Local News

County commissioners to debate weighty issues

SEBRING - Commissioners will tackle five of their most perplexing subjects at 9 a.m. Tuesday. The most costly may be how to keep the state from yanking a $3 million grant from Sebring Parkway Phase 3.
On the consent agenda, commissioners will be asked to spend $13,650 and $447,146 for two slivers of a vacant lot and commercial land fronting Yarbrough Tire. That will give County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete enough room to construct a right-turn lane from Sebring Parkway Phase 2 onto Youth Care Lane.
During school hours, Fred Wild Elementary parents fill up a northbound lane while waiting to drop off their children inside the campus's south gate. A fence surrounds the school, so that's the only entry point.
Gavarrete has also asked the Florida Department of Transportation to allow Highlands County to move $3.6 million in funding from Phase 3, which would be used to build the sheriff's office.
That's the second issue: Gavarrete has estimated about $9.1 million will be needed to build a new sheriff's office on Palmetto, about a block south of the current office on Fernleaf.
The third issue is Sebring Parkway Phase 3.
At the meeting, Gavarrete will detail three Parkway Phase 3 options:
Terminate the $3 million grant for Phase 3, which would stretch from the 90-degree turn north of downtown Sebring to South Florida State College, reallocate $3.6 million in county money to build the new sheriff's office, and seek a new grant in later years;
Leave the $3.6 million Parkway Phase 3 funding in place, reallocate $1.1 million from Phase 2 to finish Phase 3, and borrow $1.2 million from the Landfill Closure Fund;
Request that FDOT transfer funding from Phase 3 to Phase 2 during next fiscal year, and reallocate $3.6 million from Phase 3 to the sheriff's office.
Gavarrete received a March 7 letter from Billy Hattaway, FDOT's local district secretary, which said, "The District has no additional County Grant Incentive Program funding in our current FY 2013/2014 through FY 2018/2019 to assist with funding the Sebring Parkway Phase III."
If the county reallocates the $3.6 million currently dedicated to Phase 3, the letter said, FDOT "will need to terminate the existing agreement" for a $3 million grant.
Two other issues: last year, county commissioners unanimously cut funding for the Industrial Development Authority. Executive Director Stephen Weeks will ask the five commissioners to restore $97,582 of the budget, which includes only $30,000 for salaries over the next six months, $22,000 for contractual services, $6,000 for bookkeeping, $3,500 for travel, $3,000 for rent, and $5,000 for promotions.
Code Enforcement Officer April Hartseil will also ask if commissioners want to reduce the amounts owed due to three code violations. In the past, code violations have racked up tens of thousands in fines. In the past, property owners have cleaned up the messes and come before the commission to settle for a few thousand dollars.