Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Planning for Recreation

Chief Gillis has announced that in order for our Police Department to properly respond to the increasing need for police services, a reorganization is necessary. The department reorganization allocates more resources to the patrol division. But due to budget constraints in this era of state tax reform, one of the areas affected is the City's recreation program. Your input in the planning of recreation programs and facilities is important.

Recreation Program
The City's recreation program has many facets, including both facilities and programs. We are fortunate to have a wealth of recreation facilities, including the Kirkland Gym, numerous playgrounds, trails, parks, and athletic facilities to host baseball, softball, football, soccer, basketball, tennis, and shuffleboard. On Lake Wailes we have a fishing pier, the Pram Fleet’s youth sailing program, and a boat ramp that is being renovated. A skatepark and a soccer/multi-purpose sports complex are under construction, and the second phase of the trail (from Kiwanis Park to Buck Moore Road) is on the drawing boards.

Because the City has been successful in obtaining grants for facilities, and with other resources such as the recreation impact fee funds, the City has been able to improve existing facilities and add new facilities in recent years.

However, funding for recreation programs and maintenance of parks and recreation facilities comes from the City's General fund. In this year’s budget, $1,045,060 is included for parks and recreation programs and facilities. As previously noted in this space, the General Fund has been hard hit with both tax reform revenue cutbacks as well as revenue shortfalls due to the poor condition of the economy. At the same time, the cost of providing services in increasing.

For the past few years the City's recreation program has consisted of four elements:
  • Operating the Albert Kirkland Sr. Gym, consisting of the gym and weight room;

  • Conducting the Junior Magic Basketball Program, for youth 6 – 15 years old;

  • Providing support for numerous recreation programs run by other organizations such as Little League Baseball, youth football leagues, adult softball, and shuffleboard. This support typically involves the provision of fields and funding for insurance, maintenance, and utilities such as lighting and irrigation. The City also has made arrangements with the Boys and Girls Club, the Little Theatre, the Pram Fleet, and the Railroad Club, that enables those organizations to occupy their city-owned buildings at no cost. In exchange, these organizations offer wonderful programs and the Boys and Girls Club and the Little Theatre pay for the on-going building operations and maintenance costs; and

  • Special programs, such as spring break camp, summer camp, and support for the Charter School program for summer school.
Police Lieutenant Burney Hayes has been the City's recreation manager during this period, and he established the City's Police Athletic League (PAL) organization. The PAL seeks to unite all of the community‘s recreation organizations under one umbrella for the purpose of coordination and funding. For example, one of the two youth football leagues, the Gators, received an $11,000 grant from the National PAL organization after joining PAL. Because of increasing demands for police service and reduced resources in the police patrol division, Lt. Hayes has been reassigned as a Patrol Watch Commander; however, the PAL organization will continue with volunteers. The Kirkland Gym will also continue to operate, but with reduced hours.

Planning for the Future
In order to continue recreation programs and support services in this era of budget cutbacks, a great deal of planning and coordination will be needed. City staff will ask the City’s Recreation Advisory Board to call a special meeting in the next 60 days to formulate a plan. It is hoped that a good turnout of citizens will work with league volunteers to discuss new ideas. A major area of emphasis will be on raising funds for these programs and services in this new area of budget cutbacks. Please watch the newspapers for an announcement of this important meeting. All interested persons will be cordially invited to attend.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Opportunities & Challenges

Our town is presented with a number of exciting opportunities as well as some difficult challenges. Let’s explore some of the more prominent opportunities and a difficult challenge that are before us.
Some Exciting Opportunities
  • Downtown Investment - It has been estimated that there is more money being invested in downtown in 2007-08 than in any time in the last 20 years. Planning and renovations are in process or just completed at the North Arcade, Bank of America building, old City Hall, the Bullard Building, and Ed Pilkington’s building on Park Ave. next to the Arcade. Substantial investment has also been made at Tres Jolie and the Arcade Coffee Shop. Brenda’s Gifts adds another fine retailer, and another restaurant is opening in place of the Stuart Ave. CafĂ©. These improvements will help crystallize our position as a premier destination in Central Florida.

  • Downtown Study - The study of downtown by Martin Vargas, funded by Richard Quaid, is nearing completion. It will be the starting point for healthy discussions on the direction for downtown capital improvements.

  • Grand Hotel - The City’s acquisition of this landmark building is a step forward. On March 30 the CRA board and the Chamber’s CRA Steering Committee will meet at 6 p.m. in the Commission Chambers to discuss the downtown study and the next round of requesting proposals.

  • CSX - The CSX development proposed in Winter Haven is expected to bring companies that will use the facility to SR 60 in our town’s utility service area (and future city area) east of the railroad track at Petersen Industries. The City Commission recently gave an endorsement of this project with conditions relating to the abatement of pollution and traffic.
A Difficult Challenge
Budget Woes
The downturn in the economy is affecting cities as well as households. At this point City staff projects that at year end, budgeted revenues will be short nearly $400,000; however, because of spending cutbacks to this point, the current difference between revenue and expense is projected to be $91,550 in the General Fund. The City’s Finance Committee and City Commission will hold special meetings to determine how this shortage will be corrected. The dates and times of these meetings are now being arranged and will be announced in the near future.

The need for spending cuts comes at a time when the City needs to improve the amount of reserves in the General Fund. The General Fund contains the funding for critical emergency services (police and fire) as well as culture/recreation, and many of the departments in City Hall. A major funding source in the General Fund, property tax revenue, has the bulk of its receipts after January 1. The General Fund reserves are used not only in case of unanticipated, emergency expenditures, but to “carry” the General Fund in the early part of the fiscal year (October, November, and December) until the bulk of the tax revenue is received.

Our town has been through difficult times in the past, and the City Commission will make the necessary corrections. In this process, your input is welcome.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Water and Wastewater Projects

Our town’s water and wastewater utilities are the key to future development. Let’s take a quick review of some of the City’s utility projects that were recently completed, are now underway, and those that are on the drawing board:

  • Airport Water Plant: The airport has been served for years with a small well that was only capable of serving water for the restaurant and restrooms in the FBO (Fixed Based Operator) building. Until the new water-plant was completed last year, there were no fire hydrants on site. The new water plant supplies water to new fire hydrants for the fire flow in this initial phase, and will be converted to a potable well in the second phase of development. This project was needed for the reconstruction of the airport and was funded by a Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) grant and insurance proceeds.

  • Southside Force Main: This project has been on the drawing board for years and is now underway. This new sewer line runs from the corner of Buck Moore Rd. and Sunset and goes south along Buck Moore to the south side of SR 60, and then west to Miami St. This opens up the area along the route and further east of Buck Moore for additional development. This project was funded through a line of credit arranged with Wachovia Bank, to be re-paid by wastewater impact fees.

  • Re-use Line: The Whispering Ridge subdivision will be the first residential development to have re-use water for irrigation purposes. Re-use water is non-potable, highly treated wastewater. Other developments planned for the area south of SR 60 will be able to extend this line to serve their subdivisions. This line is funded by a combination of Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) grant funds and the Wachovia line of credit, with re-payment of the borrowed money by wastewater impact fees.

  • Downtown Water Line, Phase 1: Many of the water lines in our downtown area are undersized, reflecting engineering practices from many years ago. With the redevelopment of a number of multi-story buildings, larger water lines must be constructed and the older lines abandoned. The larger pipes are needed to bring adequate fire flow to sprinkler systems in the upper story of buildings being re-habbed. Phase 1 will run a line from the Market Street Water Plant, across First Street, south on Wetmore, and east on Stuart. This project will be funded by City Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) funds to facilitate development in this area.

  • Downtown Water Improvements, Phase 2: This project will serve buildings on the eastside of downtown. City staff is planning to apply for a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for this project, which the City’s grant writer says is the only CDBG category open to the City in the next round of applications.

  • Southside Water Tower: This project will serve the Longleaf Business Park and surrounding areas. It will be funded by the recent CRA bond issue to facilitate development in that area of the CRA and adjacent areas (water impact fees will also be used for this project).

  • Wastewater Plant Improvements and expansion: The current wastewater treatment plant has a permitted capacity of treating 1.9 million gallons of sewage per day. It is presently treating about 1.2 million with outstanding commitments to serve about 1.7 million gallons per day. A few years ago the operation of the plant became more difficult, and an engineering analysis indicated that a number of operational improvements were needed. The first phase of the improvements will increase plant capacity to 2.19 million gallons per day, and the Florida Department of Environmental Protection recently issued a permit to this effect. It is anticipated that this work will be done with a loan through the State Revolving Loan Fund, a low-interest loan program that funds municipal utility projects. The final stage of funding for the first phase loan will be considered by the state in July. Construction work will be scheduled following the award of funding.
In addition, City utility staff has also completed a major re-habbing of the City’s sewer pump station at the corner of Wiltshire Blvd. and Miami St., and the reinforcement of 500 feet of sewer pipe along Wiltshire Blvd. This work was part of a larger project that included drainage improvements in the area of First Street and Wiltshire. The project was paid for by a CDBG grant and CRA funds.

These improvements come at a time when utility contractor costs are lower than they have been in years, due to the slowdown in new home construction.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Cost-saving Measures & Service Delivery

At the last City Commission meeting the continuation of the contract with Florida Refuse, our garbage collector, was discussed. A citizen asked if the City would look into operating that service in-house, and someone else mentioned that all that is needed is one truck.

Following the City Commission meeting, the citizen that made this suggestion – Mike Carter, a member of the City’s Airport Authority – offered to help with the analysis and suggested that a group of interested citizens might be useful in looking into this and other cost saving measures. I told Mike that I welcome this effort, and I would ask for his help and the assistance of other interested citizens.

I take this opportunity to call the first meeting of interested persons to review the in-house garbage collection option and other cost-saving measures. The meeting will be held at the next City Manager Open Forum meeting, on Thursday, April 17, at 5 pm at the Austin Community Center on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

Finding cost savings is a priority for city staff, and there have been some significant cost saving measures in the last few years. One such measure can be seen in maximizing the use of community service workers. These workers are available at no cost on weekends, and for the cost of transportation and supervision, we have made many accomplishments. For example, they have helped maintain the beautiful new look of the medians on Central Ave. and the shoreline on Lake Wailes.

The analysis of municipal projects begins with the understanding of two basic principles:
  1. The municipal budget is a grouping of individual funds with restricted uses. A municipal refuse operation should be expected to fund itself and cannot pull money from, say, the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency). The restrictive nature of municipal funds is sometimes overlooked – for example, three letters in Saturday’s edition of this paper applauded a recent editorial questioning the use of $133,000 to match a trail grant. Unfortunately, the editorial did not mention that the $133,000 was from recreation impact fees and not from money that can be used for operating expenses. These funds are paid by new homeowners and can only be used to expand recreation facilities.

  2. There must be an element of redundancy programmed into many municipal projects. The collection of garbage, recycling, and yard waste is a good example of this type of project, as they must be collected every business day - without fail! Extra capability must be provided to account for unanticipated equipment failures or emergencies. Therefore, it would take more than one truck, even if we had only one route! But our town has grown, and the landfill is no longer on Lewis Griffin Road - it is much further away. Florida Refuse uses four trucks to collect the residential and commercial can garbage (not including dumpsters) four days per week. There are also dumpster routes, recycling routes, and yard waste collection to consider. But there are also some cities in the county that perform this service in-house, so there is some available data.
Every local government, and more recently, each school board, is dealing with the State Legislature’s tax reform measures. It will take a good deal of innovation and creativity to maintain the previous levels of service as we move forward. I welcome all interested persons – including letter writers and editorial writers – to bring your ideas and participate in designing the services to be provided in this new era.

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Using New Technologies

Last week in this space the technology improvements achieved in the Police Department were explored. There have been a number of other uses of technology that departments throughout the City are planning, or have implemented. Let’s review some of these other technology advancements.
The Green Agenda
The City Commission recently adopted an amendment to the City’s Strategic Plan that directs staff to seek out ways for the City to “go green” – to conserve natural resources. One of the first projects in this effort is now in it’s first run: The Green Agenda. In this program, rather than copy hundreds of pages for City Commission agenda packets, the agenda is transferred to PDF files and loaded on to laptops for the City Commission. A side benefit is that the PDF files can also be quickly made available on the City’s website (http://www.cityoflakewales.com/) for everyone to review. The cost of this program is estimated at $9,500 which will be recovered in approximately 2 years from the savings in copy machine, bindery supplies, and paper costs.
Fuel Accounting
Until January 2006, City employees dispensed gasoline to city vehicles and then wrote down the number of gallons pumped in a book. This presented a number of problems, and staff found a company with software that:
  • Records the number of gallons dispensed in a particular vehicle

  • Records the mileage

  • Downloads this data to a schedule for oil changes and other preventive maintenance items based on mileage.
Since the fuel accounting has been in use, expenditures for fuel are fully accountable and maintenance scheduling has improved. The new system also tracks the use of diesel fuel to off-road equipment, which has resulted in fuel tax savings. This investment of $13,098 paid for itself within one year.
Automatic Water Meter Reading
A number of cities use computerized devices to read water meters by transmitting the readings by radio frequency directly into the city records and billing department. The vendors for these systems insist that the city should change out all meters immediately to realize the savings quickly – except that would require borrowing about $1 million dollars, and result in laying off some water meter readers with valuable experience. City staff decided to go with a “pay as you go” approach, where new developments pay for their new meters, and the existing meters in the rest of the city are phased in as old meters are routinely changed out. The City is also taking a two-step approach, using a hand-held wand to collect the data, and later switching to the radio frequency method, to help ensure system accuracy.
Work Orders
There is an old saying in city government: “What gets measured, gets done.” To keep up with work assignments in the water, sewer, streets, building maintenance, and parks departments, City staff began using a computerized work order system a year ago. This system allows the City to keep track of work requests, and is building a database for measuring how long it takes to complete assignments.
Computerized Fire Pre-Planning and Reporting
The Fire Department utilizes computer technology for report writing and for “pre-fire planning”. Every commercial building in town has been visited by fire fighters who have drawn a floor plan and made notes pertinent to combating a fire. These notes include whether or not the building has a fire sprinkler system, and the presence and location of stored gasoline or other flammable materials. Another computer program, using “global positioning system” technology, shows a map of the fire hydrants in the area of the fire. These plans and maps are stored in laptop computers on our fire trucks and are accessed by one of the firefighters enroute to the fire scene. The critical information is then radioed to members of the department pulling up on the scene, and the scene commander makes decisions concerning how and where to begin the fire attack with the benefit of this information.
Fire Department Imager
Each of our two fire stations has an “imager” that allows fire fighters to find persons trapped in smoke-filled buildings. These units cost on the order of $10,000, and one was paid for by the Lake Wales Fire Department Ladies’ Auxiliary.