Local News

Sebring's U.S. 27 boundaries remain uneven

SEBRING - At Boom Boom's Guns and Ammo, Steve Marabel stood Monday in the middle of the store his company owns. "This is the city," he said, while pointing to the east and "This is the county," while pointing to the west. Marabel's situation, while somewhat unusual in having the city/county boundary line going through the interior, is reflective of Sebring's boundary situation along U.S. 27. While the city has annexed land in the south and the north, a large stretch in the middle of those annexations remain in the county.
On the east and west sides of U.S. 27, the city boundaries include most of the businesses from Boom Boom's and Alan Jay Nissan south to the city limits On the east side most of the land between Boom Boom's and the Eye Specialists of Mid-Florida are in the city. Land annexed on the west side to the north includes Wal-Mart and some businesses north of that. Assistant City Manager Bob Hoffman said having gaps in the annexation may cause some confusion. "In an ideal world, it's like a little square," he said. But that doesn't apply to Sebring and the situation is "typical of any city," he added. Hoffman said one factor affecting the whole situation comes from the time when Sebring had a utility commission involved in providing electricity to residents. The commission was so anxious to sell electricity it agreed businesses could receive water service without agreeing to future annexation in return for an agreement to buy electricity, he said. The Lakeshore Mall is an example of a commercial development that receives city water service without an annexation agreement because of that, he said. When the utility commission was eliminated, he said, the city insisted on the annexation agreements, and as a result, some businesses, such as Lowe's and Bob Evans, have agreed to future annexation, he added. Sebring City Councilman John Griffin, whose business, Griffin's Carpet Mart, has the same agreement, said he questions the city annexing businesses that don't seek to be annexed. He said many of the businesses would benefit very little through annexation, but end up paying more taxes. Griffin said his tax bill may increase by $8,000 annually if his property is annexed. When asked if that would hurt his business, he said, "It sure wouldn't help. How would you like to pay an extra $8,000?" Griffin said he agreed to future annexation because Highlands County required him to get a fire hydrant installed. He had to get one through the city, which required the annexation agreement, he added. Hoffman said the city prefers to annex an entire area at once. In the area along U.S. 27 where some businesses have agreed to future annexation, undeveloped property remains, he said. Owners of that property haven't signed any agreement, he said. So the city may wait until owners of all the property have agreed to annexation, he said. "We don't want to create a checkerboard situation," he added. But many of the businesses do not have annexation agreements. At the Village Fountain Shopping Plaza, the oldest part of it is in the city, but other parts remain in the county. Hoffman said the utility commission never required the owners of the plaza to sign an annexation agreement for future additions. Boom Boom's situation may be unique. Marabel said he believes the front parking lot is in the county because the city rules don't allow the existing sign. As to why only part of the building's interior is in the city, he said, he doesn't know. Marabel said the situation has led to confusion. One a Highlands County deputy showed up to a call from the back parking lot, only to find out that was in the city, he said. "I'd prefer it all be in the county," he said. Both Sebring Police Department Cmdr. Steve Carr and Nell Hays, public information officer for the Highlands County Sheriff's Office, say there may be times when a police officer or a deputy respond to a call in the other's jurisdiction, but computer information generally prevents that. When it does occur, they said, it doesn't prevent a big problem. "We work well together," Hays said. jmeisel@highlandstoday.com (863) 386-5834