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.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

State of the City

Last Friday I was pleased to deliver the “State of the City Annual Report” to over 100 attendees at the January luncheon of the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce. The year 2008 was a banner year of accomplishment for the City. Despite a continuation of new tasks being given to the City by the state, two waves of tax reform that eliminated over $400,000 from the City budget, and fiscal constraints that started in the 2000-2001 fiscal year, a broad spectrum of accomplishments are now in place.

Let’s take a look at just a few of these achievements:

Core Services Improvements
  • Many streets have been resurfaced in the historic area of the City through the CRA bond. The debt service is paid for by CRA funds, of which the County contributes nearly half;

  • Phase One of the downtown water improvement project, providing increased water pressure and flow. One immediate impact of this project came as it enabled the build-out of the Bank of America building and the retention and expansion of a long-time legal firm in town;

  • Several key improvements in fire and police services, including a new fire pumper truck paid for in cash from fire impact fees (the first fire truck bought in cash in 30 years); the new paramedic program; new hand held radios, and the digital finger print system;

  • The start-up of the re-use water system, which takes highly treated wastewater and uses it for irrigation rather than using potable water;

  • The replacement of gas chlorine use at the City’s three water plants with liquid chlorine, a safer technology.
Services to Enhance Recreation and Education
  • Completion of three major recreation facilities: the soccer/multi-purpose complex on Hunt Brothers Road, the skatepark at Kiwanis Park, and the rehabilitated boat ramp with expanded facilities on Lake Wailes, all with grant funding for the capital expenses.
Promoting a Strong Sense of Community
  • Completion of a plan for the area around the Grand Hotel and selection of a developer;

  • City Commission approval of conduit financing for the Water’s Edge Retirement Village on First Street, which enabled the project to move forward.
Promoting a Vibrant Economy
  • The area around the mall has strong commercial development. The new Hampton Inn and Suites opened last year as did the Gates Petroleum gas station;

  • All of the buildings at the Airport have been replaced using insurance money, and the first fire hydrant system has been installed with a new well and storage tank using state grant funds. Without the construction of the fire hydrant system, the airport buildings could not have been replaced;

  • The City’s utility service area significantly expanded in the northeast area through an agreement negotiated with the County;

  • The City Commission approved a Chapter 180 plan to serve the SR 60 West area with utilities in the future:

  • A number of significant commercial/industrial properties, including the Hunt Brothers offices and packing facility, annexed into the City.
Caretakers of the Environment
  • New contract with waste hauler contains recycling incentives;

  • Partial clearing of invasive plants from 2 lake areas.
Looking ahead to next year, here are some of the key areas in which achievement is anticipated:

Core Services
  • Completion of the Southside water tower, which is being constructed near the intersection of Hunt Brothers Road and Scenic Highway. This project is needed for the continued expansion of the Longleaf Business Park and other area developments;

  • Installation of new lighting on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and Lincoln Avenue;

  • Completion of the resurfacing of many alleys using recycled asphalt from the re-surfacing project.
Service to Enhance Recreation and Education
  • Grand Opening of the Polk Community College J.D. Alexander Academic Center in old city hall. This project improves education, brings new business opportunities downtown, and restored an historic city landmark – all in one! The grand opening will be held on Friday, January 30 at 2 pm. Everyone is cordially invited!
Promoting a Vibrant Economy
  • The redevelopment of the Grand Hotel and the Walker Building on Lincoln Avenue are anticipated;

  • Commercial projects scheduled for completion around the mall include Holiday Inn Express, Kohl’s, Walgreen’s, and the Willowbrook Square commercial center.
The entire list of key accomplishments for 2008 and anticipated achievements for 2009 has been added to the City’s website at http://www.cityoflakewales.com/. [See "Annual Report 2008"]

Note: The next Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon will be held on February 20 at the First Baptist Church.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day

Martin Luther King Jr. Day is an official national holiday observed on the third Monday in January. This date is around the time of Dr. King’s birthday, which was January 15. After a lengthy campaign to have the day recognized as a national holiday, the holiday was first observed in 1986. However, some states initially resisted observing the holiday by calling it a different name or combining it with other holidays. It was not until 2006 that all 50 states officially observed the day.

In Lake Wales the day was officially recognized as a holiday by the City Commission at the November 19, 1985 Commission meeting. The first day that it was officially observed was on January 20, 1986.

This year’s celebration of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. holiday will be very special. The event committee has a record seven events planned, and everyone is cordially invited to participate. The events are in a variety of locations and are spread out from Friday, January 16 through Sunday, January 19. Let’s take a look at what the committee has put together for us:

· Friday, January 16, 7 pm - Oratorical Contest/Talent Festival, Allen Temple AME Church, 241 C Street
Any Student from first thru twelfth grade is eligible to participate, and prizes will be awarded. This event is free.

· Saturday, January 17, 8 am - Unity Walk, Kiwanis Park, Lakeshore at Tower Blvd.
This walk will present an opportunity to fellowship with someone you do not know. The starting point of Kiwanis Park was chosen as it is where the black workers at the turpentine still lived in 1911. In 1914 the Wetmore Brothers built the first frame house in the “quarters”, now known as the Northwest area, for Mr. E.C. Stuart’s workers. Walkers will take the trail from Kiwanis Park to Spook Hill Elementary School, and then take the sidewalk on Dr. Joseph Wiltshire Blvd to Stuart Park. This event is free and you may contact Linda Kimbrough to sign up: 679-3896.

· Saturday, January 17, 7 pm - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Lake Wales Country Club Commemorative Celebration, 2925 SR 60 East - Inaugural Ball
This fun filled night will feature food, speakers, and a variety of musical styles. Tickets are $30.00 per person or $250.00 per table. The proceeds will benefit the NAACP Scholarship fund. For tickets or information contact the B Street Center: 679-8091.

· Sunday, January 18, 2009 4 pm, Gospel Fest, Lake Wales Legion Field, Lakeshore Blvd. at North Wales Drive
Choirs, Individuals, Groups, and Praise Dancers will be performing. This event is free. Anyone wishing to perform may contact Minister Daniel Williams 534-7996, Tremayne Thombs 667-8688, Jackie Jackson 521-8508, or Rob Quam 676-6678.

· Monday, January 19, 9 am - Legacy Breakfast, Austin Community Center, 315 Dr. Martin Luther King Blvd.
This event is sponsored by the J.A. Wiltshire Foundation. This will be a momentous event showing how the honorees of this breakfast were inspired by the founding fathers of Lake Wales to become pillars of the Northwest Community. This event is free.

· Monday, January 19, 11 am - Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Austin Community Center, Annual Celebration Program
A number of presentations will be given including Rob Quam’s recitation of the “I Have A Dream” speech. This event is free.

· Monday, January 19, 3:30 pm - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Austin Community Center, Annual Parade
The parade line-up will begin at 2:30 pm and will kick-off at 3:30 pm. The parade route begins at the Austin Center and goes to D Street, and then on to Lincoln Avenue, to A Street, to First Street, to Park Avenue, and back to the Austin Center. The entry fee for the parade is $10.00 and entry forms can be picked up at the B Street Center, or call 679-8091 to request that a form be faxed to you.
I hope that you will attend and participate in one or more of these events!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

LWPD K-9 Unit

At the December 16 City Commission meeting, Commissioners and everyone in the Commission Chambers stood and applauded the fine work done by the K-9 Officers of the Lake Wales Police Department: Officers Albert Coppedge and Dale Hampton. These officers were present with Chief Gillis as the City Commission approved the purchase of a new police dog (with funds from an unexpected FEMA reimbursement). The new dog replaces Canine Zeke, who succumbed to illness and passed away on November 28. The new canine, a German Shepherd named Fly, will partner with Officer Coppedge. Officer Hampton’s canine partner is a Belgian Shepherd named Rico.

These officers and their police dogs provide many valuable services for our town. Let’s explore this interesting aspect of police work: the history of using dogs in law enforcement, the types of dogs used, the training and cost, and their specific assignments.

Internet sites suggest that using dogs in police work grew out of their use in the military, with one site suggesting that this use can be traced as far back as the Roman Empire. In modern times, it is said that police dogs were used in the early 1900’s by the police department in London. The use of dogs by the German military during World War I has also been cited in the story of Rin Tin Tin, the famous German Shepherd that was left behind by retreating German forces. The dog was retrieved by a soldier and eventually transported to Hollywood for a career in the movies.
In the United States, a national organization for the use of police dogs was formed in 1964 and the widespread use of police dogs was realized in the 1970’s.

Types of Dogs Used
The most popular breed for police dogs is the German Shepherd, although there are a number of other breeds used as well – including the Belgian Shepherd (also called the Malinois), Rotweillers, and Doberman Pinchers. Historically, some departments have also used Bloodhounds for tracking suspects, and some airport police departments have used specially trained Beagles.

Training and Cost
Each canine police officer and the police dog must successfully complete in excess of 800 hours of training prior to certification. In addition, each work day the individual canine teams do obedience training, and each month both teams conduct 4 to 8 hours of training together.
An untrained police dog may cost between $2,500-$5,000. A police dog that has already been trained and certified by FDLE may cost between $10,000-$15,000.

In addition to the cost of the dog, a specially outfitted sport utility vehicle – a Ford Expedition – is used for the Lake Wales Police canine units. The special equipment needed for these vehicles costs about $2,500 per vehicle and includes an automated door opening system, a heat monitoring system with an alarm, and an air conditioned kennel. This equipment is in addition to the electronic equipment normally found in police cars, which includes a mobile data computer, a mobile camera video system, police radio, and emergency lighting system.

The vehicles used by the two Lake Wales canine officers are also four wheel drive vehicles, which allow the canine teams to operate in all terrains including agricultural lands and construction sites. During times when one of these vehicles needs servicing, the department keeps a Ford Crown Victoria Police Interceptor fully equipped for canine use as a spare.
The police dogs go home and live with their officer handlers. The Police Department provides funds for a kennel as well as dog food and veterinary visits at a cost of about $1,500 each year for both dogs.

The police dogs used by the Lake Wales Police Department are certified by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) and the National American Police Work Dog Association, in the various areas of law enforcement for which they are used.

Specific Assignments
The two Lake Wales’ police dogs perform many valuable functions in the performance of daily law enforcement duties. Their primary duties are:

· Tracking and apprehending suspects
· Searching buildings for suspects
· Searching for illegal drugs
· Searching for missing persons, including children and the elderly

One case that stands out was the tracking of an armed and dangerous subject by one of our police canines about 18 months ago. Our police dog led our officers to the crawl space beneath a house, where the suspect was found to be hiding. He was successfully apprehended.

Our police dogs and their officers add a very valuable service to the Lake Wales community!