Winter Haven Commissioners to Discuss Financing, Rec Plans

The commission will meet for its bimonthly workshop this morning.


Published: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 11:55 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 4, 2012 at 11:55 p.m.

WINTER HAVEN | City commissioners today will discuss big proposals and possibly major changes for the city that could result in significant changes in city services and an effort to increase the tax base.

The discussion will include a plan to take on millions in debt to invest in capital projects like a new city hall, a possible partnership between the city and the YMCA to operate the city's recreation center, privatizing trash pickup or reducing pick-up days, and a plan to lure Legoland into the city limits.

The topics will be discussed at today's bimonthly commission workshop at 9 a.m. in City Hall. The meeting is expected to last about three hours.

CAPITAL FINANCING

A staff proposal to take on more debt for capital improvement projects was first discussed in the last bimonthly commission workshop Jan. 18, when a city memo to commissioners included a list of possible projects totaling $20.1 million.

They include:

Building a new city hall at an estimated $7 million.

Tennis court replacement at an estimated cost of $2.5 million.

South Central Park renovations at an estimated $4.5 million.

But when commissioners officially instructed staff to seek more information at a subsequent commission meeting — commissioners cannot vote on items in workshops — it was made clear that the list was not final, and the list could look much different at the meeting.

The proposed $20.1 million first discussed was in addition to $9 million the city already plans to borrow to pay for the replacement of city facilities at the Chain of Lakes Complex.

City staff members have said now is the time to strike because interest rates are at an all-time low. But City Finance Director Cal Bowen warned the plan could lead to higher property taxes in the city if the economy continues slow growth over the next decade.

YMCA AT THE CITY REC

Just what a recreation center operated by a YMCA/city partnership will look like — whether there will be monthly memberships or standard user fees like the city already charges — will ultimately be decided by commissioners.

Community Services Director T. Michael Stavres has said the city would likely model the partnership off of an agreement reached for a recreation center in Morgan Hill, Calif.

There, the YMCA supplements city services with its own, according to Morgan Hill city officials.

But some city critics have expressed concern that the city might give up control of its recreation center in the deal.

PRIVATE PICK-UP

Commissioner Steven Hunnicutt first proposed the idea to look into privatizing the city's garbage pickup service or moving to a once-per-week pick-up schedule at the Feb. 13 commission meeting.

Other commissioners expressed concerns that privatizing the service could lead to layoffs, but a majority of the commission thought it was worth doing some "comparison shopping."

The city's solid waste department currently employs 25 people, according to city spokeswoman Joy Townsend.

LURING LEGOLAND

The idea to bring Legoland Florida into the city limits — it sits just outside the city line in unincorporated Polk County but gets utility services from the city — was proposed by Commissioner Pete Chichetto during his campaign to become a commissioner.

Bringing the park into the city limits could increase tax revenue, Chichetto said, but what it would take to bring Legoland Florida into the city limits is unclear.

Legoland already has an incentive package worth up to $5 million over 10 years from the county.

[ Ryan Little can be reached at ryan.little@theledger.com or 863-401-6962. ]

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