Local News

Projects piling up

SEBRING - Frustrated county commissioners complained two weeks ago about issues that took too long to resolve, at Tuesday's meeting county administrator June Fisher produced a list of 83 projects she and other Highlands County staffers are working on.

Fisher started with recycling because commissioners groused after that item was pulled in February. "Your staff and your county attorney have identified some areas that we're working on."

For three years, County Engineer Ramon Gavarrete has been trying to line up a company to pick up and recycle glass, plastic, metal and paper.

"Your animal control ordinance, we have met on that," Fisher continued. After she receives an amended animal control ordinance from County Attorney Ross Macbeth, "we will call another meeting of the (animal control) committee, and then it will come back to this board."

Early in 2012, although then-County Administrator Rick Helms advised against it, commissioners appointed a citizen's animal control committee to resolve problems with the animal control shelter. The issues involved euthanasia schedules, living conditions for impounded pets, rabies tags and fees, and the use of volunteers.

"I thought it died," Brooks laughed about the proposed ordinance two weeks ago.

Three commissioners were even more annoyed that Fisher removed the recycling issue from the agenda two weeks ago.

"Ms. Fisher," Chairman Greg Harris said two weeks ago, 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?'"

"Let me get back to recycling," Harris said Tuesday. "It was my understanding that Ross Macbeth was going to issue a contract, and then the county and Progressive (formerly Choice Environmental, which collects curbside garbage) were going to get together and work through that."

"I provided a contract to staff," Macbeth said. "We met last week to go through it. There are some parts I am less familiar with."

Gavarrete and other county staff members would draft those technical issues, Macbeth said. "When that's completed, then yes, the plan is to meet with Progressive."

"Okay, so it's in whose court now?" Harris pressed.

"Staff is working on contract provisions," Macbeth said.

"So, if they finish when you're still hiking, can we get a copy to you?" Harris joked. Macbeth had planned a vacation after the meeting.

"Let's streamline this if we can," Harris encouraged. "Obviously, we're not going to hit a March or May deadline or goals."

"Absolutely," Fisher assured him. "We will work very quickly on this. Ramon has already set up a meeting with other staff members to gather some of the information we are going to need."

"I was thinking we'd have four or five items," Harris looked over all three pages. "Sometimes, you have to be careful what you ask for. That's quite a list, thank you."

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

Two weeks ago, when Jeri Canale said at a meeting that she didn't want to lease a former clay mine and BMX bike track in Avon Park for rifle and archery range, she was annoyed because commissioners first asked for proposals from others, then opened the lease for bids.

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

"Nothing happens fast before the county commission," County Commissioner Jim Brooks said.

Fisher's list said the request for clay pit proposals is still "under development."

"I get frustrated with how long it takes to get things done," Brooks said, and cited delays as one reason why he wanted an in-house attorney instead of a part-time contract with Macbeth.

Six of the 83 items are "pending legal," according to Fisher's list.

Commissioners voted two weeks ago to explore hiring an in-house attorney. Fisher's list said that item was scheduled for a March 4 followup workshop, meaning she has not acted more recently.

Fisher's list didn't include Swamp Hammock. In October 2011, project administrator Jeff Kennedy and Gabe White proposed an entertainment 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 two weeks ago. 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," Kennedy said two weeks ago.

A Lake Jackson hydrology study is another item on the list. More than two years ago, when the lake was down several inches due to a six-year drought, County Lakes Manager Clell Ford asked Southwest Florida Water Management District to assess where the water was going. In the meantime, one wet year refilled the lake without county or water district intervention.

The study could cost $3-4 million, and the result might be putting in a control structure that will raise the level only 3-4 inches in dry years, Ford said Wednesday.

Other items on Fisher's list include the county's paid time off policy; which county departments could be privatized; a map of illegal dump locations, which the road and bridge department is coordinating with fire administration; construction at the Kenilworth building, which is pending action on the law enforcement building; and remodeling at the supervisor of elections' office, which is complete except for security hardware.