Local News

Commissioners weary of long-term issues

SEBRING - If you think Highlands County takes too long to resolve issues, a majority commissioners actually agree.

"Nothing happens fast before the county commission," County Commissioner Jim Brooks told Jeri Canale on Tuesday.

Canale, a commissioner herself in the 1990s, had suggested five weeks ago that a gun and archery club be allowed to lease a mined-out Avon Park clay pit. Commissioners agreed an outdoor shooting range was a good idea, but asked for letters from others with an interest. When another gun-and-arrow club answered as well, the board decided on Tuesday to ask for bids.

"I give up," Canale said. "I'm just not going to do it, I don't have the time."

Three commissioners were even more annoyed.

The meeting began with County Administrator June Fisher cancelling the discussion on recycling, which commissioners have been discussing for three years, when they implemented a comprehensive curbside recycling program.

In October 2011, the board unanimously approved a request for companies to submit proposals to pick up and sort recycled glass, plastic, cans, paper and cardboard. However, no bids were received, and County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete has been trying to arrange a curbside program ever since.

"We met with Progressive," Gavarrete said on Friday. "The board attorney has had that contract. The staff is supposed to be recommending a choice next week. It's not something I can control."

"I get frustrated with how long it takes to get things done," Brooks said Tuesday. "Having an in-house attorney down the hall from staff would eliminate some of that."

Without a vote on Tuesday, commissioners suggested moving away from contracting for legal services with Ross Macbeth and hiring a full-time county attorney.

"The recycling thing," Brooks said later in the meeting. "We thought that was being taken care of."

"And Ms. Fisher," Chairman Greg Harris said, referring to the county administrator's bi-weekly report to commissioners, "I think you ought to have recycling on your report every single time, every week, until recycling is done. We ought to have the Parkway. I don't care if it's a list that says we're still working on it, still working on it, still working on it. We're going to eventually get tired of seeing it and say, 'Where is it?'"

Three weeks ago, the commissioners voted to build a new sheriff's office, contingent on whether Florida Department of Transportation will allow the transfer of $3 million from Sebring Parkway Phase 3 into Phase 2. Phase 3 would extend the road from downtown Sebring to South Florida State College.

Construction would begin on Phase 2 in 2017, Gavarrete said Friday.

"You know, the animal control ordinance," Harris continued addressing Fisher. "That can be on that list because it still hasn't come to us."

"I thought it died," Brook laughed.

After working more than a year on a proposed ordinance to control feral cats and holding times at Highlands County Animal Control before dogs and cats are euthanized, then-commission Chair Jack Richie appointed a committee of veterinarians to study the same issues. Vets met several times in 2013 and proposed ordinances, but nothing happened, said Judy Spiegel, who also chaired the original animal control committee.

"We put a whole bunch of stuff together," Spiegel said in July 2013. "We were supposed to be notified when to go before the commission, but it's been a long time since the last meeting - several months."

That ordinance is also reportedly sitting on Macbeth's desk.

And then there's Swamp Hammock. In October 2011, project administrator Jeff Kennedy and Gabe White proposed a park on the county's western border that would have mud bogging and several dozen other activities. It was opposed by neighbors, and has been stuck ever since.

"We've made an application for a temporary use permit," Kennedy said Friday. That was suggested in March 2013, after a request to rezone a ranch housing development was denied. "We're still working with the county zoning office."

"We've had meetings with staff and several of the commissioners last week. We will meet with the opposition shortly, then we'll be meeting with commissioners and the county attorney."

A commission meeting may not be necessary, Kennedy said.

Will Swamp Hammock schedule a mud bogging event this year?

"We're hoping to, yeah," Kennedy said, but he didn't sound hopeful.

On Friday, Public Information Officer Gloria Rybinski said none of the issues have been scheduled yet for future county commission meetings.

"We're growing weary, I think, in government, of things taking so long," Commissioner Don Elwell said. "I kinda blame us a little bit for that."

Commissioners should set priorities for the county attorney and staff, Harris and Richie advocated, but Richie and Commissioner Ron Handley were leary.

"That's the purview of the county administrator," Richie said. "Sometimes, I think we put things to the front that should stand back. I think sometimes she would prefer to have that responsibility. "

And what happens, Handley warned, when one commissioner thinks one issue ought to be a priority and others don't?