Caloosa Belle

City monitors code enforcement

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City commissioners have been wrestling with finding an adequate way to address issues like barking dogs, noise, livestock and lighting.

They took up the question again at their June 9 meeting, reopening a public hearing on the subject from May.

Answers have been all but impossible to allay difficult concerns about how to monitor, quantify and legally support noise claims.

After a discussion, the board opted to simply add verbage to the existing dog ordinance temporarily and staff will continue to work on difficult outstanding issues like noise. Staff is to bring the issue back for the August meeting.

City Attorney Angela Hill caught the board up on its ongoing code enforcement issues with the LaBelle Trade Center, at the northwest corner of SR 80 and Main Street. For years the city has been unable to force compliance with city codes, with the owner unresponsive to complaints and even citations. Water has been turned off to the building for nonpayment

Ms. Hill said the building is now in foreclosure. Commissioner Julie Wilkins wondered why the city is not pushing forward with code issues at this time. Ms. Hill replied that the foreclosure is the “big gun” now and that she didn’t feel it made sense to spend more time and money on the situation at this time.

She said she expects foreclosure to come in September with a possible sale of the building in the fall.

For years the board has been frustrated with multiple code enforcement issues causing an inability to clean up that corner right in the middle of town.

Attendees at the meeting, members of Boy Scout Troop 514 were applauded after volunteering to pick up trash on the property as a community service until the foreclosure is complete.

RCMA annexation
The RCMA annexation request was read for the first time that evening, with a public hearing anticipated in July. RCMA is asking the city to annex its Cowboy Way facility into the city.

At the same time, the organization is also seeking a Small Scale Comprehensive Plan Amendment from Hendry County residential high density to city outlying mixed use and asking to be rezoned as a Planned Use Development.

LaBelle Fire Department
Fire Chief Josh Rimes reported there were 60 calls for service during a busy May, with a slow brush fire season.

He explained that Hendry County Emergency Management is asking the fire department to provide someone to man the fire service desk at the Emergency Operations Center during an emergency situation.

This person would be receiving information and disseminating it to all emergency personnel working the emergency throughout the county.

Chief Rimes said a retired firefighter would be perfect for the position. The EOC operates in two 12-hour shifts per day during an emergency.

He also reported that seats need to be filled on the fire retirement board. The board includes two firefighters, two members appointed by the city and one appointed by the fire board.

He said he wants to ask Emory Howard, a retired 30-year firefighter who is a non-active member of the fire department, and local financial advisor James Holland.

The board meets quarterly.

Chief Rimes also said he expects to receive word on a USDA grant to expand the fire station. He said firefighters need more room for equipment and a locker room.

HCSO
Lt. Josh Woods reported the sheriff’s office numbers for the month of May, including: personal crime 7; property crime 15 (up from 13) and 5,951 calls for service including traffic stops, 113 arrests, business checks, etc.

ATM
Tim Taylor of Applied Technology and Management reported that new equipment for the water plant would soon be in and should improve the water quality, counteracting the rusting of old pipes.

City workers will continue to flush lines. Mr. Taylor was confident that the water issues should be solved in a few weeks, saying, “We’re almost there.”

In other business
– Commissioner Wilkins passed on citizens’ complaints of blocked culverts and flooding in neighborhoods.

Superintendent of Public Works Michael Boyle said time and funds limit the city’s ability to clean ditches but that they do so when complaints are made.

Commissioner Wilkins said the city needs a “plan of attack” to deal with such problems when they arise.

– Finance Director Ron Zimmerly was pleased that the city got 32 bids on one surplus property – up to $1,700. If this is successful, more surplus property is to go up for bids, turning eyesores into productive properties with paid taxes.

The city’s bid for a CDBG grant for roads was disqualified due to language change in the application, but Mr. Zimmerly hopes the new federal Promise Zone that includes Hendry County could provide funding for roads instead.

– The city received a preliminary letter from the Hendry County Property Appraiser estimating the city’s taxable value at $174 million for 2015-16, up about 1.746 percent.

– The first budget meeting was scheduled for July 14 at 4:30 p.m. before the regular city commission meeting at city hall.

– The board will discuss the proposed increase in recreation assessment at workshop. An additional $25 per unit to resident’s current $100 yearly assessment has been proposed, to be used for general recreation.

If the board opts to increase the assessment, it must be done by July to appear on this year’s tax bill.

– Work on the portion of the city wharf located east of the bridge is to be completed by July 4. Work on the west side of the bridge will commence after July 4.

– Old fashioned lighting fixtures are to be added along the wharf.

– The county is asking the city to work on a countywide ordinance to outlaw puppy mills, limiting dogs to two litters per year and requiring owners to be registered and have inspections.

The next regular meeting of the LaBelle City Commission will be July 14. Meetings begin at 6 p.m. in City Hall after the initial budget meeting.