurfacing:
    • Starr Ave. to Waverly Road; and
    • Ray Martin Rd. through downtown to Mt. Lake Cutoff Rd.
  • Scenic Highway drainage improvements are planned between Seminole and Osceola Aves. City staff is working with FDOT staff on this project.

Planning continues on the intersection at Scenic Highway and Mt. Lake Cutoff Road.

City Commissioners and staff have been involved in several of the FDOT projects (as well as the county projects) to urge those agencies to take action. For example, the construction of the traffic signal at Scenic Highway and Mt. Lake Cutoff Road has been a high priority for the City for years. This project involves funding from both the state and the county, a request for a property donation from the Mountain Lake Corporation to accommodate turn lanes in all directions, and continued monitoring by FDOT staff to determine if that intersection meets all FDOT requirements for a traffic signal.

Other Projects
Recently the City Commission approved an agreement with FDOT to provide an upgrade of the railroad crossing at South 9th Street. This railroad crossing, just south of the Whispering Ridge subdivision, crosses south 9th Street at an unusual angle. The improved crossing will have flashing lights and cross arms and will be installed by the railroad. The City and the railroad will share the annual maintenance for the crossing, with the City’s portion initially capped at $1,573 annually plus future cost adjustments.

A Reply to a letter in Saturday’s paper
A letter in Saturday’s paper again questioned debt figures and information I provided in last week’s column. All of the information provided in that column is accurate and responsive to the earlier letter. The date I used for discussing the City’s principal balance is the first reporting date after I arrived in July, 2001, and all of that debt was in place before my arrival. Again, this and other financial information is available on the City’s website, http://www.cityoflakewales.com/.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

City Debt Level

Last Wednesday’s edition of this paper published a letter to the editor concerning the City’s level of debt and how it has changed over the last seven years. Unfortunately, the conclusions presented were based on a flawed analysis of numbers in existing documents. A meaningful comparison of financial schedules from one time period to another requires an “apples to apples” comparison. Let’s take a quick look at the City’s debt and what has changed over the last seven years.

The Basics of City Debt
When we talk about City debt, we are referring to money that the City has borrowed and must pay back over a period of time. The City’s “payback” is divided into principal payments and interest payments, with the principal being the amount of money borrowed in a particular loan. The term “principal balance of debt” refers to what part of the principal is left to pay back at a given point of time and does not include interest to be paid.

City of Lake Wales Debt at October 1, 2001
On October 1, 2001, the principal balance of City debt was $25,584,934. (The letter writer stated that it was $18,845,000…?) The money borrowed went to pay for a number of items including the new City Hall, the new fire station, a new fire truck, a wastewater collection alarm system, and a wastewater system upgrade.

City of Lake Wales Debt at October 1, 2008
On October 1, 2008 the principal balance of City debt was $33,215,612… a 30% increase, not “nearly double” as the letter writer claimed. Additional City debt in the seven year period includes:
  • Two short term loans for two new fire trucks, replacing worn-out fire trucks;
  • A lease-purchase for new police and fire radios, replacing obsolete radios; and
  • Two projects to upgrade the wastewater treatment plant.
Debt Service
The term “debt service” refers to the amount of principal and interest payments to be made in a fiscal year.

In the current fiscal year, total City debt service is budgeted at $3,847,134, of which the CRA will pay $752,381. For the next fiscal year, the total debt service will be about $4,000,000, with the CRA again paying a significant share. The exact amount of the total debt service next year depends on the drawdown of the wastewater improvement line of credit and the structuring of that loan, which is scheduled for October 1, 2009. The letter writer quoted a figure of “over $6,000,000,” which is incorrect.

The Sunshine Law
So how did the letter writer get off track? Simply by not asking questions. The Sunshine Law requires that nearly every document in City Hall is open for review. (Records not open include items like police officer and code enforcement officer home addresses, etc.) However, the law does not require city staff to do research to create records. For example, someone once asked for the amount of City funds spent to host the Mardi Gras celebration over the last twenty years. That number does not exist in a single report, but the person interested in that figure is welcomed to dig through 20 years of City budgets to determine that number… City staff is not required to assemble a report.

That is apparently what happened in this case. The letter writer asked for information on debt. Without asking any questions, it appears that the letter writer assumed that a debt report 8 years ago included the same type of information that it did in last year’s report. The report format had changed over time, and hence the analysis was flawed. In addition, the $6,000,000 figure for next year’s debt service incorrectly assumes the City would pay off a wastewater line of credit in one year rather than using an amortization schedule with payments over time.

There is a tremendous amount of information available about City operations on the City website (http://www.cityoflakewales.com/) or at City Hall. Asking a few questions is also a good idea.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Commercial Development

While the housing market continues to struggle, general contractors have stayed in business with the building of commercial buildings. This is a welcome activity in our town, as one of the key goals for city staff is the building of our tax base through economic development – the development of commercial and industrial properties.

Let’s take a look at what commercial projects are now underway, and what we anticipate in the early months of the new year.

What projects are now underway
  • Holiday Inn Express – 82 rooms at Shoppes on the Ridge II, near Home Depot on US 27 North.

  • Bank of America building downtown- 2nd and 3rd floor build-out and rear parking area re-surfaced, with landscaping.

  • Walgreen’s – nearing completion at the corner Thompson Nursery Road and US 27 North, is part of a commercial center to be known as Willowbrook Square. The center will include a 7-11 convenience store and a bank.

  • Polk County Health Department – new building on Central Ave. West, behind I-Hop.

  • UPS expansion – The building just off SR 60 near the Crazy Fish Restaurant has been expanded and the parking lot and retention pond are now being finished.

  • Lake Wales Hospital – Wings B & C are being renovated to include 32 suites, with meeting rooms and multi-purpose rooms. The projected value for the project is $2,600,000.00.

  • Gate Petroleum gas station– at Shoppes on the Ridge II, US 27 North.

  • Dr. Pass Medical Offices – a two story, 16,477 square foot building, located at SR 60 and 13th Street.

  • Water’s Edge Independent/Assisted Living Facility – 159 units are under construction at this new life care facility near the intersection of SR 60 and 1st St. S.

  • Carwash – SR 60 at 2nd St., renovation of a former gas station.

  • Polk Community College – renovation of former City Hall to provide a new branch campus to include 6 classrooms, 1 Community room/class room on the first floor, administrative offices(4), and support areas for the building. The new campus will be open for classes in January.

  • Offices and Loft Apartments - downtown in the Bullard building at the corner of Stuart Ave and Scenic Highway.

  • Airport – the re-building of the airport is nearly complete. New hangers, both t-hangers and corporate hangers, are finished, and the Fixed Based Operator building is nearing completion.

  • New restaurant- “Lil Chambrots Diner” is coming into the space at Central and Phillips formerly occupied by Havana Nights.
What we anticipate
  • Shoppes on the Ridge Phase II – completion of 67,000 square feet in-line shopping and 4 additional out-parcels on US 27 N, between the Publix center and Home Depot.

  • ABC Liquor – to be built on an out-parcel at Lowe’s.

  • New medical offices – 11th St. across from hospital.

  • Peace Creek Promenade – Just North of the Hampton Inn and Suites on US 27 N, 240,000 square feet of commercial space.

  • Topper’s Creamery – SR 60 next to Suntrust Bank.

  • Grand Hotel – At the December 2 meeting the CRA will be asked to approve the prioritized list of developers who responded to the “request for proposals”, and appoint a committee to negotiate a contract for the conveyance and renovation of the hotel building downtown.

  • Race Trac gas station – US 27 N across from Wendy’s.

  • Walker Building on Lincoln Ave.- a group is seeking to renovate this building for a professional office upstairs and apartments downstairs. There would also be an office space downstairs for the police sub-station, which currently works out of the B Street Center.

  • Medical Offices – Renovation is proposed for an existing building on US 27 North.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Employment for Young People

It is to be expected that young persons looking for employment will experience some new and challenging situations. But with the current condition of the economy, it is particularly tough to get started.

Last week in this space there were a number of resources listed to help unemployed persons find a job. One of the resources mentioned was the Polk Works’ Young Leaders Program, which serves Polk County residents ages 16-21 with both academic and employability training. This successful program has an office here in Lake Wales and is FREE for those who qualify! Let’s explore the services available, the program’s record of success, and how to enroll.

Services Available
Help for high school students: homework, tutoring, or preparing for the FCAT - Program staff offers services to high school students that focus on helping them graduate from high school and get started on their career goals. These services include individualized instruction as well as interactive, web-based tutoring programs.

  • Get ready for college or technical school - Program staff will help students prepare for entrance exams (SAT, ACT) and will provide assistance in finding financial aid opportunities, learning about college programs, and understanding the application process. College tours and field trips can also be arranged.

  • Help with obtaining a GED - Young people who have not obtained their high school diploma can receive individualized instruction to prepare for the GED test. Program staff helps participants register with the Polk County School Board to take the test. Participants receive a voucher to cover the cost of the exam. Those youth who did not pass the FCAT and obtained a certificate of completion from high school can also take advantage of this option.

  • Learn to find a job – Program staff will help students learn interview skills, how to search for a job, how to dress for work, how to write a resume and cover letter, and how to connect to local job opportunities. Internships and job shadowing are also provided.

  • Scholarships - Persons age 18-21 may receive scholarships for specialized training in selected fields, based on the individual’s aptitude and interests. Once these skill-building activities are completed, program staff will work one on one with each participant to assist in marketing their skills to employers. Program participants often have an opportunity to earn cash incentives as they reach milestones in the program.

  • Other Services - Program staff is authorized to make referrals to enable participants to obtain other needed services, including medical, housing, substance abuse prevention, teen pregnancy prevention, and assistance to obtain proper workplace attire.
Record of Success
In the last fiscal year, the Polk Works Young Leaders Program served 222 participants countywide, and 91.6% of all the participants who exited the program obtained a job, entered post-secondary education, or entered the military. The Lake Wales office served 34 young people.

How to Enroll
The City provides the Polk Works’ Young Leaders program with office space in the James P. Austin Community Center, located at 315 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd, just a few blocks north of Lake Wales City Hall. The office is open from 8am – 5pm Monday thru Friday. The phone number is 455-1014. Ms. Beverly Dingle is the Program Manager in Lake Wales and will be happy to help you. Applicants must complete an application and interview with a Program Career Coach. Polk Works’ Young Leaders is a federally funded program and income guidelines apply.

Much of this information came from the Polk Works and the Young Leaders Program websites.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Resources for Job Seekers

The poor condition of the economy has the unemployment rate soaring. In our county it is reported that there are 21,303 persons unemployed for an unemployment rate of 7.9% as of September. Compare this to the rates reported in August for the state at 6.8% and the nation at 6.1%.

In addition to the relative lack of jobs, many job seekers suffer from employment impediments. A survey of unemployed persons done over a year ago in our town listed some of these impediments:
  • An arrest record

  • No high school diploma or GED

  • No transportation

  • Lack of child care

  • No job training
There are a few resources available to help all job seekers find work. In addition to the employment ads in our local newspapers, the website www.employflorida.com is a job matching service that is available on the internet. These and other resources can be found at these locations:

  1. The Lake Wales Public Library, 290 Cypress Gardens Lane, Lake Wales, Florida 33853, (863)678-4004. Hours of operation are Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, 9:00am to 6:30pm; Wednesday and Friday, 9:00am to 5:30pm; Saturday, 9:00am to 3:00pm. Copies of local newspapers are available for review with open job ads. There are also 12 public access computers for Internet job searches. Library staff can offer assistance.

  2. The B Street Center is located at 230 B Street, Lake Wales, Florida, 33853, (863) 679-8091. Hours of operation are Monday through Friday, 9:00am to 5:00pm. A variety of assistance is available here, including internet job searches, instructions on how arrest records for certain crimes can be purged from the system, and assistance in finding instruction for GED and job training. The computers are not available on Fridays for public use. Computer classes are also available at the center on Monday and Tuesday, 4:00pm to 6:00pm.<.li>
  3. Polk Works – The Polk Works One Stop Career Center office is located at 500 East Lake Howard Drive. Suite 400, Winter Haven, Florida 33881 and the phone number is (863) 508-1100. The website address is www.polkworks.org. Services include employment search assistance, assistance in filing out job applications, and job training.

  4. Polk Works also has a mobile unit that comes to Lake Wales offering internet job search capability. The schedule for the mobile unit is as follows: 1st Tuesday in December, Lake Wales City Hall; 1st Tuesday of every month beginning in January, Wal-Mart parking lot; 2nd Tuesday, Frostproof Library except November; 3rd Tuesday, Mulberry Wal-Mart; 4th Tuesday, Haines City Wal-Mart.

  5. Polk Works also has an office serving youth between the ages of 14 – 21 at the James P. Austin Community Center, 315 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., Lake Wales, Florida 33853, (863) 678-4003. The “Young Leaders Program” will assist youth in obtaining a GED and/or employment. The service is open to youth who are in school as well as those who are no longer in school.
Two items on the list above were not mentioned as being addressed in any of the resources above: transportation, and child care. The WHAT system has several bus stops in town as described on their website. As for childcare, reasonably priced childcare can be difficult to find. In addition to the childcare centers listed in the phone book, there is now a childcare center at Lake Wales High School that is open to the public although there may be a waiting list.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Road Improvements

The need for street improvements in our town has been a frequent topic of conversation in the past. With the City Commission’s approval of the recent bond issue and resurfacing project, the County’s resurfacing of Buck Moore Road and Burns Avenue, and the FDOT’s (Florida Department of Transportation) widening of US 27 and work on SR 60 east, this year has seen a welcome and substantial improvement in street conditions. Let’s take a look now at some additional improvements planned for the South 11th St, South 9th Street, and the SR 60 east area.

A New Route Connecting South 11th St to South 9th Street
On 11th street just south of SR 60 a new section of Grove Avenue is being paved. The developer of Whispering Ridge is doing this work as required by the development agreement negotiated with the City. When this section is finished it will provide a new route between South 9th St and South 11th St without having to use SR 60. This improvement has become more important since the County, at the City’s request several years ago, paved South 9th street south of the railroad tracks.

The railroad crossing on South 9th Street is also scheduled for improvement, as the City Commission recently approved an agreement with FDOT in which they will construct a new crossing complete with flashing lights and cross arms that are lowered as a train approaches. The City will be responsible for one-half of the annual maintenance cost of this new equipment.

New Project for SR 60 east of 11th St: Grass Medians
At the November 18 City Commission meeting the Commission will be asked to approve the conceptual plan for constructing a grass median on SR 60, from 11th St east to a section with an existing median near Capps Road. Elimination of the middle turn lane between 11th Street and Capps Road and construction of the median were recommended by an engineering safety study. If approved the $1.5 million project will be funded by highway safety funds and will be scheduled for design in 2009/2010 and construction in 2010/2011. The City would then seek funding for landscaping the median.

The median would limit the ability of motorists to make turns. For example, the conceptual plan would allow turning movements as follows:
  • Open Intersections allowing turns in any direction

    • 11th St

    • 12th St/the driveway just west of the Tractor Supply building

    • 14thst/the entrance to the Winn Dixie plaza

    • Buck Moore Rd/Hunt Brothers Road

    • Lewis Griffin Rd/Evergreen Drive

    • Entrance to the Country Club/County Fire Station

    • Hibiscus Drive
  • Limited access to streets and driveways serving the following properties:

    • McDonald’s and the Orange Grove Plaza West driveway: right turns only (going in, coming out)

    • Tractor Supply East driveway: right turns only

    • 13th St, Hamlin St (Perkins and Race Track): right and left turn in, right turn out, no left turn out

    • Most of the businesses on the North side of SR 60 from 13th to 14th Street – right turns only

    • Walgreen’s driveway: right turns only

    • Bank and All-Star Grill plaza driveways east of Buck Moore: right turns only

    • Wal-Mart and other businesses’ driveway: right turns only

    • Orange Park Blvd: right turns in and out, left turn in, no left turn out

    • Tangelo St: right and left turns in, right turn out, no left turn in

    • Highland Dr, Shady Oak Ave, Myrtle Ave: right turns only

    • Driveways east of Lewis Griffin Road: right turns only

A copy of the conceptual plan for this project is available for review at City Hall during normal business hours. A copy of the plan can also be viewed on the City’s website (http://www.cityoflakewales.com/). All affected businesses listed above are scheduled to be notified and are invited to attend the November 18 Commission meeting, which starts at 6 pm at City Hall. For further information please call City Hall at 678-4182 extension 225.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Assorted Items of Interest

This week let’s look at several topics of interest in our town.

Trail and Sidewalk Planning
There have been questions asked recently about the new trail on the east side of North Wailes Drive. The Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee recommended the connection between the new Trailway to Spook Hill Elementary School to improve safety for school children. Using asphalt allowed for a wider path at a lower cost than the use of concrete. It also opened up the paved area for easier travel for bicyclists. The east side of the street was chosen since it keeps pedestrians from having to cross a number of streets and provides a much safer path for the elementary school students.

The next phase of this work will include painting in a crosswalk, the installation of signage, and the construction of a concrete sidewalk on school property. Additional sections of sidewalks are planned along the west side of North Wailes Dr. south of the Trailway to make a connection down to Lakeshore Drive.

SR 60 East: Lighting and Medians
City staff approached FDOT several years ago to inquire about their ability to improve street lighting on State Road 60 from 11th St to Buck Moore Road. FDOT completed that work months ago. City staff then approached FDOT about the feasibility of continuing the grass median from 11th St to the east. FDOT staff prepared a conceptual plan that is on display in the lobby of city hall. The City Commission will be asked to endorse their plan, and FDOT staff will then hold an open house to review and explain the plan to affected property owners and interested citizens.

At present this stretch of State Road 60 has an open turn lane. Motorists traveling either east or west can pull into the lane and then turn left. Unfortunately, some drivers also use this lane as an “acceleration” lane. If they want to turn left from a street, say 12th Street for example, but traffic is heavy going in that direction, drivers sometimes pull into the center lane and drive there until traffic opens up and they can move over. This is a very dangerous move.

FDOT has federal safety funds that can be used for this sort of project. The conceptual plan shows that there will be full openings at some intersections, and “directed” turns (which only allow cars to turn a certain direction) at other locations. Landscaping will be provided to enhance this area and make a very nice entryway into town from east SR 60. The median will end west of Capps Road.
Park Planning, Trees
The Parks and Community Appearance Board has been busy. The board recently heard a presentation from an arborist regarding trees in Lake Wailes Park, including the type of trees and their condition. One of the arborist’s recommendations will involve ways to relieve the stress of some large trees caused by mowing grass beneath the trees. These areas may need to be mulched.

City staff is also researching available properties in the northern areas of the city for the building of a city park. It is anticipated that recreation impact fee funds, as well as any available grant funds, would be used for this purpose.

Utility System Improvements Workshop
Every year the City Commission approves a plan that lists the capital improvements that will be needed for the next year. The plan recently adopted contains financing and expenditures for the first phase of work for the wastewater treatment plant. This work includes maintenance work for the plant, which is now twenty years old, as well as other improvements and a small expansion of capacity. There are also plans to extend a water line to connect to the new airport system and go further west on SR 60. It is anticipated that these topics will be discussed at an upcoming City Commission workshop.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Vandals & Litterbugs

Many people have a cell phone…and yet there are relatively few calls made to the police department to report crimes while they are in process. I believe that there is at least one crime that could be substantially curtailed if people would call when they see it happening: vandalism. Another problem that can be addressed with community action is littering. Let’s take a look at these problems and determine what can be done to address them.
Vandalism
Our parks have suffered the effects of vandalism for years. Some of the worst cases in recent years include the following:
  1. Crystal Lake Park – There were very few swings in the park this summer. Most had been vandalized, and the swing seats that meet insurance requirements cost $129 each. Other items of playground equipment have been destroyed as well. Perhaps the most costly item was the bar-b-que grill. Last spring, vandals literally dismantled the chimney to the grill. The entire chimney had to be re-built at a cost of over $3,000.

  2. Shuffleboard Courts – in 2004 the City was awarded a grant (no city money required as match for this grant) to re-surface the shuffleboard courts and make other improvements. Soon after the work was completed, the improved area was vandalized – including damage to the new scoreboards. In order to reduce the likelihood of continued vandalism, the City had to close in the courts with new sections of tall, chain-link fence.

  3. Northwest Complex (Frasier Field) – vandals destroyed fixtures in both restrooms. Following their replacement, a heavy metal bar had to be placed over the doors to ensure their security.

  4. Lincoln Park – playground equipment has been vandalized.

  5. The pier on Lake Wailes – this picturesque spot, with the gazebo reaching out into the lake, has been severely vandalized. Much of the woodwork has been broken off and removed, and City facilities staff had to install a plywood ceiling as vandals had punched a hole through the wood shingled roof from the inside.

  6. Graffiti – Graffiti defaces public buildings, traffic control signs, and street signs around town, as well as privately owned buildings. City staff spends hours painting out graffiti and replacing signage that has been defaced.
It is difficult for me to believe that not one vandalism incident has been witnessed by someone with a cell phone. If you see vandalism occurring please call the police at 911. Vandalism is a crime that must be stopped.

Littering
Another problem that could be curtailed with community action is litter. In a number of areas of the city we are awash in litter. It is so bad that I occasionally take a plastic grocery bag with me when I take a walk to pick up the litter as I go. In my experience the most popular litter items come from fast food restaurants, but there is the occasional beer bottle, drink can, or 12 pack cardboard carton.

City staff is considering the preparation of an ordinance similar to the county program and state program, in which groups could volunteer to “adopt a street”. In this program a group would volunteer to pick up litter at least once every three months on both sides of their adopted street. A sign designating that group and their adoption of the street would be placed in the area.

One of the many keys to attracting visitors to our town is to have a sparkling clean appearance. This fact was echoed in the first Donald Trump book, in which he expounded on his demands for cleanliness at every one of his facilities. Our beautiful entryway to downtown via Central Avenue is quickly spoiled if the roadsides are littered. The same is true once visitors begin exploring our “quaint” downtown, which quickly losses its charm if visitors are stepping over food wrappers or discarded newspapers.

Your City staff is open to your suggestions on how best to fight these two nagging problems. Please give me a call at 678-4182, ext 225, or e-mail me at totte@cityoflakewales.com. All suggestions will be given serious consideration.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Rumor Report #2

In this column let’s look at several rumors that have been circulating around town for quite some time.

Rumor: The City is going to close the Depot Museum.
The City never had any intention of closing the Depot Museum. City staff prepared draft budgets for the Depot Museum last summer that included the funding for operational expenses, such as electric, phone, water, etc., with the idea of having the Museum operate with volunteers. This plan came from the thought that a number of community museums operate with volunteers. It was later reported that museums in Dundee, Fort Meade, Frostproof, as well as in other communities around the country operate with volunteers.

In a later draft of the City budget, City staff proposed that in addition to the operational expenses noted above, the budget contain a grant to the Historic Lake Wales Society for the operation of the museum with funds for a paid position. The initial proposal was for a part-time position; the final agreement contained the funding for a full-time position. The total cost of museum operation under the contractual arrangement with the Historic Lake Wales Society, even with the full-time position, is less than the previous year with a city employee. At no time did the City staff recommend, nor did the City Commission discuss, closing the museum.

Rumor: The City violated the law in the approval of a contract with former Mayor and City Commissioner Linda Kimbrough.
The City Charter has a provision which provides that no former elected City Official shall hold any compensated, appointed city office or employment until one year after the expiration of their term. The City went out to bid for community development consultant services last year and received two bids. The bid submitted by Kimbrough and Associates was the lower bid. The City Attorney was asked if the acceptance of this bid was a violation of the charter provision referenced above. He stated that in his opinion since Ms. Kimbrough was not employed by the City in her individual capacity, the utilization of consulting services from Kimbrough and Associates does not violate the charter provision.

Rumor: a portion of the south wall of the 1919 building fell down.
Earlier this year the Construction Manager for the 1919 building project brought in a structural engineer to inspect the south wall. A portion of the wall was “bowing” out, and the engineer recommended that this section of wall be removed by the contractor and re-built. The wall was taken down carefully so that the original windows and bricks in the exterior wall would be in good condition. They were then re-used in re-building the wall. In this way, there was no problem encountered with matching the existing windows and bricks. This work was reported in an article in the Lake Wales News on February 27th.

Speaking of the 1919 building, there have been two tours of the building recently with Hank Donaldson, a local residential contractor, at his request. Mr. Donaldson then wrote a letter to the editor that omitted some relevant information.

For the first tour Mr. Donaldson was asked if the project architect and structural engineer could attend. Mr. Donaldson said no, he did not want to “get in a debate” with them. Later, Mr. Donaldson called back and requested a second tour, this time with a reporter. City staff asked if he would object if a structural engineer who had no connection with the project could attend. It was explained that the large engineering firm that employs the City’s water and sewer engineer also employs structural engineers, and an engineer who has never been in the building and has no connection with it would be available to accompany us. Mr. Donaldson said that was fine, no problem with that. But then Mr. Donaldson wrote in his letter to the editor, “I wish the City had chosen an independent engineer to initially review this. Instead they chose an employee of a firm the City has an ongoing contractual/monetary relationship with. This makes me question the City’s integrity, not the engineer’s.” Mr. Donaldson failed to disclose that before the tour he agreed to have an engineer from that firm present, knowing the firm and their relationship to the City that he later questioned!

Follow-up reports from these tours are being prepared and the results will be featured in a future column. The reports will be available for review at City Hall.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Economic Redevelopment

Community re-development is a busy activity in our town. The proposals for the Grand Hotel will be opened, the Lincoln Ave area is moving forward, and the City Commission just approved the submission of an application for the next round of Community Development Block Grant awards. Let’s take a quick review of these activities!
Grand Hotel
The City has received five proposals for re-development of the Grand Hotel. The City Commission has appointed a committee to review the proposals consisting of the following individuals:
  • Robin Gibson, representing the Chamber’s CRA Steering Committee;

  • Betty Wojick, Chamber Executive Director

  • Jan Privett, Main Street Manager

  • Tony Otte, City Manager

  • Harold Gallup, City Economic Development Director

  • Tina Peak, Library Director

  • A representative of the City’s new Historic District Regulatory Board

  • Don Martin of Martin Vargas (author of the recent downtown re-development plan), advisor
The proposals will be distributed to Committee members and opened at the Committee’s first meeting, which will be held at 1 pm on Thursday, October 9, at City Hall. Two additional Committee meetings have already been scheduled: Thursday, October 16, and Thursday, October 23, all at City Hall at 1 pm. All review committee meetings are open to the public, and minutes will be taken.
Lincoln Avenue Re-Development
Five years ago a meeting was held at the B Street Center to discuss the re-establishment of neighborhood commercial business activities on Lincoln Avenue. Al Hawkins, a member of the Green and Gold Foundation, summed up what was needed to be successful: the area has to be “clean, and safe”.

Since that meeting, the City has purchased or foreclosed on 8 land parcels in the Lincoln Avenue area, with additional parcels being considered. One of these parcels is the location of the Walker Building at the SW corner of Lincoln and C Streets, which is the largest commercial structure in the Lincoln Avenue neighborhood commercial area. The City has secured and painted the building using a color from the color palette selected for the area. Plans for the sale and renovation of the building are now being formulated.

The City has also demolished two dilapidated commercial buildings on Lincoln Ave, and has provided grants through the CRA to renovate the building front and exterior walls (“fa├žade grants”) for four commercial properties, two on Lincoln and two on Wiltshire Blvd.

More recently, the CRA Board approved the opening of a police sub-station to serve Lincoln Ave and the surrounding area. The substation will supplement existing police efforts and will be staffed with three experienced police officers. This community policing initiative is another step to make the area safe.
CDBG Grant Application
The City Commission recently approved the submission of a grant application for the next round of Community Development Block Grant awards. In order to be competitive, this grant requires a match of City funds. The match is a City utility project that has been planned to bring better water service to the east side of downtown. If awarded, CDBG grant funds will be used for the following projects:
  • Additional landscaping on Central, Stuart, and Park Avenues

  • New lighting on Lincoln Avenue

  • A parking lot near Lincoln and C streets

  • New facades for three buildings on Lincoln Avenue
Re-development is an essential goal for our town. The City is working with the Chamber’s CRA Steering Committee, Main Street, and other interested parties to plan and complete re-development projects. Your interest and participation are welcomed.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Rumor Report #1

The purpose of this column is to provide direct and accurate information from the City to the residents of our town, so that citizens know what’s going on. In the past several months I have seen an upswing of rumors based on inaccurate information. I have written in this space about how the repetition of misinformation hurts our town. I have also made suggestions on rules for public discourse and the need for individual citizens to check out rumors.

It is time to get serious about addressing rumors. Let’s define a rumor, shed light on the effect of rumors, and create a method for getting accurate information.

Rumors
My edition of the Random House Dictionary of the English Language gives this definition of the noun “rumor”: “1. A story or statement in general circulation without confirmation or certainty as to facts; 2. Gossip; hearsay; 3. a continuous, confused noise, clamor, din.”

There is a surprising amount of research devoted to the study of rumors. A 1944 study described three basic characteristics that apply to rumors:
  1. They’re transmitted by word of mouth;

  2. They provide “information” about a “person, happening, or condition” and

  3. They express and gratify “the emotional needs of the community” v. an individual need. This distinguishes rumors (community interest) from gossip (individual or trivial interest.
This study also found that negative rumors were more likely to be disseminated than positive rumors. A later study found that rumors tend to be shortened as they travel.

More recent research on rumors has also theorized that rumor-mongering is simply an attempt to deal with anxieties and uncertainties by generating and passing stories that can explain a situation. It was also found that when anxieties are intense, rumormongers are less likely to monitor the logic or plausibility of what they pass on to others.

Another observation on rumors holds that when parties are engaged in intense conflict, there is typically little direct communication between the parties; however, there are likely to be numerous individuals who are informally talking with one another about the conflict. Any gap in information may be filled by rumor or misrepresentation.

The Effect of Rumors
Rumors often contain seriously inaccurate information. In conflict situations, this inaccurate information is likely to make a conflict more destructive. It also tends to erode the parties mutual trust. This makes it more difficult for the parties to move towards a resolution of the conflict. A proliferation of negative rumors increases the chances that the parties will develop worst-case images of one another, which in turn may result in the individuals becoming entrenched and unwavering in their positions.

Therefore, rumors can serve to escalate conflict and make it much more difficult to find a resolution.

The Rumor Hotline
In order to bring rumors to light and respond with accurate information, the City has established a rumor hotline. The rumor hotline number is: 678-4182 extension 231.

This number goes to the desk and answering machine for the Human Resources Director, Sandra Davis. Anyone may call the line to report a rumor. The line is available during business hours and during non-business hours by simply leaving a message. All rumors may be reported anonymously.

City staff will research the rumor and will report the results in this column. The records researched will be open for review at City Hall.

I believe it is our civic duty for the good of the entire community - the duty of each of us as a Lake Walean - to report rumors and bring them to light. We now have an opportunity to do so.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Changes to Garbage Pick-up

There will be a change in the method of garbage collection in our town as the result of a new contract with Florida Refuse. The biggest change is going to once per week garbage pick-up using large garbage cans on wheels. These new cans will be provided next week to residential customers by Florida Refuse.

This new contract includes the following features for residential customers who now use their own garbage containers:

  • Florida Refuse will provide large garbage cans on wheels, called Totes, to each residential customer (except customers who currently use dumpsters). The Totes will be provided, maintained and replaced as necessary by Florida Refuse.

  • Totes will be delivered the week of September 29, 2008 and once per week pick up of the Totes will start the week of October 6, 2008.

  • Flyers will be provided with the Totes that will provide information such as pick up days, Tote placement, etc.

  • Residents may call the City’s Customer Service office at 678-4196 for the following services:
    • Additional Totes will be provided at no additional cost.

    • The Totes provided may be changed out for smaller Totes.

    • After 60 days, residents will be able to request twice per week pick up service for an additional charge.

    • Back door service may also be requested.
  • During a transition period of three weeks, Florida Refuse will pick up overflow garbage. After that if a resident overflows on a habitual basis, the City will be notified so they can contact the customer and request that an additional Tote be delivered.

  • Pick up days for yard waste, recycling, bulk furniture and garbage will be provided on the flyer delivered with the Totes.

  • If a holiday lands on a pick up day, the garbage will be picked up the next day.

  • Florida Refuse has agreed to pick up an unlimited volume of yard waste at each house at no additional charge. However, this service is subject to the following requirements:
    • Residents will need to cut items such as tree limbs, three trunks, palm fronds, etc. in lengths no greater than four feet long if the item’s diameter is less than six inches and need to be put in lengths no greater than two feet long if the item’s diameter is six inches or greater.

    • Grass cuttings, weeds, leaves and other yard material must be placed in containers, bags, or bundles.

    • No single item shall exceed fifty pounds in weight.

    • Debris resulting from a professional tree service company must be taken off-site and disposed of by the tree company.
  • Yard waste will be collected from the front of the premises at curbside or from service alleys at the rear of the property, where available.

  • Please notify the City of any missed pick ups. If Florida Refuse is notified by the City before 2:00 pm, a missed pick up will be removed within 24 hours.

  • Florida Refuse will not begin collection prior to 6:00 am or later than 8:30 pm unless prior authorization is obtained from the City Manager or his designee.

  • Florida Refuse will continue to provide two annual citywide clean ups annually.
  • Florida Refuse will promote recycling participation with a marketing campaign to provide incentive gift cards to residents who recycle.

  • Florida Refuse will provide an annual rebate payment to the City for increasing recycling tonnage. The City will receive a rebate of $25.00 per ton on the annual average tonnage increase year-over-year.

  • Florida Refuse has the exclusive right to provide solid waste collection services within the City.

  • Contractors engaged in building or remodeling operations shall be permitted to remove waste accumulated as a result of their operations if they own their own containers but they may not contract for the service of any other waste hauler/refuse contractor.

If you have any questions on garbage collection please do not hesitate to call the City’s Customer Service office at 678-4196.

Florida Refuse assisted in the preparation of this article.

    Tuesday, September 16, 2008

    Multi-Purpose Sports Complex Now Open

    The Multi-Purpose Sports Complex on Hunt Brothers Road is now open for league play. If someone familiar with municipal budgets were to take a close look at our City budget, and then drive out to see the new Complex, I would expect this question:
    So just how does a city with a relatively small tax base, and a financially constrained General Fund, in this tax reform era, come up with the money to build a $1 million dollar+ sports complex?

    This question recognizes the fact that the City could not fund the construction of this project. In fact, other than fertilizer and weed control, the City did not contribute any hard cash to the construction of the fields. Remarkably, all of the other development costs were paid for through grants and donations.

    This is the modern day equivalent of a community barn raising, where everyone joins together and pitches in to get the job done. This can serve as the model for similar projects, here and elsewhere, in the future. The elements of this project that made it successful are as follows:

    1. It started with a clear “end use” with wide appeal: to build a facility to serve as the home for soccer games, and for other sports as well. There are hundreds of Lake Wales youth who play soccer who would benefit from the building of such a complex.

    2. The project is inclusive. Sports and youth activities attract families from all income levels and neighborhoods. The development of this project required the cooperation of many people and organizations, and everyone involved welcomed the contributions that new partners brought to the project.

    3. The project had a driving force in Robbie Shields, Tony Mathewson, and the other directors of the Ridge Soccer League. They were willing to do a tremendous amount of work.

    4. The city staff and the soccer league directors recognized and capitalized on opportunities.
    With these four cornerstones, the City’s inability to fund the project was not an obstacle. The directors of the Ridge Soccer League were willing to conduct fundraisers and go after grants to make the dream come true. Along the way there were other “spin-off” benefits, such as the re-establishment of the City’s Recreation Advisory Committee, and participation in countywide recreation meetings.

    In this new era of tax reform, the development of this project is the new paradigm of community capital projects. A single local government alone will be less likely to have the financial resources to make large community improvements.

    The next challenge will be to ensure that there is adequate funding for maintenance. The same ingenuity that was used to build the complex will be needed to develop the resources to properly maintain it. New ideas include:

    • A small maintenance fee will be charged to players for each season;

    • For a certain fee, a field and the entire complex could be named for a person or a company for several years;

    • The fields could display company advertisements on field fences; and

    • A fee could be charged for use of the concession stand and for use of the field for clinics.
    As one speaker noted at the grand opening Saturday, the Soccer/Multi-Purpose Sports Complex is a good example of the spirit of Lake Wales – a town with a strong sense of community!
    A few Facts in response to a letter in Saturday’s edition
    • A position’s total compensation consists of a salary and benefits. Unfortunately, a letter in Saturday’s paper mistakenly stated the total compensation for the City Manager position as “salary”. The salary budgeted for that position in the current fiscal year is $105,527 (which includes $4,058.73 in deferred compensation). How does that compare to City Manager salaries in other cities of similar size in our area?

      • Auburndale Salary $117,042, car allowance $500/month

      • Haines City Salary $133,413, car allowance $375/month
    • City Manager car allowance: The car allowance of $400 per month is the same amount provided in the employment contract dated July 3, 2001, when regular un-leaded was $1.22!

    Tuesday, September 9, 2008

    Framework for Public Discourse

    In the 1970’s one of the prominent requirements for federal grant programs was demonstrated evidence of public participation. This meant that the local government had to hold public hearings and allow citizens the opportunity to voice their opinions on the proposed project that would be funded by the grant. Since that time, many people have come to recognize the value of an environment that encourages public discourse and healthy debate of public policy.

    This is also the theme of the “sunshine law” and the “open records law”. Any matter that may come to the City Commission for a vote is off–limits for discussion between two City Commissioners, or between two members of a board appointed by the City Commission. Any such discussions would be considered to be a public meeting, requiring proper notice of the meeting, and minutes being taken.

    The Attorney General’s Office has advised that reasonable rules may be adopted by a local government to ensure the orderly conduct of meetings. For example, a rule which limits the amount of time an individual may address the City Commission may be adopted provided that the time limit does not unreasonably restrict the public’s right of access. In another example, a court ruled that the mayor of one city did not violate a citizen’s First Amendment Rights when he attempted to confine the speaker to the agenda item in the meeting and then had the speaker removed when the speaker appeared to become disruptive (Page 45, volume 30, Florida Government in the Sunshine Manual.)

    The open records law allows review of practically any city record. The definition of a record is defined rather broadly to facilitate access to local government documents.

    The City of Lake Wales’ Score
    In my estimation, the City of Lake Wales scores well in making information available that is necessary for public discourse. The City’s website is filled with information including City Commission agendas, staff reports, adopted policies such as the strategic plan, and user friendly documents like the city budget. City staff also makes themselves available to meet with citizens to explain programs and policies. Each City Commission meeting has a call for citizens to come to the podium and address the Commission, and there is an extensive array of advisory boards that develop policies and make decisions in their areas of expertise.

    The Pledge of Civility
    To establish a “standard of behavior for public meetings”, the City Commission adopted an ordinance in 1998 that contains the following:
    1. We may disagree, but we will be courteous and respectful of one another.

    2. We will not engage in personal attacks.

    3. We will direct all comments to the issue under consideration.
    This standard is written on a plaque on the podium in the Commission chambers under the heading of the “Pledge of Civility”.

    A Corollary: Seek Information Before Forming an Opinion
    In addition to the “Pledge of Civility”, I would like to add a corollary: that with the availability of information as noted above, it is counter-productive to have public discussion when inaccurate information is sometimes dispensed as the gospel truth. It is not clear if this is done out of an ignorance of the facts, a disregard for the facts, or simply using the old debate tactic of distorting the facts and then attacking the distortion. Anyone who chronically dispenses opinion based on inaccurate information eventually loses all credibility. However, in the meantime, the inaccurate information brought to the public stage negatively impacts our town. In our information-rich environment there is no excuse for not asking questions or researching answers before pronouncing an opinion. Asking questions and gathering information should be step one before entering the public forum. Only then can thoughtful and influential public discourse take place.

    Saturday, September 6, 2008

    LWPD Items of Interest

    Let’s take a look at two informational items from our Lake Wales Police Department:

    Lake Wales is a great place to live, work, and raise a family. Unfortunately, we are still susceptible to the larger problems that affect other areas of the county and state… including crime.
    When the economy takes a downturn, there is often an increase in theft. Recently we have experienced a variety of thefts, from homes, vehicles, and businesses. What can we, as citizens, do about this? Isn’t that something our police officers need to deal with?

    The first and most important step in combating property crimes is this: We all need to realize that we are called upon to play an important role in preventing crime in our community. That means that we need to stay alert and be aware of our surroundings. When we see anything that is suspicious, or something that just does not seem quite right, we need to call the police.

    If it is an emergency situation, we need to call 911. If it is not an emergency, please call the police at the non-emergency number: 678-4223. Our police officers will investigate anything suspicious, regardless of how small it may seem. Sometimes these investigations turn out to be something that could prevent a crime.

    For example, a vehicle that looks out of place in your neighborhood, driving around slowly, could actually belong to a burglar planning to victimize a home in the area. Or someone you see running through your backyard or down the street may be running from a crime scene, or from the police.

    Besides serving as eyes and ears for crime prevention, we all need to be mindful of making our homes, businesses, vehicles, and ourselves a much more difficult target for criminals. A great number of crimes occur when the criminal perceives that there is an opportunity for an easy score. Crime prevention experts tell us that by simply making it more difficult for criminals to work, they may very well move on to a different, less familiar area… and a crime was prevented.
    Simply locking doors, checking to make sure windows are secure, and installing exterior lighting are all good ideas.

    Our police department has information to help you be more crime resistant and reduce the chance of being a crime victim. Please contact Judi Gladue at 678-4223 extension 261 for more information on how to keep your home, business, and yourself, safe.

    Chief Herbert Gillis invites all residents to register to attend the 2008 Citizens Police Academy.
    Our police department will conduct the 2008 Citizens’ Police Academy from September 17 thru October 29. Courses will be conducted on seven consecutive Thursdays from 6 pm to 9 pm and on two Saturdays from 8 am to 2 pm.

    The Citizens’ Police Academy follow the training provided to law enforcement officers and includes the following topics:
    • Canine Unit operations

    • Crime scene procedures

    • Drug recognition and identification

    • Emergency vehicle operations

    • History of law enforcement

    • Less-lethal weapons familiarization

    • Lethal weapons familiarization

    • Patrol section operations

    • Problem oriented policing

    • Report writing

    • SWAT Team operations

    • Traffic control procedures

    • Traffic enforcement procedures
    Prospective academy participants can obtain an application by contracting Lieutenant Joe Elrod at 678-4223 extension 257 or e-mail jelrod@cityoflakewales.com.

    Tuesday, August 26, 2008

    Another Day at the Office

    Tuesday of last week was a disruptive day for most people. Tropical Storm Fay caused the schools to close, as well as many businesses and government offices. But in a sense, for most city employees it was just “another day at the office.”

    I say this because our city employees know that although City Hall is closed, they will most likely be called to come in and work in bad weather, leaving their homes and families in the care of other family members. The Emergency Operations Center at the main fire station held its first meeting at 7am, with employees ready to answer 9 City phone lines forwarded to that location. From there, employees went out in the weather and cleared stormwater pipes, moved several downed tree limbs out of streets, and generally kept things moving. Luckily there was no damage, in stark contrast to what we suffered from the hurricanes four years ago.

    Even so, the dedication of your city employees is remarkable. They are ready to do whatever it takes to keep our town operating. I am privileged to lead this outstanding group of men and women. Their efforts usually “fly under the radar”, and therefore often seem unappreciated. They deserve an occasional thank you for what they do especially when the going gets rough. I’m sure they would appreciate a compliment from you. So the next time you see a city employee, it would be nice to tell them that their work during the storm – as well as everyday – is appreciated.

    Meetings
    The summer of 2008 will soon be in the books, and September is shaping up to be another busy month. Let’s take a look at some of the things to expect next month.
    • City Commission Meetings (all held at City Hall):

      • Special meeting for continued review of the draft budget and CDBG application items: Wednesday, August 27, 6 pm;

      • Regular meeting including setting the fire assessment rates: Tuesday, September 2, 6 pm;

      • Special meeting for first reading of the millage rate and budget: Wednesday, September 3, 6 pm. Per the formula in state law for this meeting date, this year the meeting for first reading of the millage and budget could not be held on the regular Commission meeting date;

      • Regular meeting, including the final adoption of the millage rate and budget for the October 1 fiscal year: Tuesday, September 16, 6 pm.
    • Meeting to discuss Youth Recreation programs for the summer of ’09: Thursday, September 18, 6 pm, Charter Schools meeting room, corner of Central and Market Sts. downtown;

    • Airport Authority meeting to tour the Fixed Based Operator building currently under construction at the Municipal Airport: Thursday, August 28, 5:30 pm.
    Report on Selected Capital improvements
    • Phase 1 water main project downtown – has begun with work on Sessoms Avenue, near the water plant. The new water main will be located on Sessoms, Wetmore, and Stuart Avenues. When completed, the street re-surfacing project will continue;

    • Street Re-surfacing - this project is scheduled for completion in October, and work will include portions of First Street, Polk Avenue, and Old Scenic Highway;

    • Phase 2 of the Trail – following the intent of the voters in the April 5, 2005 referendum, construction of the trail from Kiwanis Park to Buck Moore Road is underway. Sod installation and north-side fence construction will commence soon;

    • New Water Tower: Construction has begun on the new water tower to serve the southern portion of our utility service area;

    • New Soccer/Multi-Purpose Park on Hunt Brothers Road (between Scenic Highway and US 27): Grand Opening is scheduled for Saturday, September 13, at 10 am. Everyone is invited to see this new City park!

    • Kiwanis Park improvements:

      • A retention pond to serve the High View Drive area is being constructed in an unused area of Kiwanis Park. This work addresses a stormwater problem that has plagued this neighborhood for decades;

      • The City’s Parks and Community Appearance Board is preparing a grant application for improvements at Kiwanis Park including the re-construction of three of the baseball fields, landscaping, and a site reservation for the “Barney’s Dream” all-children’s playground.

    For additional information please consult the City’s website at http://www.cityoflakewales.com/.

    Saturday, August 23, 2008

    Mark Your Calendar. . .

    Within the next 30 days there will be two important City events! The budget process will draw to a close in anticipation of the start of the new fiscal year on October 1; and the new soccer/multi-purpose park will open on September 13.
    City Budget Meeting
    The draft of the City’s fiscal year ’08-09 budget was discussed at a budget workshop on Wednesday, August 20, at City Hall, and will be discussed again at a budget workshop to be held in the next week (probably either Wednesday or Thursday at 6 pm in the Commission Chambers).

    The preparation of this year’s budget was particularly difficult, given the effects of two waves of tax reform and the poor condition of the economy. Despite a shrinking general fund revenue picture, there are some bright spots:
    • The draft CRA budget contains funding for a community policing effort in the Lincoln Avenue area. The effort is another facet of the revitalization of neighborhood commercial in the area. In the past 12 months there has been one new business, Massey’s Meat Store that has opened on Lincoln between C and D streets. The barber shop building a block away has been sold, and the new owners are remodeling the interior and plan to open soon. Improvements are also planned for the 2 story building at the SW corner of C and Lincoln which is owned by the CRA. When completely renovated, the building will provide 5 apartments, a police sub-station, and professional offices on the second floor;

    • Capital improvements in the draft budget include the following:

      • A modest allocation for Police Department replacement vehicles;

      • The Twin Lakes water level pump station project, to keep the water level low so that rainfall does not raise the lake level above the stormdrain system on Grove Ave;

      • Several water utility improvement projects, including Phase 2 of the downtown water main replacement, and the Southside water tower near the corner of Hunt Brothers Road and Scenic Highway; and

      • The replacement of the blue light poles on Lincoln Avenue and the installation of the standard black pole, “acorn” lens lights similar to those downtown.

    Grand Opening of the New Soccer/Multi-Purpose Park
    The grand opening of the new soccer/multi-purpose park on Hunt Brothers Road, between US 27 and SR 17, is scheduled for September 13 at 10:00 am. Following the ribbon cutting, the Ridge Soccer League has scheduled a game for an under-17-year-old team. The park has been in development for several years, beginning with a donation of 18 acres by Feltrim Developments, a $400,000 grant from the Polk County Board of County Commissioners, a $200,000 grant from the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program, and a significant donation from the Breakfast Rotary Club.

    The park features four soccer/multi-purpose fields, a concessions/storage building with a covered picnic area, and a parking lot. One field is lighted at this time.
    City Charter
    Just a quick note on the City Charter, as there seems to be some confusion expressed in a recent letter to the editor. The city charter is included with the city’s code of ordinances and appears as Part 1 of the code. The charter and the entire code is available for review at City Hall, at the public library, and on the City website at http://www.cityoflakewales.com/. The website can be viewed at one of the public access computers in the public library.

    Changing the City charter requires a public referendum. City staff is not working on any proposed changes at this time.

    Tuesday, August 12, 2008

    Taxes v. Fees

    At recent City Commission meetings, comments were made by persons at the podium regarding the difference between a tax and a fee, and the acceptance of either method of raising revenue for fundamental government operations. It was also asked if the City was going to explore the use of fees to reduce reliance on taxes. In this era of property tax reform created by the state legislature, it is inevitable that this discussion would take place – as many local governments, Lake Wales included, are searching for alternatives to property taxes. User fees are now a hot topic.
    Taxes v. Fees
    Simply put, a tax is an exaction of one’s personal funds by a government, often based on the perceived value of the item being taxed (such as real property), without a precise connection to how the tax money is going to be spent.
    In this context, a fee is an amount charged by government which represents the cost of a service provided to a person or property.

    These are two different concepts, as one is based on the cost of the service provided (fees) and one is not (taxes). For example, water bills are viewed appropriately as fees, since the amount on the bill is determined by how much water the customer uses and has available to him or her. But people get them confused, I believe, since government charges both taxes and fees. It can also be confusing when the service is provided city wide, and the customer has no choice but to pay.
    One of the arguments commonly heard to advance the utilization of fees is that the fee is determined by use or a calculation of cost to provide the service. Therefore, it is a more equitable revenue source than taxes. When the fee is not charged citywide, it is appropriately charged only to the persons who use that service. One example is the charging of fees for the rental of city facilities, like the James P. Austin Community Center or the Tourist Club. These fees help to offset the cost of operating these facilities; without the fees, taxes would have to go up to pay for that cost.

    Generally speaking, citizens dislike taxes – presumably because their calculation is not directly linked to a specific service. A citizen recently asked the City Commission if fees could be charged on services other than fire suppression, to further reduce taxes.

    What is Available: Fees
    Per state law and the findings of the courts, there are not many fees that can be charged citywide. In addition to a fire assessment, many cities charge a stormwater fee. The revenue realized from this fee is used to maintain and improve the stormwater system in a city. Funding for this operation currently comes from the general fund, which receives revenue from a combination of taxes, state shared revenues, and other sources.

    Other fees that cities across the state are looking at include the following:
    • Traffic accident fees, to pay for emergency response costs

    • Fees for specific services, such as checking records for liens on individual lots or parcels

    • Red-light cameras – while not a fee, these cameras provide evidence for citing drivers who run red lights

    • Recreation league fees – this fee will soon be implemented, charging players $4 per season to help offset the cost of maintenance and lighting at recreation facilities
    There may be other revenue raising methods in addition to taxes and fees that need to be researched – such as advertising at recreation facilities by businesses, allowing them to hang signs on outfield fences. This is already done at Legion Field and the little league fields by the High School and the little league organization. It could also be permitted at the new soccer/multi-purpose fields on Hunt Brothers Road. In addition, it may be possible to sell field-naming rights – to allow a field and the entire new complex to be named for a set period of time after a sponsor, much like Raymond James Stadium in Tampa and Amway Arena in Orlando.

    With mandated reductions in property tax revenue, and a poor economy, government is stepping up its efforts in looking at new ways of doing things – including doing more with less, and innovative methods of funding basic operations. Your comments and suggestions are welcome.

    Tuesday, August 5, 2008

    Capital Project Updates

    There are many projects going on in our town! Let’s get a quick update on where we are on some of the most prominent projects:
    • Proposals for the Grand Hotel – The City is soliciting proposals that are due September 24, and there continues to be interest in the building. For additional information on submitting a proposal please call Harold Gallup at City Hall;

    • 1919 Building/Hardman Hall – The contractor is completing Phase 5 and will begin work on Phase 6 of the rehabilitation work. Strategic planning is underway for the adaptive re-use of this former school building as an auditorium for cultural activities, with classrooms to be located on the side exterior walls of the second floor. A capital campaign is forthcoming, and building relationships with user groups in on-going;

    • Phase II of the Lake Wales trail, from Kiwanis Park to Buck Moore Road – Work has started on this next section of the trail, as intended by the referendum that was approved by the voters on April 5, 2005;

    • Lake Wales Skate Park, Kiwanis Park – The skate park is complete and is now open;

    • Lake Wailes Boat Ramp and handicapped accessible floating pier – This facility is complete and is now open;

    • Polk Community College campus in old City Hall – Renovations are now well underway and the facility is scheduled to open in January. Work yet to be completed includes the construction of angle parking spaces on Second Street and Tillman Avenues;

    • Soccer/Multi-Purpose Park – The concession stand is completed, the fields are growing in, and plans are underway to open this 18 acre park next month – watch for announcements!

    • Airport Improvements – The re-construction of the airport buildings is nearing completion. There are now 16 T-hangers and two larger corporate hangers that have been completed, as well as the airport’s first fire response system. The new fire system includes a new well, storage tank, and hydrants. The Fixed Base Operator (FBO) building is currently under construction with a scheduled completion date in January;

    • Street Re-surfacing – There are still several streets left to be re-surfaced, most notably First Street between Central Avenue and Wiltshire Blvd, and Polk Avenue between Scenic and First Street. The First Street section is awaiting the phase 1 downtown water line improvements (see below), which will involve an “open cut” near Sessoms and Stuart Avenues. Additional work will involve taking the “millings” from this work and spreading them in alleys to provide a better road surface. A number of intersections, as well as spot repairs, will also be completed;

    • Downtown water line improvements, phase 1: A large water main will be constructed from the Market Street water plant to Wetmore to the intersection of First Street and Stuart Avenue, with a “stub out” for a future connection to a new line to run out to SR 60 West. The contractor for this project is scheduled to begin work in the next 30 days;

    • Sewer pipe on Polk Avenue, from Lakeshore to Second Street – A contractor hired by the City is constructing a new sewer line along this route to replace an old line as part of a multi-phased project to upgrade sewer capacity in this area of the City;

    • Sewer Southside Force Main – This new sewer line provides the new development areas south of SR 60 and east of Buck More Road with City sewer service. A portion of this project – the area just north of SR 60 on Buck Moore Road – took longer than expected. The plans approved by the FDOT (Florida Department of Transportation) called for the line crossing beneath SR 60 at this intersection to be over 20 feet deep, and the “directional bore” machine ran into rocky sub-soil. The problem was resolved and the construction is now complete;

    • Elevated Water Tank –Construction on a new, elevated water tank near the intersection of Scenic Highway and Hunt Brothers Road has begun;

    • US 27 Widening – This FDOT project is scheduled for completion in June of next year. The contractor is currently ahead of schedule;

    • Lake Belle pumping station – This County project is actively being planned by County staff. They are now seeking approval for the route of the water to be disposed of from the proposed pumping operation;

    • Twin Lakes pumping station – Similar to the Lake Belle project, City staff is in the planning stages for this project. If grant funding is made available, a pump station would keep the elevation of the lake at a level which will allow for the storage of rainwater.

    Tuesday, July 29, 2008

    Adopting an Interim Millage Rate

    State law requires every city to follow a complicated and time-sensitive process for the adoption of the millage rate (also known as the property tax rate) and budget. This year the process has become more complicated with the adoption of Amendment One last January, representing the second wave of property tax reform. In addition, the consideration of the Fire Assessment Fee by the City Commission adds more potential for misunderstanding, as City staff is recommending that the interim millage rate be adopted at 7.7459 rather than 5.7157. In this column let’s explore the requirements for the adoption of the property tax rate and budget, and why timing – as they say – is everything!
    The Process
    State law requires that cities have a fiscal year that begins on October 1 and ends on September 30; therefore, the adoption of the millage rate and budget for each new fiscal year takes place in September, at two separate public hearings.

    State law also requires that property owners receive a mailed notice of the first of these two meetings, along with what is called the “interim” millage rate. In order to provide adequate time for the mailing of the notices, this year the interim millage rate must be adopted no later than August 4. To add a further complication to the process, state law also requires that the interim millage rate may be reduced later, at the adoption hearings… but it cannot be increased. Therefore, there may be a tendency among cities to adopt a higher interim millage rate and have the opportunity to reduce it at the adoption hearings. The untenable alternative is to set the interim rate too low and not have an opportunity to raise it upon adoption.
    Millage Rates
    In addition to the “interim” millage rate, there are several other rates that are calculated:
    • The “rollback” rate is the rate that will provide the same amount of revenue that was produced last year;

    • The “maximum” rate is the highest rate that can be adopted by a simple majority of the City Commission. The rate may be higher with a two-thirds vote.
    In the past, the rollback rate was usually lower than the rate the City Commission adopted for the previous year, because when new growth is factored in, it will take a lower rate multiplied times the higher tax base to produce the same amount of revenue. However, for the first time in anyone’s memory, this year the rollback rate is higher than our present millage rate – because the value of our tax base declined (by over $18 million or 2.25%) rather than increased. The actual rates are as follows:
    • Current rate 7.3521

    • Rollback rate 7.7459

    • Maximum rate 7.3277

    City Staff Recommendation for the Interim Millage Rate
    City staff is recommending that the City Commission adopt the rollback rate as the interim millage rate. The rollback rate is revenue neutral for the City, providing the same amount of revenue that was provided in the current year. If the Commission wishes, this rate can be reduced at final adoption.
    Effect of the Fire Assessment Fee
    City staff is also recommending adoption of the fire assessment fee and an equivalent reduction in the millage rate. The schedule for the timing of these actions is as follows:
    • Second reading of the ordinance to establish the fire assessment fee ordinance August 4

    • Final approval of the fire assessment fee rates September 2

    • First public hearing of the millage rate (with the equivalent reduction in the millage rate allowing for the fire assessment fee revenue) and the budget September 3

    • Second public hearing of the millage rate (with the equivalent reduction in the millage rate allowing for the fire assessment fee) and the budget September 16
    Conclusion
    The interim millage rate cannot be set assuming that the fire assessment fee and the proposed rates will be approved; therefore, the rollback rate is proposed for the tentative millage rate. If the Fire Assessment Fee and the proposed rates are approved, then City staff recommends a millage rate of 5.7157 be adopted – which is the maximum millage rate with the equivalent reduction provided by the approval of the Fire Assessment Fee and the proposed rate schedule. This would provide the revenue allocated in the proposed budget and reach the goal of significantly reducing the millage rate.

    Tuesday, July 15, 2008

    Adopting a Fire Assessment Fee

    The City Commission will finally get to consider the fire assessment fee this month! First reading is scheduled for the July 15th meeting, and if approved, it will be heard on second reading at a special meeting on July 29, at 6 p.m. in the City Commission chambers at the Municipal Administration Building.

    The fire assessment fee has been discussed at four open forums. It wasn’t until the final forum that City staff could present preliminary numbers on the effect of the fire assessment fee on the City budget in terms of a tax reduction – the tax base figures from the county property appraiser’s office were not received until Monday, July 7. This figure is the basis for determining how much property tax revenue will be received by the City. The formula is: Tax base x millage rate = property tax revenue. The millage rate this year is 7.3521.

    The preliminary figures indicate the following:
    1. If institutions such as non-profit agencies and churches are charged the fire fee, the millage rate can be reduced to 5.7157

    2. If institutions such as non-profit agencies and churches are not charged the fire fee, the millage rate can be reduced to 5.7451
    The latest draft of the report on fire assessment fee indicated the fees to be as follows:
    • Residential & Duplexes - $68.68 per unit

    • Multi-Units & Mobile Homes - $52.72 per unit

    • Commercial - $88.13 per 1,000 square feet

    • Industrial/Warehouse - $108.08 per 1,000 square feet

    • Institutional - $13.68 per acre

    • Vacant/Agricultural - $87.56 per acre
    It is important to note that if the City Commission adopts the fee, the fee amount will not be set until the Commission meeting on August 26th before the Commission adopts the millage rate, budget, and all other fees for the next fiscal year.
    The Effect of the Fee
    A good argument can be made that user fees are more equitable than property taxes. A user fee is based on the cost to produce the service; the property tax is based on the value of one’s home and has no relation to the cost of providing services to that home or that type of house.

    At the last forum, which was held on July 8th, I pointed out that while a user fee is more equitable as noted above, the imposition of the fee, coupled with a reduction in the millage rate, will affect homeowners in different ways depending on the assessed value of the house. For example, there is an exemption on the first $25,000 on assessed value of a home (assuming it is listed as the owner’s homestead). This means that anyone who owns, lives in, and has a homestead exemption on a home that is assessed at $25,000 or less has never paid any property taxes. (It has been estimated that there are about 130 such properties in the City). However, if the fire fee is implemented, this home owner will now pay a fee for fire protection – a service that is provided to the homeowner’s property but one that this exempted homeowner has never before paid for. City staff is recommending that the City implement a lifeline program for such properties, similar in concept to the lifeline rate adopted by the City Commission in the water billing rate structure last year.

    Some property owners with large tax bills will see a reduction in their overall payments. Why? Because the millage reduction is going to be greater on a highly assessed property than the amount of the fire fee. Taking the amount of cash raised by the fee and lowering the millage rate by that amount is revenue neutral for the City – but as noted above, it affects individuals differently, depending on the value of the property.
    Why do this?
    The fire fee will raise about $1.1 million, which the City staff is proposing to reduce from the cash raised by property taxes by lowering the millage rate. Again, why are we doing this? For three very good reasons:
    1. For economic development – our town is in competition with every other town in this area to attract new industry and commercial businesses. One of the cost factors that stands out is a city’s tax rate, and this year ours is the second highest in the county. We have a great opportunity here to significantly reduce our tax rate. The fact that we are raising the same revenue with a fee is not felt as much, since every city has different fees – some have stormwater fees, some have downtown development fees – we have neither of those fees.

    2. More equitable - every property owner will pay what it costs our town’s fire department to serve their category of property.

    3. A sure revenue stream for one of our most critical services – as the state legislature set up two waves of tax reforms that are being felt by every city and county statewide, some legislators have said there is still more cutting to be done. The fire fee provides a sure revenue stream for one of our most basic, critical services. Unfortunately, this is the only public safety service for which such a fee is permitted.