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.

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.