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.