Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Top Ten List of Challenges

As this column goes to press I do not know the outcome of the resolution submitted by the Mayor to terminate my employment with the City. At the July 7 meeting I will ask that the resolution be withdrawn or rejected, and that a list of items that I need to work on be presented with a timetable for completion. I believe that anyone deserves that opportunity, especially someone who has been in this position for eight highly productive years. The Chamber’s resolution calls for giving me that opportunity as well.

There is no doubt that our town faces a host of long-standing challenges, which now have the added difficulty of a poor economy. However, the City Commissions of the last eight years have adopted a Strategic Plan and have implemented strategies to address these challenges. Let’s take a look at our town’s “top ten list of challenges”:
  • Preparation of this year’s budget. Declining revenues will make it very difficult to balance next year’s budget. The additions of prime commercial properties to our tax base kept it from declining as much as some other cities in the county.

  • Economic Development. The City Commission’s approval of a Chapter 180 plan for the SR 60 west area to Petersen Industries will bring into the City any industry wishing to locate there and connect to central utilities. Airport improvements will also help attract businesses to our town.

  • Continued revitalization of downtown. At the July 7 meeting the Commission will consider the first step in the re-development of the Grand Hotel with the selected developer. There is also a CDBG grant to fund landscaping improvements. These activities follow the recent re-surfacing of the downtown streets, and the installation of additional water lines and fire hydrants are facilitating the renovation of several properties with code-required fire safety systems.

  • Continued revitalization of Lincoln Ave. This effort should get a real boost when the Walker building at the corner of Lincoln and C St is renovated. The City took ownership of this 8,000 square foot building through foreclosure for code enforcement liens, and the Green and Gold Foundation is seeking investors to work with the CRA on plans to create apartments downstairs and professional offices upstairs. One building nearby, the barbershop, has been renovated, and several buildings will get facelifts using CDBG funds.

  • Building trust. The incident involving Sgt. Burney Hayes seemed to open questions regarding City, police, and citizen relations. In addition to directives in the strategic plan, city staff will continue to reach out to build trust through open communications and transparency.

  • Repairing the wastewater plant. With a change in wastewater staff came the discovery that several plant components were under-designed and will not function properly as flow increases. Recently the City Commission approved the funding for design changes and the City will apply for state revolving loan funds next month to construct the re-designed plant components.

  • The pool. The City Commission put aside the money to build the pool… but where will the money come from to pay for operational costs? Unity in Community is preparing a report.

  • The 1919 building. This 11 year project remains unfinished at the two-thirds (or so) mark due to a lack of funding. While grants were the stated funding source at the outset, it appears that grant funding has dried up. The building will be closed up until more funds can be raised. It is hoped that a coalition of arts organizations would take up this worthwhile project.

  • Financial footing. The City has made much progress in building reserves since the discovery in 2001 that General Fund reserves were dangerously low. Interim financial reports are now provided monthly to avoid such unpleasant surprises, along with a fiscal impact review for each agenda item.

  • Water supply. The City’s water use permit issued by the Southwest Florida Water Management District expires next year. City staff is working on the renewal.
The City Commission and staff are already working on each issue. Citizen comments, particularly at the budget meetings to be scheduled in August, will be welcomed.
As a footnote, if the resolution for my termination goes forward, hiring a new City Manager will add another challenge to the list.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Termination: A Distasteful Feature of City Management

I was warned early in my city management career that you should not wrestle with a pig – you and the pig end up in the mud, and the pig loves it! While avoiding pig wrestling, let’s explore one of the distasteful aspects of the job of city manager: dealing with the prospect of publicly being fired.

In a professional employment relationship, the employer gives the employee a balanced assessment of what is good and what needs to be worked on. This is the purpose of annual evaluations, to give this valuable feedback.

Four Commissioners participated in my last evaluation, in November. (Commissioner Rogers abstained, saying he was a new Commissioner and needed more time. Commissioner Thornhill was not on the Commission at that time.) The overall average rating was in the “good” range. The scores of three of the Commissioners were fairly close, in the upper half of the “good” range. The fourth evaluation was substantially lower, barely adequate, submitted by Commissioner Van Sickle. This was a drop in his rating from the previous year (although that rating was also “adequate”) and I had not received any comments or conversation to indicate a problem. Comments written in the evaluation include, “With the down turn of the economy we need to think (sic) our priorities” and “The perception the citizens have is we are wasting money. In most cases they do not understand the budget process. However, we cannot continue matching grants that do not have end. Or apply for a grant just because it is their (sic).” There were several comments referring to projects already in progress, and the area of “Strengths” was left blank.

I held two meetings with Commissioner Van Sickle to try to get feedback on what he was concerned with, and the only area mentioned was the results of the employee survey. I was not presented with a list of concerns and recommendations for areas that need improvement. We spent the rest of the two meetings in general discussion.

Although the introduction of the resolution to terminate my employment was a surprise, I can’t say I was completely blindsided. There were rumors during the election that I would be fired by the Commission.

What truly amazes me is that life in our community, by my assessment, is very good. The City has accomplished a lot in the last eight years. Some of these things are obvious, like newly repaved streets downtown and new fire hydrants, gorgeous flowers and landscaping, the new water tower in the south end of town, and many new recreational facilities that were all done at virtually no capital cost: the new soccer-multi-purpose complex, the skate park, the soccer field in Kiwanis park, the refurbished boat ramp, and the refurbished shuffleboard court. But many things are not obvious, such as the land development code adopted four years ago that has brought many positive changes, the aggressive utility system maintenance program and the completion of projects that were on hold for years such as the southside forcemain and a major lift station and line improvement in the area near Lakeshore and Bullard, and drainage projects. The City’s net assets have increased from $8 million to $32 million during this period… and despite the continued downturn of the economy, the tax rate is the lowest it has been in 17 years.

In any case, the City Commission certainly has the authority to terminate my employment and pay me the six months’ severance pay that is included in my employment agreement. Such severance packages are an “industry standard”, given the lack of job security. But would anyone think that this is a good time to change managers? We are now preparing the most difficult budget in many years. Beyond that, is this the reputation that the City Commission wants to build in having a good working relationship with the city manager?

I believe that citizens want a City Commission that is sincere and transparent with the city manager – that when there are problems they are presented clearly and the manager has a chance to correct them.

In addition, I have been a full-time advocate for our community. This enthusiasm is reflected in writing this column and in the City’s Strategic Plan, which I wrote and the City Commission adopted several years ago.

The Commission will decide at its meeting on Tuesday, July 7, at 6pm on whether to start the process of termination. Public comments will be welcomed.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Formulating Next Year's Budget

The daily operation of the City is directed by the City budget. This lengthy document is adopted every year by the City Commission in September, and the formulation of next year’s budget deserves your attention.

For most local governments across the state, the preparation of the Fiscal Year 2009-2010 budget will be very difficult. We have come through two waves of property tax reform measures mandated by the state legislature, and the economic downturn is being reflected in expected reductions in many revenue sources. This is particularly true in our town, where like many cities in the county our tax base has declined and in the current budget year our water revenues are off by over $200,000.

On the expenditure side, we will be challenged to maintain the current level of service and to take on some new responsibilities – such as the maintenance of the new landscaping on the US 27 median at Central Ave. The warranty period for that landscaping expires on December 9. In addition, the medians from Mountain Lake Cut-off to Waverly/Cypress Gardens are scheduled to become the City’s responsibility in the future if the City goes forward with the landscaping planned for those medians.

The preparation of the City budget involves a number of special City Commission meetings, with the current year budget used as the starting point. The current budget is available on-line for review on the City’s website at www.citylflakewales.com.
A General Schedule for Budget Preparation
In a typical year with stability in City revenues and expenditures, there are relatively few citizens who attend Commission meetings to discuss the budget. At a time when a local government is facing budget challenges, it is more important than ever to seek citizen input. The general schedule for the formulation for the City budget for the October 1, 2009-September 30, 2010 fiscal year is as follows:
  • Initial budget workshop held by the City Commission: Thursday, June 25, 6 pm, City Hall. At this meeting Commissioners will discuss the priorities for the preparation of next year’s budget. As noted above, the guideline for this discussion will be the current year budget.

  • Presentation of the independent audit of the October 1, 2007-September, 2008 fiscal year by Purvis Gray, the City’s audit firm: Tuesday, July 21, 2009 during the regular City Commission meeting that begins at 6 pm. City staff usually schedules a Finance Committee meeting before the Commission meeting in which the audit is presented, at 5 pm, to provide the Committee with an opportunity to ask the auditor detailed questions on audit findings. Citizens are welcome to attend both meetings. The information contained in the audit indicates the City’s financial position at the start of the current fiscal year.

  • Presentation of a Financial Forecast: July 21 regular Commission meeting at 6 pm, City Hall. This is the first year that a formal financial forecast has been prepared, and it is an important outlook on the revenues that can be expected for the next few years. This document is key for the City to ensure the sustainability of its services.

  • Early August: The Commission will set special budget meetings during August to review the draft budget prepared by City staff. Each year the department heads submit a proposed budget for their departments to the Assistant City Manager, who then consults with the City Manager and prepares the first draft of the City budget. Information provided by the property appraiser’s office on the tentative tax base is essential to the budget, and this figure is due to be provided to the City by July 1. Citizens are welcome to attend these special meetings.

  • September: During September the City Commission adopts the budget for the new fiscal year beginning October 1. The adoption must take place with two “readings” of the City’s millage rate (City property tax rate) and budget at two separate meetings. These meetings are advertised in a newspaper and are the subject of notifications mailed to property owners by the county property appraiser, which note the date, time, and place of the meetings, and the tentative millage rate that has already been adopted.
Everyone is cordially invited to these meetings, and input is welcome.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Maintaining the Landscaping

We live in a beautiful area. Our town is surrounded by picturesque orange groves and green pastures, and dotted with lakes and rolling hills. Our town is also enhanced with flower beds along selected streets and in front of buildings such as the JD Alexander Center.

The landscaping along a number of city streets is maintained by three entities, and more landscaping is on the way! Let’s take a look at the ongoing effort to provide landscaping, and what lies ahead.
On-Going Efforts
Caring for the landscaping maintained by the City – including the areas downtown, on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd at Wiltshire, on Central Ave coming into downtown, and at the pier on Lake Wailes – is basically done by one city employee – Helen Gay – with assistance from other city employees, and from persons who have been sentenced through the court system to perform community service.

In addition to the City’s maintenance, there are two other groups that regularly maintain landscaped areas:
  • The Northwest Community group, led by Linda Kimbrough, maintains selected planted areas in the Northwest part of town; and

  • The Olmsted Neighborhood group, led by Joyce Otte, plants and maintains the annual flower beds on Lakeshore and at Scenic Highway and Central Ave. This group also took it upon themselves several years ago to clear out the heavy growth behind the library that blocked the view of Crystal Lake. What difference that project made! Over many weekends volunteers cleared the brazilian pepper trees, vines, and undergrowth to present a wonderful vista from the library.
What Lies Ahead
There are two major landscaping projects and several smaller projects on the schedule. It is noteworthy that none one of these projects are being funded by the City’s General Fund.
  • Providing landscaping in sections of US 27 from Vanguard School to Cypress Gardens Blvd: The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has provided the City with $400,000 for a landscaping project on this widened section of US 27. The City Commission recently approved the plans drawn by local landscape architect Marshall Whidden for Florida-friendly plants that do not require irrigation. FDOT staff has recently approved the plans, and they will now be put out to bid. This project is scheduled for completion by year’s end;

  • Re-landscaping Downtown: The City has just been awarded a Community Development Block Grant in the Commercial Re-vitalization category. A portion of the funding from this grant will provide over $300,000 for re-landscaping the curb areas downtown between First Street and Scenic Highway, on Central, Stuart, and Park Avenues. One area of emphasis will be to provide more shade trees.

  • East Central Ave: As a part of the land development code prepared by City staff and adopted by the City Commission several years ago, developers who destroy certain types of trees on their site and do not plant replacement trees must pay a fee into the City’s tree replacement fund. These funds are then used to purchase and plant trees in City right of ways and parks. A number of trees were lost in the hurricanes in the past few years on the section of Central Ave between Scenic Highway and Lakeshore Drive. These trees have been replaced recently with high quality trees planted in the right of way.

  • Kiwanis Park: The City’s Parks and Beautification Committee has developed a plan to plant trees in this very actively used park. City staff prepared a grant application for the Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program for this purpose, but there were no applications funded this year due to a lack of state funds. A number of trees will be planted with funding from the tree replacement fund. The Kiwanis Club is also interested in planting trees around Barney’s Dream.

  • US 27 and SR 60 Intersection: The Parks and Beautification Committee is taking a look at providing landscaping in this area.
The maintenance of our landscaping is truly a community effort, and our town needs more partners for this worthwhile endeavor! Please call 678-4182 extension 225 to volunteer!

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Looking at the Next 120 Days

The next 120 days will be particularly important for our town. Let’s take a look at what is possible, and what is definite:

  • It is possible that we will see hurricane activity. Over the years, most of us have been through many predicted hurricanes that were nothing more than a thunderstorm. This experience fueled the popular notion that hurricane force winds always die down by the time they reach us in the center of the state. That thought was “blown away” by the three hurricanes of 2004.

    Everyone who was on the City staff five years ago remembers the seemingly endless hours, being away from our families when there were pressing needs at home, sleeping on the floor in the fire station, and directing sewer lift stations without power to be pumped out well after midnight.

    Forecasters are saying that we may have an active hurricane season, but I pray that they are wrong. Many people suffered terribly when their homes were damaged, and a number of families – including everyone living in the Sunrise Apartment complex – had to re-locate. Hopefully we will not revisit that experience.

  • Another possible event is the renovation of the Grand Hotel. City staff continues to make steady progress in the complex contract negotiations with the developer and we are looking forward to a successful conclusion!

  • Topping the list of the “definite” events that lie ahead is the preparation and adoption of the City budget for the next fiscal year, which starts October 1. This year will be especially tough, as there have already been two years of tax reforms imposed by the state legislature and Governor. Many areas of the city’s budget have already been trimmed, and this year the city is also suffering the effects of the recession and a shrinking tax base.

    With the tough choices that have to be made, citizen input is needed and welcomed. The schedule for budget meetings will be published once it is finalized, and everyone is invited to attend the budget review meetings.

  • The Clerk of the Courts office provides a variety of services, including taking payments for traffic tickets and child support. At the end of this month, our branch of the Clerk of Courts office in the shopping center behind IHOP will close. Clerk Richard Weiss says that budget cuts from the state are to blame, and invites us to visit his branch office in Winter Haven (on Lake Alfred Road) or the main office in Bartow. Mr. Weiss has offered to meet with City representatives to discuss this situation.

  • The new branch of the Polk County Health Department is scheduled to be open in July! The new building is located on West Central Ave and is a vast improvement over the crowded and outdated facility on Central Ave at Sharp Street. We are all looking forward to this new facility and we want to thank Dr. Haight, his staff, and everyone involved for this wonderful addition to our community!

  • At the June 25 workshop meeting the City Commission will review the results of the municipal swimming pool survey with the group who did the survey, Unity in Community. Several years ago the City Commission set aside $1 million of the proceeds from the sale of the former Cooperative Fruit Property to build the pool, and interest income is building up. However, the annual cost of operating the pool is estimated at over $100,000, with entrance fees not expected to cover even 20% of this cost. Innovative ideas are requested!

  • The Florida Department of Transportation is revising their drawings for the medians on East State Road 60. The plans should be completed for distribution well before the July 21 Commission meeting, when FDOT staff is scheduled to present the revised plan.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The Lake Wales Fire Department Has Come Far

Our Lake Wales Fire Department has come a long way since it was established in 1916. Let’s review this critically important department and examine a relatively new service, the department’s paramedic program.
The Lake Wales Fire Department has 27 professional fire fighters. Every firefighter is also certified as an Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and six firefighters are certified as Paramedics – an advanced level of certification.

Twenty-four firefighters work in shifts – 24 hours on, 48 hours off, which is a fire service standard. There are 8 firefighters assigned to each shift. Three department members typically work a “normal” work schedule: The Fire Chief, the Fire Marshall, and the Fire Prevention Specialist.
Our Fire Department operates out of two stations. The main station (station 1) is located on Central Ave in front of City Hall at Sharp Street. This station opened in 2000 when the Fire Department moved from the previous headquarters in old City Hall, further east on Central, at Second Street. The Fire Department had been located at old City Hall since in opened in 1928.

In May 2005 the Fire Department opened Station 2 on Thompson Nursery Road, just west of US 27. As soon as funding is available, the City plans to construct a permanent fire station building for station 2 in the northern area of the City.
Our Fire Department answers over 2,700 calls per year. Of that number about 200 are fire calls. The remainder are medical calls, including vehicle accidents and other types of rescue calls. Vehicle accidents sometimes require the use of the department’s specialized equipment to extricate persons who are trapped in heavily damaged vehicles. All department personnel have received special training in this type of rescue as well as other rescue operations. The department’s average response time is between 4.5 to just over 5 minutes.
Paramedic Program
We live in a very large county. Lake Wales accounts for 14 square miles of the 2,010 square miles that make up Polk County. Our county is the fourth largest county in the state, and the ninth largest in population with over 561,000 residents.

Ambulance service is provided throughout the county by the county government. There are 29 ambulances with paramedics responding to over 75,000 events per year. The ambulances serving Lake Wales are not located in the city limits but are stationed east of town and west of town near the airport. For medical calls requiring an ambulance, our Lake Wales firefighters almost always arrive on the scene first.
Prior to March of last year, our Lake Wales firefighter/EMT’s provided basic life support at the scene of a medical emergency until the ambulance arrived. EMT’s are trained and licensed to provide basic life support, which includes patient assessments, taking vital signs, utilizing advanced airway devices to secure an airway, and operating an automatic external defibrillator to correct lethal heart arrhythmia during a cardiac arrest.

In March of 2008 our fire department started its advanced life support emergency service. Our department has 6 paramedics, with two assigned to each shift. Our paramedics are:

  • Paul Byrd

  • Lashon Johnson

  • Roy Wilkinson

  • Dean Copson

  • Brian Draper

  • Shad Smith

Paramedics are capable of providing a much higher level of medical care and can perform a more comprehensive patient evaluation. Paramedics can utilize more advanced airway devices by intubating patients in respiratory distress, starting IVs to administer drugs and fluids, and treat a wide array of problems such as patients with burns or severe trauma. Paramedics also treat diabetic patients, and monitor, detect, and treat cardiac arrhythmia in the event of a heart condition.

In addition to our Lake Wales Fire Department, several other fire departments such as Winter Haven, Lakeland, and Polk County have begun training their firefighter/emergency medical technicians as paramedics. This is a huge increase in the level of service provided at a fraction of the cost for additional ambulances and staff.

Paramedics are required to complete 16 weeks of EMT training prior to beginning the program. The training program includes one year of college, 470 hours on an ambulance, and 120 clinical hours in an emergency room, followed by a state exam. The tuition cost is $3,600 to attend the program.

As funding is available our department will be training additional paramedics. Congratulations to everyone involved in this progressive, life-saving program!

Note: Fire Chief Jerry Brown assisted with this article.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

More Topics to Explore...

This week we have three topics to explore: the upcoming events to recognize Memorial Day; an announcement by Comcast of channel changes that are scheduled for May 26; and the US 27 landscaping.

Memorial Day, 2009
It is a Lake Wales tradition to have a service to honor our veterans on the morning of Memorial Day at the Lake Wales Cemetery. In addition to that ceremony, we also have an event at the Veterans’ Memorial at Lake Ashton.

This year a third event is being added and it will mark the opening of the Veterans’ Memorial at City Hall. The large pink marble veterans’ monument that had been located in Lake Wailes Park has been moved. It is now the centerpiece of a new Veterans’ Memorial in front of City Hall. The new Veterans’ Memorial is under construction and is scheduled to be completed in time for an inaugural service this Memorial Day, on Monday, May 25.

The event will begin at 3 pm and is scheduled to feature the raising of flags at the Memorial. Our nation’s flag will be raised, as well as flags to honor the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, Merchant Marines, and those service personnel missing in action. These service branch flagpoles surround a flagpole and the re-located marble monument in the center. A reception is being scheduled following the ceremony in the lobby of City Hall.

The new memorial features a brick walkway, and bricks will be available for engraving for $35. The engraved bricks will recognize the military service of a loved one or friend and list the name, service branch, and years of service. Bricks can be ordered by calling City Hall at 678-4182 extension 225.

A reception is planned in the City Hall lobby following the ceremony, and bricks will be available for sale at that time as well.
Channel Changes on Comcast
Comcast has recently announced that there are going to be a number of changes in their channel line-up. These changes are scheduled to take place on May 26. One of the changes involves the channel used for “Local Origination”, the broadcast of our Lake Wales City Commission meetings and other city meetings. Currently those meetings are shown on channel 5, and they will move to channel 6. In addition, the “Local Government Access” that is currently on channel 33 will move to channel 5. Additional information is available at http://www.comcast.com/ or by calling Comcast at 941-342-3552.

Landscaping on US 27
An editorial in a recent edition of this newspaper brought attention to the landscaping that has been installed on US 27 at Central Avenue. The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) improved that area as a part of the widening of US 27. The concept of improving that intersection above the typical FDOT standards was approved by City Commission over five years ago when the widening project was still in the design phase. FDOT then proceeded to hire contractors to do the project.

Prince Landscaping is contractor responsible to FDOT for the planting of the plant material at this intersection, and by contract they are responsible for the maintenance of the plants for one year. The one-year period ends on December 9, and at that time City staff will take over the maintenance responsibilities.

City staff has notified FDOT that basic maintenance is not being properly performed, and has even offered to provide re-use water for the contractor’s water truck to irrigate the landscaping. At present, the landscaping also has an irrigation system using City potable water.

City staff will continue to notify FDOT of the need for their contractor to properly maintain these plants until they are turned over to the City for maintenance.

While the landscaping for this section of the widening project was planned during the design phase for the project, landscaping on another section of US 27 is now under review. FDOT provided funding for the landscaping of the section from Mountain Lake Cut-off Road to Cypress Gardens/Waverly Road after that section of the US 27 widening project was completed. The City Commission hired local landscape architect Marshall Whidden to design Florida-friendly landscaping for this section, and the Commission approved his plan. Once approval is received, the City will move forward with that landscaping project.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Workshop Topics

The next City Commission workshop meeting is scheduled for this Thursday, May 14, at 6 pm at City Hall. The agenda includes topics of current interest as well as topics regarding the planning for the future. Let’s review two of these topics:
1919 School Building

At the last workshop the project Construction Manager presented an alternative proposal for the next phase of the work. The City Commission’s direction to this point has been to complete the first floor of the building cost-effectively in order to open and begin using the building as quickly as possible. This has meant stretching grant dollars, which are not as plentiful now as they were a few years ago. A number of items originally included in the design, such as extensive lighting for large dramatic performances and an orchestra pit, as well as expensive finishes such as metal ceilings, had been laid aside. The next phase of the work anticipated using less expensive materials, such as vinyl tile in the restrooms rather than ceramic tile. The alternative plan drawn up by the architect and presented by the Construction Manager proposed to finish a portion of the first floor with the original, more expensive finishing materials in order to attract major donors to the facility.

The Commission will discuss the direction of the next phase of the work at the workshop. The funding for the next phase includes a $350,000 grant from the state historic preservation agency and a $300,000 match from the City’s Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) funds.

Review of City Growth Policies and the City’s Capabilities to Serve Growth in the Future
City staff is preparing an update to the Capital Improvements Element of the City’s Comprehensive Plan. Every city and county in Florida must have a Comprehensive Plan as prescribed by the 1985 Growth Management Act. These plans include maps indicating the future land uses and zoning for all properties within the City, and a description of how the City will serve the needs of these areas.

In the last six years the City has made far-reaching changes to better prepare for growth. The first professionally prepared impact fee study was completed to ensure that new growth pays for itself as much as possible. The future land use map, the centerpiece of a comprehensive plan, and related growth regulations, were extensively overhauled in 2005 during a period in which the City Commission declared a “zoning in progress” period and stopped the approvals of new subdivisions until plan overhaul was completed. This re-write was long overdue, and was attempted twice in the past by hiring consultants. Those efforts were not adopted. The 2005 revision was prepared by City staff, principally City Planner Margaret Swanson and Assistant City Manager Judy Delmar, and adopted by the City Commission.

An example of the type of subdivision that is produced under the new planning regulations is Whispering Ridge. The first proposal from the developer was a plan with over 500 lots arranged in a grid (square blocks) system. The final plan, after many reviews and suggestions by the planning staff, has 349 lots, a bike/walking trail, and a “spine” road that has “neighborhood node streets” rather than driveways connecting to it. The neighborhoods feature a number of common areas in which the original pine trees were saved.

Those staff members also worked with the City’s Utilities Attorney Jerry Buhr in the preparation of the City’s first Concurrency Management Plan. The key provision of the 1985 Growth Management Act is to ensure “concurrency” – that fundamental public services such as capacity for transportation, water, sewer, garbage disposal, recreation/open space, drainage, and schools are available to serve new developments when the services are needed. The City’s concurrency management system now requires new development to pay a portion of their impact fees up front, in two steps, for the building of these new facilities to serve growth.

City Planner Margaret Swanson will review the staff’s updating of the Capital Facilities Element of the Comprehensive Plan, which projects the City’s ability to serve growth that is anticipated during the planning period.

The workshop will feature seven other topics of interest as well, and the agenda is listed on the City’s website at www.cityoflakewales.com and at city hall. Everyone is invited!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Topics to Explore: Recreation & Information

This week we have two topics to explore:

Youth Recreation: the Boys and Girls’ Club
The parents in our town have a long tradition of providing organized recreation opportunities for our youth. The Lake Wales Little League has been in existence for over 55 years. The Steelers youth football league has been in operation for over 20 years. More recently, with Junior Magic basketball, the Gators youth football program, and the Lake Wales Soccer Club we have a nice variety of parent-run, independent leagues. We are also very fortunate to have the YMCA and the Boys and Girls’ Club.

I suspect that the economic downturn is making it particularly difficult for all non-profit organizations to make ends meet, and I know this is the case with our Boys and Girls’ Club. The Lake Wales Boys and Girls’ Club has been in operation for eight years. The first few years the Club was located on the campus of Roosevelt Academy, and then it moved to its present home in the former and newly remodeled elementary school at the corner of Seminole Avenue and Fourth Street. Every school day the Club’s bus travels to seven schools and picks up our children and takes them to the Club. There is a study hall with tutoring, and then organized activities. This year, the Club operates the Kirkland gymnasium in an agreement with the City.

Our Boys and Girls’ Club serves over 80 of our children each school day, and operates a summer camp during the out-of-school summer months.

Our Club is a branch of the Boys and Girls’ Club located in Winter Haven, and that club has subsidized the Lake Wales Club every year that it has been in operation.

Again, I suspect that every non-profit organization can use our help now. But I am particularly concerned about the Boys and Girls Club.

Information About Our Town
We are fortunate to live in a time when there are so many sources of information about any subject of interest. This is certainly true when it comes to learning more about our town. Town topics are covered by two daily newspapers as well as our own twice weekly hometown newspaper. Perhaps the biggest change in recent times in the creation and continued building of the City’s website (http://www.cityoflakewales.com/).

Our town’s website contains a variety of data and information about our town. One of the most interesting items is the full agenda packet provided for each City Commission meeting. This information is typically published on the Friday before the regular City Commission meetings.

The regular Commission meetings are held on the first and third Tuesday of each month. The agenda packet for the second regular meeting of the month typically contains the interim financial statements for the fiscal period ending the month before the meeting. There is also an analysis of the City’s financial position, including comparisons to targets for each fund, a focus on utility billing, and the amount of cash.

In addition to the two regular meetings, the Commission is now having a workshop meeting every month on the Thursday in the week between the regular Commission meetings. The agenda for these workshops cover items that will be coming up on future regular meeting agendas, as well as any other items that Commissioners wish to add to the agenda.

The preparation of City Commission agenda packets is an important staff function. The information is prepared by a City staff member and contains a recommendation for Commission action, the background material on the item, a review of the fiscal impact, and optional actions that the Commission could take. Attachments are also included giving additional or source information.

If you are not familiar with the City’s website or how to access the internet, there are 12 public access computers at our fine City library, and one of our librarians will be happy to assist. All of this information is also available at City Hall.

In the “information age”, our town has taken advantage of this useful tool. Data and information about our town is readily available for anyone to review!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Water Matters

In this space last week the City’s plans for renovating the wastewater treatment plant were discussed. The other side of the City’s utility coin is water service, and there are several new challenges in the provision of water service. Let’s review where the City is now in the provision of water service and the factors we must deal with to successfully provide the required service in the future.
Water Service is Crucial to Attracting New Development
Like wastewater services, the ability to provide water is crucial to attracting new development. The City staff is focused on “right-sizing” our tax base, by attracting more industrial and commercial development. The principal area of interest is SR 60 west, as well as the other areas of the City that are zoned for those uses. But unlike wastewater services, the City has the basic water infrastructure to supply about 5 times the number of customers we now serve.
In addition to wells, water towers, and pipes, the key to water service in the future will be the answer to the question, “How much water will the Southwest Florida Water Management District (SWFWMD) allow you to pump?” SWFWMD has already notified local governments that the amount of water pumped from wells in 2013 will be our “cap” in the future. After that year, cities and counties will not be allowed to pump out of the ground any additional amount of water over what was pumped in 2013. With growth expected to continue, where will the water come from to serve the new customers?
Water Supply Planning
Polk County pro-actively asked all of the cities to join with them in preparation of a county water supply plan to explore this topic. The plan has been completed and there are two recommendations that stand out:

  1. Conservation – the amount of drinking water now being used could be stretched much further if we all conserve. This conservation can be achieved in several ways, including the reduction in the use of irrigation water through the provision of re-use water, which is treated wastewater. As discussed in last week’s column the City is taking a number of steps to initiate a re-use system. The City cemetery, the Longleaf Business Park, and the new multi-purpose sports complex on Hunt Brothers Road are the first areas to be served with re-use water. The provision of re-use water will be essential to the growth of the City in the future; and

  2. Retired Agricultural Well Capacity – like many cities, Lake Wales has a utility service area that outlines the properties that the City intends to serve with water and sewer in the future. Much of this area surrounding the City limits is now being used for orange groves, and many groves have irrigation wells. When a former grove is sold and developed for another use, a portion of the capacity of the well can be assigned to offset the new water use. The question is, who will be the beneficiary of that capacity? Will it be the area where the former ag well is located, or some other area in the county? These and other questions must be answered definitively to avoid jurisdictional problems in the future.

Every provider of drinking water must operate under a permit from a water management district. Our City’s water management permit expires next year, and City staff is already working with SWFWMD staff to prepare the new permit request.

In the City’s water division there have been many advances in the past few years, with the building of the new well and storage tank at the airport, the building of the water tower near the intersection of Scenic Highway and Hunt Brothers Road, the elimination of chlorine gas and the switch to liquid chlorine, and the current task of changing the water meters out to new automatic, radio read water meters. City staff is continuing these successful efforts by identifying the challenges that lie ahead and moving forward in a cost-effective manner.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Two Major Projects: Status Report

There are several topics that are receiving a lot of attention these days from City staff. Let’s take a look at the status of the Grand Hotel, and the plans for making necessary renovations at the City’s wastewater treatment plant.
Grand Hotel
As you may remember the City foreclosed on this dilapidated property when the owner could not pay off liens resulting from code enforcement fines. The City then went through two rounds of soliciting proposals from developers before making a selection. The proposal submitted by Ray Brown of Winter Haven was selected, and City staff began with the preparation of a draft contract. The negotiations are now underway, and an interesting opportunity is being explored. It may be possible for the developer to purchase a nearby property. The property is for sale, and while the purchase is not necessary for the project, it is an opportunity that may be worth exploring. This has resulted in a modification to the original schedule. Negotiations are actively proceeding and are on-going.
Necessary Renovations to the City’s Wastewater Treatment Plant
The provision of wastewater service seems to be something that many people take for granted. As you watch the water go down your kitchen drain, you are probably not thinking of its eventual delivery to our multi-million dollar wastewater treatment plant.

Our City’s wastewater plant, located behind the City cemetery, is now over twenty years old. The plant takes in about 1.3 million gallons of raw sewage every day and processes it to produce two products: treated wastewater, which is available in some areas for irrigation purposes; and sludge, a thickened product that can be applied as a fertilizer for approved sites such as sod farms. The operation of the wastewater plant is closely monitored by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP).

Several years ago plant operators suspected that there was a problem in the processing capability of the plant. An engineering study found that the plant needs the addition of several large components that were apparently left out of the original plant design for cost reasons. These components are necessary to meet FDEP quality regulations for treated wastewater and sludge. The plant needs to reach a treatment level of “Class 1 reliability” in order to provide a consistently high quality of treated wastewater to be used for irrigation. The cost of producing quality sludge has risen by about $120,000 per year due to the inadequacy of the present plant.

There is a large cost attached to the planning and constructing of improvements at wastewater facilities, and these large costs necessitate that the City take out loans. The City had plans drawn up and delivered two years ago for the expansion of plant capacity that would also resolve the plant’s operational flaws at a cost of $1.1 million. The funds to pay for design engineering were borrowed in a low interest loan from the state revolving loan fund. These plans call for components that will increase capacity by over 3 million gallons, more than double the plant’s current capacity. However, with the slowdown on new development, those plans are now being modified so that the improvements can be phased in.

The City now has an opportunity to apply for a low-interest loan from the state revolving loan fund, which has had an infusion of cash from federal stimulus funds. The projected cost of the first phase of the improvements is $8.5 million. In order to give our loan application more points in the competition for funds, City staff is proposing to take on additional customers from a subdivision south of town that has a failing sewer treatment plant. FDEP officials have been urging the City to take this plant on our system for at least the last five years.

The low interest loan payback is projected is cost an additional $2.25 per month for sewer customers in the first year, and a similar amount added in the second and third years. Even with these additional amounts our sewer rates are less than some surrounding cities for the 8,000 gallon per month customer.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Upcoming Community Activities

There are many ways to find out what events are scheduled in our dynamic town. In addition to newspaper announcements, the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce website has a community calendar. The City’s website has a link to that calendar.

Let’s take a look at some of the activities coming up in our town.
Commission Swearing-In
The elected candidates from the April 7 election will be sworn in at the May 5 City Commission meeting at 6 pm at City Hall. Vice-Mayor Jack Van Sickle will be sworn in as Mayor, and re-elected City Commissioner Terrye Howell will be sworn in for another term. Commissioner Kathy Manry will retire and be recognized for her service, and new Commissioner Jonathan Thornhill will be sworn in. A Commissioner will then be chosen by the Commission members to serve as Vice-Mayor. The regular City Commission meetings are held on the first and third Tuesday of every month at 6 pm at City Hall. Everyone is cordially invited to attend.
At the April 9 City Commission meeting the Commissioners decided to set the schedule for monthly workshops as follows:
  • This month the workshop will be held on Tuesday, April 28, at 6 pm in the lunchroom at City Hall. One of the topics to be discussed is the feasibility of holding an “Economic Development Summit.” It is proposed that the purpose of the Summit would be threefold:

    • To review the City’s economic development strategy and to gauge how it is working;

    • To hear from representatives of the Central Florida Development Council their vision of economic development for the entire county and how we fit within that plan; and

    • To get input from our citizens and advisory board members to determine what the City’s focus should be.

  • In May and every month thereafter, the monthly workshop meetings will be held on the second Thursday of each month in the City Commission chambers at City hall at 6 pm. The date of next month’s meeting will be May 14.

Municipal Pool Survey
The survey cards for the municipal swimming pool survey are scheduled to be sent out with this month’s water bills. Please fill one out, attach a stamp, and drop it in the mail… or drop off the completed survey card at the B St. Center, City Hall, the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce, or the YMCA.
SR 60 Road Work
Last week the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) began an improvement project on State Road 60, from US 27 to the Scenic Highway overpass. The improvements will include sidewalk sections, some landscaping, and resurfacing. There will also be a change in the median cut at Second Street.
The City’s efforts to increase our “walkability” continues with the completion of the sidewalk on Central Ave from Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd to US 27. A path connecting the two walking trails near the Little League fields on Lakeshore was also completed. The next area for sidewalk construction will be on the north side of Sunset Ave, from Yarnell Ave to Lakeshore Blvd. These efforts are being funded by a portion of the proceeds from the CRA bond issue.
The Great American Clean up
A clean up is scheduled for this Saturday, April 18, from 8 am to noon, beginning at Kiwanis Park. Everyone pre-registered will receive a free t-shirt and a ticket to Bok Tower Gardens. To pre-register please call Jacquie Hawkins at City Hall: 678-4182 extension 233.
A Note on the Proposed Use of the 1919 Building
In this space on March 25 it was mentioned that the 1919 building could become a center for music education as well as musical performance. Those uses, along with using the building for film showings and as a conference center, were part of “The Vision” that was proposed for the building by Dr. Gabe Statom. He reviewed this vision with the citizens attending the facility open house in March of last year. A copy of that event program is available at City Hall.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Facilitating a Fact-Based Discussion, Part II

Two weeks ago in this space I stated my hope that during this election campaign, the welcome discussion on City matters would be fact-based. Over the weekend I opened a daily newspaper to read some fictitious statements concerning City debt. This topic has been covered before, but let’s review it again, with a few more points to consider.

Point One is that debt is inevitable for most cities, not unlike the situation in which the typical family finds itself. The typical family cannot make large purchases, like a home, without borrowing money. Yes, this puts them in debt… but it also makes them better off in the long run. Houses tend to appreciate in value, so building equity in a home is a good risk.

Cities are similar in this regard. There are major (capital) projects that must be done, projects that the City cannot afford to pay for within its annual budget. These are projects that the City cannot afford to save up for because the savings period would take too long. When utilized appropriately, the issuance of debt can lead to a more equitable tax burden across generations of citizens and taxpayers who use the asset being funded.

The Auditor General’s website has various tables that list cities by population category. In our population category, Florida cities of 6,000 to 14,999 population, every city reported long term debt. It is unlikely that there will be a time when our City does not have some level of debt.

Point Two is that when the typical family borrows money, it is paid back in a set payment schedule that indicates that both principal (the amount borrowed) and interest are partly being paid back with each payment. The City also makes debt service payments according to a payment schedule, which includes both principal and interest. In compliance with this schedule, the City pays down its debt every year. In the current fiscal year, the City will pay down over $2.6 million in principal and make over $1.2 million in interest payments.

Point Three is that the City is required by its Charter to prepare a 5-year capital improvements plan every year. This plan lists the major capital projects that are needed and how the City is going to pay for them. In the current fiscal year the plan calls for capital expenditures of over $18 million. Many of those expenditures come from money in the current year budget – like the purchase of police cars, library books, water meters, and various equipment items. It is anticipated that the funding source for some items will be grant funds – like the airport runway extension.

Out of 45 capital projects or items listed to be accomplished in this fiscal year, there are only a handful of large utility projects that are scheduled to come from new debt. Some of these projects are driven by growth, and others are of a lower priority. All of those projects will likely be put off to another year. The one large utility project that cannot be put off is one that the City has been working on for several years: improvements needed at the City’s wastewater treatment plant. It is anticipated that this year the City will borrow over $8.5 million to fix the wastewater treatment plant, which is now more than 20 years old and in need of repairs. In addition to repair work, the requirements for the quality of the treated wastewater and sludge, the two products that the plant produces, are quite stringent. The state regulatory agencies and the federal EPA monitor these products to ensure that the City has the proper quality controls in place. Several years ago the City suffered a $6,000 fine from the EPA for an inadequate sludge quality control process.

Again, a comparison is helpful to put this matter in perspective. Even with this new amount of money to be borrowed this year, the City would still have the lowest principal debt amount in comparison to two similar sized cites nearby, Haines City and Auburndale.

Good government needs an active citizenry, one that is fully informed. Information is available on the City’s website or at City Hall, with helpful City staff members to answer any questions. Discussions are welcomed and encouraged, and every citizen is cordially invited to participate… but let’s stick to the facts!

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Connect with Downtown

In the midst of the present economy one may wonder how the downtown areas in small towns like ours are coping. I believe that many people judge the vitality of a town by the condition of the downtown – so the downtown area takes on additional weight as it represents the entire area.
The Big Picture
The goods and services available in many downtowns across the country have changed over the years. In the 1950’s and 60’s new highways were built, and new “shopping centers” appeared. The historic downtown areas often evolved over the years into a mix of specialty retail shops, professional offices, and restaurants.

I have a personal connection to the downtown area of a small town, and over the years I have witnessed these changes. As a boy I would frequently go with my mom or grandfather to the downtown where I grew up in Cheviot, Ohio. At one of the two drugs stores there was a counter with a soda fountain. As often as possible I would indulge in a chocolate soda with hand-dipped vanilla ice cream, a concoction that I believed was brought down from heaven by angels. I could have eaten my weight in chocolate sodas if my mom would have let me!

A few years later that drug store closed and was replaced with a furniture store. As the years went by several historic buildings were demolished and replaced by national chain fast food restaurants. Their familiar architecture that we typically see along major highways looks out of place in a downtown. Cheviot has changed and survived, but I can’t say that what is there now was well planned.
Lake Wales’ Success
By contrast, there have been several plans prepared for downtown Lake Wales, and the process of successful planning involves placing building blocks upon a solid foundation. We have had both “foundation shoring” activities, as well as some celebrated success with new building blocks. Some of the foundation shoring accomplished in the past few years are as follows:
  • The City Commission’s approval of the historic district, companion boards, and regulations downtown. This ordinance will go a long way towards preserving the charm of downtown.

  • The CRA’s approval of the capital improvement’s bond, which paid for the resurfacing of the streets downtown and elsewhere in the district.

  • The City Commission’s approval of the water main improvement projects downtown, which enabled the build out of the Bank of America building.

Following these foundation-shoring moves, some important building blocks have been laid:
  • The opening of the JD Alexander Center, the newest Polk Community College branch campus, made possible by Senator Alexander, our legislative delegation, the City Commission’s donation of the property and willingness to assign and construct parking, and the foresight of Robin Gibson in suggesting this use for the building.

  • The renovation of a number of buildings are now underway, including The Bullard Building, One Scenic Place, and the Gifford property at 251 Park. The north Arcade building has been restored, and negotiations are in process for the renovation of the Grand Hotel.

  • The Murals and Enhancements Group, led by Cliff Tonjes, has added energy and interest in downtown.

  • The opening of a number of retail stores in recent years, including the Else Group, the Polka Dot shop, Brenda’s Gifts, and the just opened Village Kitchen shop that moved from the mall, are all signs of good progress. These are important retail businesses that have become part of the core of retail stores that include True Value Hardware, Mayer Jewelers, and art stores such as BSD Galleries, Bellissimo, the Gallery and Frame Shop, and the Artists’ Guild.

  • At lunchtime there are now a variety of fine restaurants to choose from downtown, and a number of them are staying open for dinner. A new Puerto Rican restaurant has now opened in the arcade.

  • Ed Pilkington has remodeled a storefront to a professional office.

If you grew up with a connection to a downtown area as I have, you can renew your connection now! Become a part of this process by patronizing downtown stores, or by helping Lake Wales Main Street. This wonderful organization markets our downtown, puts on events such as the recent World Dance Bazaar, and coordinates planning efforts. Call them at 676-2028 or visit their website at www.lakewalesmainstreet.com.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Facilitating a Fact-Based Discussion

At election time every year there are healthy discussions on what the City has done or should be doing. Some of the topics currently being considered are the City’s tax rate, the level of debt, and spending on two capital projects: the Rails to Trails, and the 1919 building. Let’s explore these topics to facilitate a fact-based discussion.

Tax Rate
The City’s tax rate for the current fiscal year is 7.3277 mills. An examination of City budget history reveals that the tax rate approved by the City Commission for the current fiscal year is the lowest tax rate in 17 years! The tax rate for FY ’91-92 is the next lowest. As noted in a previous column in this space, in the last four years the City Commission has reduced the City’s property tax rate 22%.

City Debt
There has been much discussion on the level of City debt, but I have yet to hear anyone mention how our City’s principal debt amount (i.e., the amount owed on the original borrowed amount, without adding in interest payments) compares to that of other similar cities. The cities of Auburndale and Haines City are often used for purposes of comparison. For the 2007-2008 Fiscal Year, these three cities ended the fiscal year with these respective amounts of principal debt:

  • Auburndale - $54,143,338

  • Haines City - $45,360,648

  • Lake Wales - $32,725,486

Lake Wales has the lowest principal debt amount of the three cities.

In this space I have noted before that debt is a necessary method of providing funding for large capital projects.
Rails to Trails
The first phase of this project was a Florida Department of Transportation project, and no city funds were involved. That section of trail begins at Fourth Street and ends at Kiwanis Park.

The extension of the Trail to Buck Moore Road was a City project, paid for with grant funds that required a match of $133,000. The matching amount came from City Recreation Impact Fees, which can only be used to expand or provide new recreation facilities.

1919 Building (Hardman Hall)
The 1919 building project started with high hopes after the property was acquired from the county school board in 1995. An article in this newspaper on June 8, 1995 stated that the buildings would be renovated with funding “…from a variety of sources in the form of grants.” It was also noted that “… the entire project cannot be completed at one time but can be done in phases.”

To date, three of the buildings have been restored, with grant funding for one of the buildings, the former elementary school being leased to the Boys and Girls’ Club. The Club paid the matching funds required for that restoration grant. The other two restored buildings, the Kirkland gym and the Little Theatre, were restored with City bond proceeds and (non-city) funds raised by the Little Theatre, respectively.

The 1919 building has to date utilized $1,869,711 in grant funds and $300,000 in Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) funds towards rehabilitation. There have also been $154,285 in private donations and $17,124 in other city funds used for the project. The next phase of restoration is currently being planned, and it will use $350,000 in grant funds and $300,000 in CRA funds. Beyond the next phase, it is estimated that it will take $1,011,087 to open the building for use and another $712,787 to completely finish the building, grounds, and parking. The spreadsheet detailing all of these figures (as well as the City budget and millage history noted above) is now available on the City’s website at http://www.cityoflakewales.com/.

The City Commission has established an advisory committee to work on the fund-raising needed to complete this building. Applications for membership are available at the City Clerk’s office.

It is anticipated that when this magnificent structure is completed its focus will be on musical education and performance. Lake Wales has a long tradition of musical excellence at our High School. The recent establishment of McLaughlin Middle School as a “School of the Arts”, and the strong music program being built at Bok Academy will greatly enhance this tradition. We look forward with the vision of the new advisory committee raising the remaining dollars necessary for our children to learn and perform at this wonderful new facility, which will richly add to the definition of our community as a place for both the arts and education.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Lake Wales "Sense of Community"

The Lake Wales Unity in Community group has volunteered to be involved in the effort to build a community swimming pool. This is one more example of the amazing “sense of community” that is present in Lake Wales.
Lake Wales Unity in Community
The Lake Wales Unity in Community (UIC) group was formed some years ago at the suggestion of Pastor JJ Pierce of the First Institutional Baptist Missionary Church. It was a project that was initially carried out by a Leadership Lake Wales class (an annual program offered by the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce). The UIC group meets on the first Thursday of every month at the B St Center at 8 am. This group is dedicated to having an on-going dialogue about diversity issues and bringing our community together.
A Community Pool
The talk of building a City pool has gone on for decades. At this point the City Commission has set aside $1 million, which was realized from the sale several years ago of the Cooperative Fruit property on US 27 at Hunt Brothers Road. This money is in a separate line item account and is accruing interest. Presently there is about $40,000 in interest proceeds, and they continue to grow. But many questions remain, with the principal question being how the operation, maintenance, and capital replacement costs for the pool will be funded. Community pools elsewhere have annual operations and maintenance costs of over $100,000, and an additional amount on the order of $20,000 annually must be set aside for capital replacement costs.

UIC has offered its services in the quest to build a pool. The UIC is working with the new director of the YMCA, Nate Seidl, who has experience in the building of a community swimming pool and has generously volunteered to help. At last Tuesday’s workshop of the City Commission, UIC asked the Commission if they and Nate could work on this project, and they bring a new and fresh perspective. A community pool is a desirable amenity. Why not survey the community to determine the best way to address the questions surrounding this project, and then move ahead. The City Commission agreed, and a proposed schedule for this survey was presented by Nate at Monday’s meeting of the City’s Recreation Advisory Board:

  • April 2 – UIC meeting, discussion of the survey instrument

  • May – begin survey work

  • Upon completion of the survey, prepare the report to bring back to the City Commission in August or September.

There is more to come on this project, and UIC and Nate are to be commended for their willingness to work on this project.
The Amazing Lake Wales Sense of Community
It occurred to me that this effort is typical of the Lake Wales sense of community. Lake Wales has the strongest sense of community of any of the towns that I have lived in. This sense – or spirit - of community is evident in many ways, but let’s just look at a few examples in the field of recreation.

This past Saturday was Opening Day for the Lake Wales Little League, which has been in existence since 1954. This is a parent-run organization, and the parents of the children playing in the league also volunteer to coach teams, work at the concession stands, and serve as announcers and official scorekeepers. Last Saturday was also the Opening Day for the Spring Season of the Ridge Soccer League, another parent-run organization that also has parents serving as coaches, concession stand workers, and volunteers.

Both of these leagues play on city-owned facilities, and the City is a partner with them in providing these wonderful recreational opportunities for our children. Other City recreation partners include the Boys and Girls Club, and the Little Theatre, both of which are also housed in City-owned facilities and also provide superb recreational programs.

The Pram Fleet operates out of a City-owned facility on the shore of Lake Wailes. For many decades this parent-run organization has taught our children how to sail, and on Sunday afternoons during sailing season the view of the little sail boats on the lake with their student sailors is priceless.

With all of these partnerships, the effort by Unity in Community is another example of the Spirit of Lake Wales. All of the individuals serving our community in these and other community organizations are to be commended.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

A Well-Trained & Experienced Workforce

In this space last week there was a review of the mix of education and experience in the City’s senior management team, and an assessment of the educational achievements in the police and fire departments. Let’s take a look at the other City departments and the credentials held by those City employees.
Our City library is a fantastic resource by any measure. The library staff of 18 members includes five professional librarians - persons holding a Master’s Degree in Library Science. There are also five other library employees with bachelor’s degrees, and one with an associate’s degree. The library staff members have many years of experience and hundreds of hours of training in specialized library topics, such as archiving, cataloging, and information searching on the internet through a variety of databases. In addition, three library staff members are fluent in French and two are fluent in Spanish.
The City’s Utility Department is responsible for providing drinking water, and wastewater collection, treatment, and disposal. These activities are fundamental to our community and are highly regulated by state and federal agencies. State regulations require that the City have individuals working in these fields who hold state utility licenses, which are issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. Obtaining such a license requires the passage of an extensive course and a number of years of experience.

The City’s water department employs two individuals with a state license in water plant operations, and three individuals with water distribution system licenses. The City’s wastewater department employs two individuals with wastewater plant operation licenses, and three individuals with wastewater collection system licenses. Employees in this department also have state licenses in other specialized areas, including one employee who is a certified plumber, and another employee who is a certified electrician. In addition to these licenses, training, and experience, one member of the department has a master’s degree, and one staff member has an associate’s degree. Two staff members are fluent in Spanish.

Planning, Zoning, and Development
The City’s Planning, Zoning, and Development Department is responsible for the processing of development requests, the enforcement of zoning code and building regulations, and city compliance with the state Growth Management Act and development related laws. The department has 7 staff members, and in addition to the director’s credentials there is one individual holding a master’s degree, and one staff member with an associate’s degree. The two staff members responsible for building inspection jointly have 42 certifications in state building code areas of specialty. Together, the individuals in this department have many years of experience in both the public and the private sector. Two members of this department are fluent in Spanish.
Finance Department
The Finance Department also carries out a fundamental task in ensuring that all funds are properly accounted for according to generally accepted accounting principles. In addition to the Finance Director’s credentials mentioned in last week’s column, the department has staff members with bachelor’s degrees and one staff member with an associate’ degree. The employees in this department also have many years of experience in both the public and private sector. Two department members are fluent in Spanish.
City Clerk’s Office
The City Clerk’s Office is responsible for recording and maintaining the official records of the City, City Commission agenda production, citizen board membership, records management, elections, and transcribing minutes for the City Commission, as well as other duties. This office has two employees, one with a bachelor’s degree. Both employees have years of experience in the public sector.
Public Services: Parks, Building Maintenance, Cemetery
In addition to the Director’s credentials, this department with 15 staff members has one individual with a bachelor’s degree. This department also has staff members with many years of experience in both the public and private sectors.
Support Services: Streets, Fleet Maintenance, Purchasing, Inventory
This department has 13 staff members and one individual holds a bachelor’s degree. These employees have many years of experience in both the public and private sectors as well as specialized training in their fields.
Information Services; and Human Resources
These two departments have a total of 4 staff members and one employee with a bachelor’s degree, and one employee with an associate’s degree.

The City of Lake Wales is fortunate to have a well-educated, trained, and experienced workforce!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Well-Educated & Experienced Group

In my presentation of the City’s Annual State of the City Report to the Chamber of Commerce, I noted that I started working in the public sector in 1972. I have worked in a number of different settings since then. I am very happy to say that the people that I work with now – my fellow employees at the City of Lake Wales – are the best group of people I have ever worked with. I am proud to be a Lake Wales city employee and to be associated with this fine group of individuals. They are dedicated to their work, which is sometimes carried out under very difficult circumstances. It is not uncommon to receive a letter or phone call thanking the City for the work of City employees.

In my experience, working for a City or for any agency in the public sector can be a trying experience, and in many ways a different environment than the private sector. I remember when a new employee came to work for the City several years ago after years of working for private companies in various types of construction. He said that on some projects, on a particular high profile project downtown, he felt as if everyone in town was watching him and carefully measuring the pace of progress. I told him that I too had private sector experience, and there are times when City projects attract a lot of attention. But this is to be expected – after all, we are dealing with public funds and doing the public’s business. On the plus side, there is a feeling of accomplishment in doing a good job for the people of our town.
Many Skills Are Required
The operation of a city requires a wide variety of skills and educational credentials. From library-specific college degrees, to fire and police certifications, to state licenses for utility department procedures, to state certifications for building inspection, to accounting certifications, there are many skills required. Our town’s employees have a good mix of education and experience to carry out these widely diverse work tasks.

For example, let’s look at the senior management team for the City staff. This group consists of myself as City Manager, the Assistant City Manager, and 11 department heads. In terms of education, six persons have Master’s Degrees; three persons have Bachelor’s Degrees, and one department head has nearly completed her Bachelor’s Degree. Another team member has an Associate’s Degree.

There is also a healthy mix of experience on this team, with individuals who have worked for the City of Lake Wales for many years, and others who have come to the City recently. Again, in this group of 13 individuals: One person has worked for the City for over 30 years; three people have worked for the City for over 20 years; three people have worked for the City for over 10 years; five people have worked for the City for 5 years or more; and one department head was recently hired here.
Of the six people who have worked for the City less than 10 years, four have over 20 years of experience in their fields, and one has more than 10 years of experience that was brought to the team.

Another interesting question involves where these 13 individuals were living when they came to work for the City. Five were living in the Lake Wales area, three were living elsewhere in our county, four were living elsewhere in Central Florida, and one person who had lived in Florida previously and wished to return was living in another state.

The amount of education and training among other City employees is no less impressive. In the police department alone, there are 8 officers with Associates’ Degrees, 8 officers with Bachelor’s Degrees, 3 with Master’s Degrees, and one department member with a juris doctorate. In the Fire Department there are 14 firefighters with Associates’ Degrees, and one Department member with a Bachelor’s Degree. Many employees have taken advantage of the City’s educational incentive program.

The Police and Fire Departments also emphasize training. Within the past 18 months, six firefighters achieved their paramedic licenses through a City program and are now using their skills for our benefit. The Police Department also provides more training than the state mandated minimum for our officers every year.

We are fortunate to have a well-educated and experienced group of City employees working for the betterment of our town!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Providing Water & Wastewater Services

The City’s Strategic Plan contains six “foundation statements” expressing fundamental goals for the City. The second statement, just after financial stability, calls for a focus on “core services”. The City’s fire, police, and utilities departments, and the streets division provide these core services.

The work of the fire and police departments usually receives the most attention in the newspaper as their work is often mentioned in dramatic stories of a rescue from a burning car or building, or the arrest of dangerous criminal. On the other hand, people tend to take for granted their City utilities. We all expect the water to be there when we turn on the faucet. It really doesn’t enter our minds that employees in the water department may have been up all night fixing a water main break, or employees in the wastewater department spent their evening repairing a sewer line. (Note: the words “wastewater” and “sewer” are used interchangeably here.) Most of the facilities that these departments are responsible for are underground, and the expression “out of sight, out of mind” may apply here.

In reality, the provision of water and sewer services holds a very important place in the menu of city services. These services must also be provided in compliance with state regulations, which are strictly monitored by state regulatory agencies. City utility employees are highly trained and experienced, and individuals with state utility licenses are responsible for their operation.

Let’s review some of the requirements for utility service operation as well as a few of the current projects.
Operations and Maintenance
The City operates three water plants, one wastewater treatment plant, 34 sewer pump stations, and many miles of water and sewer lines. State regulations require that water samples be taken to a certified lab periodically to ensure that our water meets the state requirements for drinking water. Samples of treated wastewater water and sludge are also taken periodically and tested to ensure compliance with state regulations.

City utility workers have scheduled activities each day for the maintenance of facilities and equipment, and must also respond to emergency situations such as water and sewer main breaks, and any other events that could cause an interruption of service.
Automatic Water Meter Reading
In addition to maintaining the water plants and wastewater plants, the City has over 9,800 water meters to be read every month. The City is gradually changing out these meters and replacing them with a more advanced meter that provides for the readings to be transmitted either by touching the meter with a reading wand, or by transmitting the readings directly to City Hall by radio waves. One of the farthest communities from City Hall, Lake Ashton, is the first area where the new meters are being installed.
New Water Tower
The Longleaf Business Park is an important asset for attracting new businesses to our community. However, the park cannot bring in additional businesses unless the proper water volume and pressure are available to operate the sophisticated fire sprinkler systems that are needed in these commercial buildings. Therefore, a new water tower was needed to serve the business park and the surrounding area. The new tower is now being constructed near the intersection of Scenic Highway and Hunt Brothers Road. The new tank will hold 500,000 gallons, which is the same size as the City’s water tower at the Eagle Ridge Mall. The cost of the new water tower is over $1.2 million dollars, paid for from the CRA bond. The Longleaf Business Park and some of the surrounding area are in the CRA. As other developments outside the CRA begin utilizing the new water tank, a portion of their water impact fee payments will reimburse the CRA.
Downtown Water Improvements
CRA revenues are paying for the second phase of the downtown water system improvement. Much like the Longleaf Business Park, the development or rehabilitation of commercial buildings downtown requires that the proper water volume and pressure is available for the fire sprinkler systems. The first phase of this project is now finished. It provided the water service necessary to complete the build out of the top two floors of the Bank of America building. The first phase also provides improved service to the entire west side of downtown.

The second phase of this project is now under construction. It will provide improved water service to the east side of downtown, with lines recently constructed in the area of the public library.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Partnering with the Community

During the presentation of the City’s Annual Report it was noted that there are a number of factors that are having a negative impact on the City’s budget. These factors include the poor condition of the economy, the two waves of property tax reform, and new duties passed on from other levels of government. Governor Crist has announced that he will present several more tax reform proposals for consideration in the upcoming session of the state legislature. With these factors outside any city’s control, what can a city do to sustain its level of services?

Come budget time, there will be some very difficult decisions to be made. To use a time-worn cliché, city officials will have to begin “thinking outside the box.” One of the methods suggested in the Annual Report presentation could be re-phrased as follows:
Explore the Power of Partnerships
Actually, this is not a new idea in Lake Wales. Years ago the City Commission signed a long-term lease with the The Little Theatre group to use the former high school band building on Third Street. The Little Theatre has done an outstanding job in offering quality community theatre performances, as well as remodeling the building for a worthwhile purpose. The offering of the children’s plays, in particular, is an amazing enterprise. I remember the first year that my son Dave participated in this event. There were over 80 children in that production of Dr. Dolittle, and director Danny Baynard kept all of them focused through many rehearsals and performances.

Another more recent partnership came with the remodeling of the elementary school building at the corner of Seminole and Fourth St for the Boys and Girls Club. The remodeling was funded by a state historic preservation grant, and matching funds were provided by the Boys and Girls Club. Again, the City signed a long term lease with the Boys and Girls Club, and they maintain the building and offer an important program to our community.

The building of the soccer/multi-purpose sports complex on Hunt Brothers Road, the JD Alexander Center of Polk Community College, and Barney’s Dream playground are all examples of successful partnerships. In the building of the sports complex, the board members of the Ridge Soccer League (now the Lake Wales Soccer Club) partnered with the City in securing a county grant for the project. The City negotiated the sale of the larger property and the conveyance of the 18 acre complex area back to the City. The City then used the value of the property to obtain another grant. With these two grants and many other donations, the complex was completed.

The City Commission donated the old city hall building to Polk Community College and agreed to provide parking for the building. Senator JD Alexander led the way in finding state funding, and the newest branch of PCC was opened.

Barney’s Dream was a project of the Lake Wales Kiwanis Club, initiated by Kiwanian Barney Moore, in the City owned and maintained Kiwanis Park. That park has received much attention in recent years, with state grants providing the soccer field and the skatepark, while a county grant helped fund the playground, along with many donations.

The partnership model extends beyond capital projects. The City has entered into other agreements recently with the Chamber of Commerce and the Historic Lake Wales Society for the operation of the Main Street program and the Depot Museum respectively. The agreements provide for a more cost effective operation than in the past. The City has also partnered with the Green and Gold Foundation in the development of three residential lots, and the development of the Walker Building on Lincoln Ave is in the works.

The City has field maintenance agreements with the Lake Wales Little League and the Lake Wales Adult Softball League. These leagues maintain the city facilities that they use. The predictions on how long the recession will last are mixed, with a wide variety of opinion. What is certain is that the future will hold many more challenges than the recent past, and communities need to start exploring new ways of getting the job done. I am confident that we will prevail, as the City already has a track record of success in “thinking outside the box.”

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Think Carefully about a Career Field

For many years growing up I worked in my family’s construction business in the Ohio/Kentucky/Indiana area whenever school or college was out of session. This was a priceless introduction into the world of work, and it taught me good work habits as well as many timeless lessons. The work was physically taxing, and much of the time was carried out in difficult weather conditions. I still remember the sub-floor we set when it was 2 degrees below zero, or all the roofs were shingled when it was so hot we had to sit on the packaging for the shingles! There were other moments that were just plain scary – like setting trusses on a three story apartment building without a crane! (We used a motorized winch with a basket on a tall ladder. My father later bought a crane, but that’s another story.)

One day while driving to a job my father told me that picking a career field is one of the most important decisions that I would ever make; therefore, it is very important that I spend some time and think carefully about what “line of work” I would enter.

My father and his two younger brothers continued the family construction business until just a few years ago. By this time my father was 80 years old and doing more office work but he still did his share of “on the job” work, such as running the crane (a “cream puff job” in his words). While visiting over a Christmas vacation and driving to the store one day, I asked him why he got into the construction business. Interestingly, he said that he felt like he had to because it was the only career that was available to him… which makes his advice to me as a teenager even more meaningful.

Recently the Lake Wales High School Young Leaders group visited City Hall. As part of my presentation to the group about how their city works, I passed on my father’s advice – that choosing a line of work is one of the most important decisions you’ll ever make, and therefore it should be made very carefully. But going a bit further, I told them that they should not be afraid to ask adults what they do for a living, what they like about their job, and how they got started in that field. I believe that most adults would share this information with a student.

I am proud to say that the City of Lake Wales has been proactive in this regard, providing police and fire cadet programs, and participating in school career days. The City will again be a participant in the upcoming career day at Lake Wales High School on March 11, sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce.

These are valuable opportunities, as it takes many different types of career fields to carry out all the operations of the City. While many of these career fields require a college diploma, most do not. A high school diploma or GED, and specialized training are the requirements for most city career fields. For example, police officer and firefighter jobs require a high school diploma and further schooling for the appropriate state certifications. Another excellent field to enter is utility work. Many high school graduates enter this field and then see a clear and attractive career path. State licenses in water and wastewater plant operations, and system operation, are available with special coursework without a college degree… and the opening of the downtown branch of Polk Community College makes a college degree more available than ever before.

Bottom line, the message I want to convey here is this:
I want every high school student in Lake Wales to feel that each career field utilized by a city is open and available to them, and they are cordially invited to call city hall and learn more about that career.
I encourage any interested high school student in Lake Wales to call the City’s Human Resources Department (678-4182, extension 233) to make arrangements to check out a career field utilized by cities. The Polk Works’ Young Leaders program at the Austin Center (455-1014) is also an excellent resource.

Here is one more event that was not mentioned in last week’s column:
  • Lake Wales Arts Center Gala: Friday evening, February 13, at the Arts Center on State Road 60 at 11th Street. Tickets are available at the door.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mark Your Calendar

February will be a busy month! Let’s take a look at just a few of the activities, meetings, and events planned for this month:
  • Thursday, February 5, 5:30 pm, City Hall: the regular meeting of the City’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Committee. Agenda items include a discussion of the feasibility of applying for a grant to fund the next section of the trail that now ends at Buck More Road.

  • Friday, February 6, 6 – 9 pm, in the Park Ave. Rhodesbilt Arcade: James R. Hahn Productions presents “A Taste of Lake Wales” featuring drinks, food, art, and music, with a portion of the proceeds to benefit the Vanguard School Performing Arts Center project. Tickets are $25 and are available at the Gallery at 230 E. Park Ave or by calling 863-241-3852.

  • Friday, February 6, 5:30 pm, City Hall: a meeting of the City’s Finance Committee. The agenda will include:

    • a discussion on the feasibility of applying for $200,000 swimming pool construction grant. While the City has over $1,000,000 in the swimming pool construction fund, there is not an available revenue source to pay for the operation and maintenance of the pool. City staff recommends passing on this grant opportunity until there are more funds built up in the pool fund. The cost of construction is over $800,000, and user fees are not likely to support the on-going costs of operating the pool. This item will come to the City Commission for the final decision on this grant opportunity at the February 17 regular meeting;

    • Paul Simmons will discuss the requested donation to the Winter Haven Area Transit (WHAT) system of over $5,000 for the route that serves Winter Haven and the area around the Eagle Ridge Mall. Mr. Simmons is also on the February 17 City Commission meeting agenda to formally make this request.

  • Saturday, February 7, 9:00 am – 1 pm, City Hall: Polk County will hold its annual Household Hazardous waste drop off event in conjunction with Keep Polk County Beautiful. Area residents can bring a variety of hazardous items to City Hall and dispose of them for free. The items accepted include cleaners, polishes, solvents, automotive products, aerosol cans, insecticides, disinfectants, paint products, batteries, and pool chemicals. Residents can drop off up to five electronic items per household, including computers, monitors, keyboards, terminals, televisions, stereos, printers, fax machines, VCR/DVD players, video cameras, and video game consoles. Business waste will not be accepted. If you are planning on buying a new television to prepare for the changeover this month to the digital signal, this would be a good place to take your old television. In addition, up to 10 standard vehicle size tires without rims will also be accepted per household with a photo ID and proof of Polk County residency. For further information call (863) 284-4319 or (863) 399-2689, or visit the Polk County website at www.polk-county.net, or call Keep Polk County Beautiful at 676-7019 for questions about tires.

  • Saturday, February 7, 10 am, Kiwanis Park: the Grand Opening of Barney’s Dream, the new playground constructed at Kiwanis Park by the Lake Wales Kiwanis Park for children of all abilities. Kawanian Barney Moore initiated this project and the Kiwanis Club raised the money through a variety of fund raising efforts to see the project to reality. Congratulations Barney and the Lake Wales Kiwanis Club for an outstanding job!

  • Monday, February 16, 6 pm, City Hall: I will give the “State of the City Address” as requested by the Mayor and everyone is cordially invited. This address was given to the Chamber of Commerce at their January luncheon. Arrangements are being made to televise the address on Comcast Channel 33. (I will also give the address at the coffee meeting in Lake Ashton on Monday, March 23.)

  • Tuesday, February 17, 6 pm, City Hall: The City Commission will hold their regular meeting.

  • Thursday, February 19, 5:30 – 7:30 pm, City Hall: The Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) will hold its anticipated Open House on the proposed project to construct medians on State Road 60 from 11th St to Capps Road. Consultants to FDOT have stated that they will be mailing a notice to all property owners along this route, as well as distributing flyers.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Measuring Forward Progress

A curious statement appeared in a column in the January 14 edition of this newspaper:
“When looked at from the standpoint of where we are today compared to where we were on election day four years ago, there is little doubt that we have not, by any measurement, made any appreciable forward progress and that major changes are necessary in order to reverse this trend.”

Let’s take a look at some measurements and try to determine if “any appreciable forward progress” has been made by the City since election day four years ago.
Financial Matters
  • Tax Rate - four years ago our city tax rate was 9.44 mills. Now it is 7.3277 mills, a reduction of over 22%;

  • Tax Base – in four years our tax base has increased from over $543 million to over $830 million, an increase of over 52%;

  • Helping Citizens – The Fire Department received an improved rating from the Insurance Services Office from a 5 to a 3. This improvement could help lower insurance premiums for many property owners. In addition, the City Commission approved these measures:

    • Utility lifeline rate – provides low income water customers with a lower bill;

    • Utility rate reduction for low water users;

    • Limited senior exemption - provides an additional property tax exemption for low income seniors.

Core Services
  • Fire/Rescue service improvements in the last four years include:

    • a second fire station serving the north city area has opened;

    • We now have the best Fire Department fleet ever, including our first ladder truck;

    • the department has implemented a paramedic program that has already been credited with saving lives.

  • Police service improvements include:

    • a police sub-station has been opened in the Lincoln Ave area;

    • our police officers have been issued tasers;

    • our police patrol officers have video cameras in their cars.

  • Both police and fire have new, advanced technology radios.
  • Utilities improvements in the last four years include:

    • the start up of the reuse system (strongly recommended by state regulatory agencies.) This project, 10 years in the making, provides highly treated wastewater for irrigation rather than using drinking water;

    • the completion of the southside force main, another long planned project which relieves heavy flows in the sewer collection system around Lake Wailes and prepares for the future;

    • the establishment of the queue system, which collects money from developers up front to use towards the expansion of water and sewer capacity for new developments;

    • the new water tower that is going up at the corner of Scenic Highway and Hunt Brothers Road;

    • a great deal of preventative maintenance that was deferred over the years.

  • Streets – this is another area in which a great deal of work has been accomplished that had been deferred for decades. Many streets in the historic area have been resurfaced, and the worst flooding area (First and Seaboard) has been corrected.
Enhanced Services
The grand openings of the soccer/multi-purpose complex, the skate park, the boat ramp, and the Boys and Girls Club have significantly added to our recreation opportunities – with all capital funding coming from grants.
Economic Development
  • Downtown – major events include:

    • the successful foreclosure of the Grand Hotel;

    • The City Commission’s conveyance of old city hall to Polk Community College for the JD Alexander Center branch, which has its grand opening this Friday at 2 pm;

    • City Commission approval of the Core Incentive program in cooperation with the county, forgiving many impact fees in the core area to encourage re-development.

  • Elsewhere in town: Business openings include:

    • At the Longleaf Business Park, Harley Davidson and the state fire marshal’s office;

    • Around the mall, Lowe’s, Chili’s, Hampton Inn and Suites, and Gate Petroleum, with additional construction underway.

    • SR 60 area, three new medical office buildings, and Pizza Hut.

  • The City Commission approval for the conduit financing package allowed the retirement center project supported by area churches to move ahead, after being stalled for years.
  • Airport – Perhaps no other area of the City has changed as dramatically as the airport. In addition to all new buildings on the airport property following the hurricanes, there is a new water system (required for the new buildings), and the City Commission’s purchase of 60+ acres for a future runway expansion project. All of this work was done with insurance proceeds and state grant funds.
The last four years has recorded many outstanding accomplishments - providing a lower tax rate, better services, and preparation for the future.