By Marc Crail District 4 City Council member City Council held an afternoon Work Session which included discussions on several items. No Resolutions or Ordinances are voted on during Work Sessions so I'll concentrate on telling you about some of the more important items on our Regular Meeting Agenda which was jam packed. Please keep in mind that I am providing you with my own impressions of this meeting. I'm not speaking in any official capacity for Mount Dora City Council.
If you've gone by Gilbert Park this week you've probably noticed that the outdated and unsafe 28 year old wooden play structure on the south side of the park has been demolished and the site is being prepared for the installation of a cool new Intrepid Pirate Ship, a Jungle Dome climbing activity structure, a Spinner Plate, Double Balance Beam, Swings and Stilts. Despite what you might have heard or read elsewhere rest assured that this play area for kids aged 5-12 meets or exceeds all ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) standards so that children with a wide variety of disabilities can enjoy and participate in the activities and fun there. The new playground should be ready for kids of all ages in about a month.
Three Resolutions were finalized completing the months long budget building process. The millage rate will remain the unchanged at 6.3 mills for 2018-19. The city will collect an extra $400,000.+ due to increased property values. The final 2018-19 budget was approved as was the Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan. The capital or building projects in the next year will feature the replacement of our public works building and storage facility that will cost about $12 million but is sorely needed.?
For the majority of Mount Dora residents and businesses who are served my Mount Dora Electric (not those of us get our electricity from either SECO or Duke Energy) will see a decrease in their monthly electric bills next month. Due to lower fuel costs their bills will go down by 2.2% or about $2.55 per month.
You might have read or heard about a proposal before the Lake County Commissioners to accept a bronze statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith which would be housed in Tavares in a County owned facility. Smith was born in St. Augustine and lived out his later life in Tennessee. He had nothing to do with Lake County and in my estimation Lake County should not under any circumstances accept this monument to a man who was a traitor to the United States and a supporter of slavery. The consensus of the council and those in the audience who spoke was that a resolution to that affect should be drafted and passed at our next meeting on October 4. The Lake County Commissioners will make the ultimate decision but Mount Dora will very likely join several other cities voicing our opposition. Housing General Smith's statue in Lake County would be a huge mistake and a step back to the bad old days.
I appreciate your interest in your City government.
What do you think of this Tibetan Proverb? "The secret to living well and longer is: eat half, walk double, laugh triple and love without measure."
Mount Dora drivers will experience delays this Monday and Tuesday nights, September 24 and 25, at the intersection of S.R. 46 and U.S. 441.
Single lane closures are scheduled from 7:00 p.m. to 5:00 a.m. to allow crews to construct a northbound U.S. 441 left turn lane and add a left turn arrow to the traffic signal at the intersection. Electronic message boards and detour signs will be posted to alert drivers. Flaggers will be present. Bad weather or other unforeseen circumstances could delay or prolong work.
Work on this section is scheduled to finish in spring of 2020. This 3-mile stretch of non-tolled road improvements includes widening S.R. 46 and U.S. 441 to six lanes, sidewalks and other pedestrian improvements, and building a flyover ramp for the heavy traffic that will be trying to get to the parkway.
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From left: Donnie Stroud, Kate Bellamy and Crissy Stile. (Photo by Mount Dora Buzz)
What's the best way to find out what candidates really think? Pull out all the safety nets.
That's exactly what happened when Mount Dora Buzz recently gathered all three Mount Dora City Council candidates together. To help voters make the most informed decision, the candidates were required to leave their cell phones and campaign surrogates behind. The goal was to ensure the written answers would be their own. The questions were unknown to the candidates in advance and everyone had one hour to write and proofread their answers.
On November 6, Mount Dora residents will cast their votes to fill the at-large city council seat. The three candidates vying to serve the entire city are Kate Bellamy, a small business owner; Crissy Stile, a small business owner; and Donnie Stroud, a retiree. Below are their unedited answers published in their entirety and in alphabetical order by candidates' last names.
QUESTION: As Mount Dora continues to grow with new residential and business development, what should the city do to ensure responsible growth?
BELLAMY: I think that with growth in a city things need to be planned carefully. We must provide adequate parking and safe roadways. It is important to have a solid plans and a vision for what the future will bring. STILE: Our city has already experienced significant growth. To ensure responsible growth we have got to budget necessary funds to upgrade our emergency services. Our fire department's response time is currently twice what it should be. Our police department reports twice as many traffic stops in 2017 as it did just four years ago. It is vital that our public safety has an opportunity to catch up with the growth of our city.
STROUD: Strictly follow and enforce our zoning and building codes, but be a city that works with developers, not against them. Developers like to work with cities that consistently follow and enforce “the rules.”
2. BIKE TRAIL
Above: The Tremain railroad trestle is planned to be modified and preserved as part of the Wekiva Trail.
QUESTION:In order for Mount Dora to be connected to the Wekiva Trail, the vast bicycle and pedestrian trail that connects to Florida's Coast-to-Coast Trail, the city has to pay $1 million dollars to fund its share of the project. Do you support this? Please briefly explain.
BELLAMY: I think that being a part of the Wekiva Trail is extremely important for Mount Dora. The exposure and the opportunities that the trail can bring to Mount Dora could be amazing.
STILE: Over the past 3.5 months I have knocked on over 1800 doors throughout the city. Our residents are excited about the Wekiva Trail. This 15-mile trail will connect Mount Dora to over 200 miles of Central Florida's most beautiful assets: parks, lakes, wildlife and all of nature. This is a must as far as planning goes. STROUD: I do. $1 million will be a good long-term investment to a do [sic] Mount Dora to Central Florida’s growing bike trails. It will not only open Mount Dora up to more bike riders, but will also benefit our own citizens. I’m for it.
3. DOWNTOWN RECYCLING
QUESTION: Downtown Mount Dora currently doesn’t have an adequate recycling program for businesses. Do you believe improving this should be a priority? Please briefly explain.
BELLAMY: Yes, we have to start recycling for tomorrow. This is a huge part of my platform. Downtown produces an unbelievable amount of recyclable materials. There is enough money and recycling to support a program. It is time to be responsible and do the right thing.
STILE: Particularly as a downtown business owner (bookstore on Fourth), I am embarrassed that we do not recycle. With permission from our city manager, I was given the opportunity to meet with every department head. I have spoken at length with our public works director regarding recycling. I understand trying to get people to deposit recyclable materials in the proper receptacle on street is nearly impossible. However, there is no reason our downtown shops and restaurants should not be recycling all of our cardboard, glass, plastic, packaging materials, etc. I will work to bring recycling to Mount Dora when I am on council. STROUD: Nothing is as ugly as a landfill. You can spot easily. I support recycling not only for the downtown, but all of Mount Dora. Both as a community and as a nation, we need to step up our recycling effort.
4. NORTHEAST NEIGHBORHOOD
QUESTION:What do you feel is the biggest issue or issues facing Mount Dora’s East Town neighborhood? What could the City do to help?
BELLAMY: The northeast side of town needs their own representation. In order to restore their part of town, they need a voice. A voice from someone who lives there and cares about their needs.
STILE: In my department head meeting, I specifically asked what is being done to improve the Northeast. This area of town is blighted and our Northeast residents deserve better. The City needs to capitalize on the rich history in the Northeast. The number one way to make the most effective improvement to the Northeast is to listen to the residents. Let’s hear what they want, what they need.
STROUD: The city has established a Northeast Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) to address this issue. They have the ability to request funding from the city council for streetscape, sidewalk, roadway, drainage, building renovation, and more. I would like to see the CRA look at improving First Avenue as it will become the new front door to Mount Dora.
5. fire assessment fee:
QUESTION: Do you support a flat fee for each home or one that is based on a home's square footage? Or do you have a different idea?
BELLAMY: I support a flat fee. A standardized fee seems like the fairest way to go.
STILE: At the all-day budget workshop in July, which I was the only candidate in attendance, the idea of a fire assessment fee based on square footage was presented by a council member. Our Deputy Fire Chief had a great response to this proposal. First of all, whether you live in a 900 square-foot home, a 5000 square-foot mansion or a high-rise condo you get the same emergency response. Secondly, our fire response also includes EMS. In a meeting I had with our city manager, I was excited to learn that all future first responders are required to be trained paramedics. The size of your home doesn’t matter when you’re having a heart attack.
STROUD: I am against assessment fees. They are just another form of taxes. Assessment fees are per home not based on value. So a mansion pays the same fee as a modest home. Fire department should be funded like almost all other city services-out of general funds.
6. DOWNTOWN PARKING
QUESTION: The city is in the process of acquiring land to add public parking lot in downtown Mount Dora. Do you believe the added surface parking lots will provide adequate additional parking? If not, what do you support to increase it?
BELLAMY: No, the surface lots are just a Band-Aid. In the future we are going to need much more parking. We are growing and it’s going to take a parking garage to solve this problem. I think we need to look at building a garage at the old Post Office. STILE: We have adequate surface lots. Currently, the lot on Third Avenue between Baker and Tremain is rarely used. We also have permission from the Methodist church to use their lot (except Sundays). Both of these lots are within two blocks of downtown. Building a parking garage at the current Post Office site would be a great solution to our parking problem once we fully utilized our surface lots.
STROUD: I support multiple surface lots scattered around the city. Residents want to park near where they shop. Multiple surface lots are the next best thing to more street parking.
7. INNOVATION DISTRICT
QUESTION: What would you like to see developed at the planned Innovation District around Wolf Branch Road?
BELLAMY: I would like to see an area full of high tech businesses. Perhaps a satellite college facility from UCF. I also believe we need to make sure that we provide affordable housing for the workers that will be there.
STILE: It makes sense to develop the Innovation District commercially. Warehouse and industrial is what the city is targeting. In an effort to maintain our city’s growth and keep the Innovation District inclusive, I’d like to see walking paths, the amphitheater so many have talked about [sic]. We could have a theater under the stars. I just don’t want to see the new district created to be “separate“ from the rest of our city. I’d like all of our neighborhoods and districts to make Mount Dora whole. STROUD: I would like to see businesses that will make a long-term investment in Mount Dora by buying land, erecting buildings, installing equipment, and hiring employees. I think the Innovation District would be a good location for a major hospital. The hospital would spin off other health-related businesses and medical office buildings. I think the area could also support manufacturing due to the new road network.
8. CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS
Above: The current state of part of the City's Public Works building.
QUESTION: Capital improvement projects take significant planning and funding. What are your top three priorities for near-term (two years) capital improvement projects and what are your three priorities for long-term (five years) projects? Please list.
BELLAMY: I honestly want to do some more research on this topic before I give my final answer.
STILE: Near term:
Three fully operable fire stations
Parking garage (7th Ave. and Donnelly St.)
Public Works building
Finish downtown streetscape
Develop further the Innovation District
Wekiva Trail to connect us to the C2C (coast-to-coast trail).
STROUD: The City is about to embark on a five-year capital improvement plan that could exceed $170 million. We need to spend on what we need, not what we want. My top three priorities for two years is [sic] as follows:
Build the cities third fire station
Rehab the Public Works complex
Continue expanding surface parking lot by building the lot at third Avenue and Baker Street.
For five years:
Complete the purchase of the post office
Connect to the Wekiva Trail
Improve our road maintenance
9. ENTERTAINMENT DISTRICT
QUESTION: A downtown “entertainment district“ is currently being considered by the Mount Dora City Council. The district would enable people of legal drinking age to purchase alcoholic beverages at licensed downtown establishments and carry within the defined district. Do you support this? Please explain.
BELLAMY: Absolutely! An entertainment district would add to the downtown experience. Couples could walk to the lake with a glass of wine and watch the sunset. So many guests I have spoken to really want this to happen. I think we should give it a try.
STILE: The residents I’ve spoken to are very excited about a downtown entertainment district. While I am not opposed to the idea, I don’t see it adding any value to our town.
STROUD: I am against the so-called entertainment district, because I am against open-container drinking downtown. Open-container drinking does not fit Mount Dora‘s reputation as a family values community. Just because Eustis and Tavares does it, doesn’t mean that Mount Dora should do it. We are “someplace special.”
10. PINEAPPLE POINT
ABOVE: Elizabeth Evans Park which is adjacent to Pineapple Point.
QUESTION: Understanding this is privately-owned property, what should the key considerations be for developing Pineapple Point, the lakefront land between Lakeside Inn and Evans Park downtown?
BELLAMY: I think we just need to make sure that area is not spoiled with high-rise businesses that don’t fit into the footprint of Mount Dora. I hope the development will support our small-town charm and ambience. STILE: I am in favor of working with property owners and business owners to develop our waterfront. I believe Pineapple Point is a prime location for an open-air market, open seven days a week. Another idea is an all-glass waterfront dining establishment. I would also like to see a nature excursion type operation, i.e. - canoe/kayak rentals, etc. I would not be in support of development that blocks our waterfront.
STROUD: We must respect the rights of the property owners to develop as he wants, as long as City zoning and building codes are followed. Personally if developed, I would hope that the owner and city could work together to install a public boardwalk for all to enjoy. This could be a good public–private partnership opportunity should both the owner and City agree.
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I've selected several of the items from our Mount Dora City Council meeting held Thursday evening 9/13 that I thought you would want to hear about. Regular readers know my often repeated admonition that I am just one of seven City Council members so what follows are my thoughts which don't necessarily represent City Council as a whole.
The most significant decision to come out of our meeting was to establish our new Fire Assessment Fee at $219 for residences. This is up from $50 Fire Assessment Fee we've had over the past 3 years. The money collected from the soon to sunset $50 fee has been earmarked for the lease/purchase of 2 new fire trucks. Those new trucks have been in service now for about a year and they replaced 2 old vehicles which were outdated and costly to maintain. The $219 annual fire fee will be used to build 3 new fire stations over the next few years. Our fire and EMS response times are more than double the national response times recommended to keep our residents and our homes safe. Our response times are getting worse due to higher traffic volumes and the poor location of our 2 fire stations currently in operation. This is a big increase but public safety is our top priority and after a year of study and ongoing discussion this difficult decision had to be made. The vote was 6-1. For comparison Fire Assessment Fees in some nearby locations are Tavares $142, Lake County $193, Osceola $212 and Fruitland Park $213.
Another fire related resolution was the acceptance of a $1.29 million S.A.F.E.R. (Staffing for Adequate Fire & Emergency Response) Grant which will help cover the cost of additional fire fighters and EMS personnel. This grant was provided by the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security. That is good news.
We approved the purchase of property located at the corner of N. Baker and E. 3rd. Ave. which will become a surface parking lot for about 60 cars and will have restrooms for downtown visitors. This is one step in the quest for more convenient downtown parking. The cost of this property is $795,000. Community Redevelopment funds and Discretionary Sales Tax Funds will be used to pay for this purchase.
The lengthy project to rebuild the cul-de-sac on Magnolia Ending (Dogwood Mountain) that was severely damaged during Hurricane Irma is finally nearing completion. The estimated road and drainage completion date is the end of October. FEMA funding should eventually help pay for the lions share of this work.
I'd like to share a quote from Booker T. Washington who said; "A lie doesn't become truth, wrong doesn't become right, and evil doesn't become good just because it's accepted by a majority."
Thank you for allowing me to serve as one of your representative on City Council. Tonight was an example of how tough some decisions are to make. Trying always to make the best use of tax dollars while providing for the safety of our residents is a balancing act.
Dr. Marc Crail District 4 City Council Rep.
For more news and events in Mount Dora, Tavares & Eustis, click here. To get the area's top stories in your inbox once a month, sign up for the free monthly issue of Mount Dora Buzz here.