Caloosa Belle

County sets temporary millage rate

The Hendry County Courthouse (photo courtesy Waddy Thompson)

At the July 12 commission meeting, staff recommended that the millage rate for 2016-17 remain at 8.4909 mills by a 4-1 vote. Commissioner Karson Turner cast the dissenting vote.

The final approval of the millage will be in September, but the rate must be set in time to be included in the TRIM notice that goes out to all taxpayers, notifying them of all proposed taxes for the coming year. The TRIM also includes the dates of public hearings on the proposed millage rates. The rolled back rate (the rate that would bring the same amount of tax dollars as the previous year, would be 8.3090.

The board also voted to switch the September commission meetings to make it easier for constituents to attend the public hearings for Municipal Services Benefits Units (MSBU). The only MSBU tax increase proposed for the coming year is for West Rec. The proposal is to increase that tax by $25 for a total of $125 for each property in the MSBU.

The board had the option of increasing Port LaBelle Utility System assessment rates or holding off till next year. It chose the latter.

Commissioner Darrell Harris asked to switch the regular commission meetings in September so the first meeting (September 8) will be in LaBelle. The idea was to make it closer for West Rec area residents so they can more easily attend the meeting. The West Rec MSBU assessment is the only one that is seeking an increase. The suggestion is to increase the assessment by $25, making it a total of $125.

The board opted to leave assessment rates for the Port LaBelle Solid Waste as they are for this year and possibly increase next year.

The second meeting (September 22) will be in Clewiston. Both will be heard at 5:30 p.m. At that meeting the final budget, including millage, will be set. The millage rate may be lowered at the public hearings in September, but cannot be increased now that it’s set.

As of June 1, the county’s taxable value was estimated at $1,837,348,687, an increase of 1.10 percent. Of that, new taxable value, including new construction, is $5,771,902.

Priorities for the commission this coming year include: balancing the budget with as little impact to the taxpayer as possible; giving a cost of living adjustment to all employees; beginning the process of upgrading/replacing the jail; continuing to update the ambulance fleet and regular vehicle fleet; rebuilding the generally unrestricted reserves; funding a road resurfacing improvement plan and repairing and maintaining county facilities.

Measures taken over the past fiscal years to keep spending under control include: a hiring suspension unless a position is justified by revenue generated and public demand; removal of funding from all vacant positions that are not required; utilization of Solid Waste MSBU Reserve Funds; and continuing to identify properties for sale to private parties’

Cost controls out of local control include Medicaid and health insurance.

Amendment 4
At the suggestion of Commissioner Karson Turner, the board voted to change the wording of Amendment 4 on the straw ballot that will be presented to voters at the August 30 Primary. A straw ballot is not binding; it is only intended to provide some insight for the commissioners into whether voters would prefer to continue to elect each commissioner in their own district, as is currently done, or to return to an at-large system where all voters in the county would vote on all five commission seats.

He said he felt the wording of the amendment was not clear enough and wanted to make sure voters understand what they are voting for or against. The new wording for the ballot will be:

NON-BINDING STRAW BALLOT QUESTION ON WHETHER HENDRY COUNTY COMMISSIONERS SHOULD BE ELECTED AT-LARGE

Would you support a proposition on a future ballot to provide that the five members of the board of county commissioners of Hendry County, Florida, shall be elected to office by all electors within the county, instead of by the electors within the district where the candidate resides as is currently done?

PREGUNTA DE LA BOLETA NO VINCULANTE SI LOS COMISIONADOS DEL CONDADO DE HENDRY DEBIERA SER ELEGIDOS POR TODOS LOS ELECTORES
Apoyaria usted una propuesta en una boleta futura para disponer que los cinco miembros de la Junta del condado de Hendry, Florida, seran elegidos a la oficina por todos los electores dentro del Condado, en lugar de los electores dentro el distrito donde reside el candidate como se hace actualmente?
_____ Yes/Si
_____ No/No
Water issues
Commissioner Turner said he’s excited that Hendry County is finally at the table with other counties in the Lake Okeechobee Coalition. He defended the work done over previous years to clean up water from Lake Okeechobee and area agriculture.

Chairman Swindle noted that we will never be without water issues but must “engage smartly,” adding, “They’d rather us be gone” referring to outside counties and environmentalists who blame the area for algae blooms at coastal areas.

In other business:
– A public hearing was set for the August 9 meeting to streamline the policy of naming public buildings.

– Margaret Emblidge, Director of Planning and Community Development, received the okay from the board to expedite permitting of a house at 1100 Harlem Academy Ave., which was partially demolished in error by All Florida Mechanical Solutions.

– Commissioner Turner asked staff to see if the county could get CenturyLink on board to provide WiFi for Pioneer Plantation Community Center.

– Commissioner Harris congratulated County Attorney Mark Lap on the job he did during the recent monkey trial in which Judge Sloan decided the county did not violate the Sunshine Law. Mr. Lapp shared the credit with a number of others saying, “It was not a solo job.”
– Judith McClure was approved to replace Warren Grant on Port LaBelle Utility advisory Board.