Saturday, June 12, 2004

LaBelle Talks Expanded Water District

by Donna Storter
LABELLE, FL. -- At Thursday's public meeting, the LaBelle City Council
discussed a water and waste water service distict ordinance that
establishes an expanded zone of influence allowing the cityh to control
utility expansion outside the incorporated city limits up to a radius of
five miles.
LaBelle resident (and former County Commissioner) Cecil Akin voiced
objection to the City taking on utility services five miles away when they
have not provided full utility service for all citizens within the
existing city limits in LaBelle including his funeral home business on
East Hicpoochee Ave. Mayor Craichy stated the lines were not being
forced in on anyone, the ordinance was putting in place provision for
future development. Lyoid Fussell, resident of Hendry County on Case
Road, south of the city limits of LaBelle, expressed concern that most of
the residents in his area would not be able to afford the assessment to
tie in.
Steve Ramunni, assistant to Hendry County's attorney, stated that it
seemed legally premature for LaBelle to take this action as Hendry County
is working on a comp plan amendment that includes the areas designated in
this ordinance, and mentioned there was a possibility of overlapping
areas. Hendry County Commissioner Darrel Harris admonished the
Council that in remembrance of the LaBelle/County problem when LaBelle
annexed the Paul property, he felt the County should have been included in
the planning and discussion of the ordinance, and further stated it was a
break down in communication. He questioned the boundary extending five
miles, and he questioned would the ordinance make usage of LaBelle
utilities within the five mile area mandatory, or just available.
Mayor Craichy stated the ordinance was part of the City's planning process
and that consideration was given to the County's utility plant in Port
LaBelle with it's capability for expansion to serve areas south of Port
LaBelle, and further stated that the City planning meetings were well
advertised and the County did not participate prior to the adoption of the
Bobbie LaBelleine, resident of Hendry County on Evans Road, south of
limits of LaBelle, stated she would not be able to use LaBelle's water as
it is not drinkable now, that even the council meeting was providing
bottled water at the back table. Mayor Craichy first explained bottled
water on the refreshment table was for convenience, not because LaBelle
water was not safe to drink. She explained the LaBelle has been in the
utility business since the 1920s, and in anticipation of the rapidly
approaching phenomenal growth, LaBelle chose this exercise in planning for
the future not aiming at residents on septic tanks with water wells, nor
attempting to force anyone onto the system. The city's attorney said
that it would not be cost effective to run pipes to existing residences
five miles away. The provision was to capture all in the area as regard
to eventual development, so that utility construction and management would
not be dependent upon private developers but control by government
entity. He stated that communication with the County should have
happened, but was not required in accordance with the Florida Statutes.
He stated that the ordinance is legal and proper. Councilman Puletti
questioned why not rescind, confer with the County, then perhaps reach an
agreeable boundary of three miles from the west limits of LaBelle. The
city attorney stated it is common to do inter-local agreements to define
"territory" of service which could be done now without going to the
trouble of rescinding the ordinance, then starting the process again to
adopt. Puletti stated that the dialogue with the County did not
happen, and the LaBelle council voted without knowing of County's
objection to the designated areas of service , until after adoption and
publication. The attorney elaborated that municipalities cannot (by
this ordinance) claim territory and not provide service; he stated cities
have an advantage over private utility providers in that loans are
available with tax-exempt interest, cities don't pay income tax or ad
valorem tax, and have no investors waiting for dividends; cities have
capital available at lower rates thru RUD with interest 3% under
prevailing bond rates which are now 4.9%, thus the city could borrow at
less than 2%. Should the City be unable to provide the services, it would
have to grant the right to developers to go elsewhere for service
Cecil Akin urged rescission, allowing it to go back to discussion between
the City and County. Utility Director Boyle stated a new plant with
more customers would lower rates. Hendry County Commissioner McCarthy
stated that utility services five miles out from city limits should
involve the County, should be a regional plant. He objected to LaBelle
taking the first five miles from city limits, leaving the further three
miles (to Lee County line) for the County. The attorney reminded that
inter-local agreements could be implemented for feasibility. McCarthy
stated that this (the ordinance) was taxation without representation,
and that if utilities outside limits of LaBelle are affected, then a
lawsuit would be following. Florida law allows municipalities to assess
20% surcharge for out of city utilities.
Mayor Craichy injected that LaBelle in trying to plan for future can
legally do what the ordinance provides, that the intent is to have
government control of water and sewer services, that the city has
drawn a footprint of boundary areas, and the County can state what they
want, reminding them the Port LaBelle utility has to run lines to Goodno,
and if private land developers get utility control then the City would end
up like the County did taking on the Port LaBelle district. She stated
that after months of planning meetings that were advertised, she would not
vote for rescinding the ordinance now. McCarthy stated this was
legislation now, not planning, and that the ordinance would have to be
changed to change the boundaries.
Akin again requested the council to rescind the ordinance and then discuss
with County before re-adopting, stating that without the dialogue there
will be lawsuits. Ramunni stated that legal specialists in Tallahassee
have give exact opposite interpretation of the Chapter 180 rules, that
the City had ignored "special acts". He said to avoid lawsuit with the
County, the ordinance should be rescinded and a time frame set for
dialogue with the County. Mayor Craichy interjected that LaBelle is
already providing utility services outside city limits on Cowboy Way,
Parkwood Estates, and Fort Denaud Road, with no record of inter-local
agreements found. She asked counsel for input. Attorney Luckey
suggested Counsel for City and County set up 30-day workshop and while
doing so could prepare set-aside waiver that would not prejudice the
County, and if after 30 days there is an impasse, then the ordinance would
stand as adopted, subject to lawsuit then. He recommended advertising in
all three local papers. The council voted unanimously to take this
In other matters, the Council granted special exception request of Louise
Kennington for setback variance to allow compliance with City's tree
ordinance. Council granted special exception request of Jennifer Sabella
to operate a coffee shop business on Fort Thompson Avenue without
requiring 1 parking space per hundred square feet of office, citing
availability of 17 parallel parking spaces using both sides of Fort
Thompson. Council granted special exception request of Lyoid Fussell to
allow marine equipment fabrication business in his building on JayCee
Lions Drive with the condition that no boat storage would be allowed on
the property beyond one day required for installation of parts.
Council received no objection in final public hearing to adopt Historic
Preservation ordinance 2004-08. At request of Janice Groves president
of Firehouse Cultural Center, Council appointed Jo Holmes to serve on
FCC's board of directors. New LaBelle resident Victor Beason appeared
requesting permit to operate a business from his home, stating he runs an
inspection service performing his service away from his home, no traffic
would be involved as he would only have an area designated as office, and
had obtained County occupation license. Discussion followed concerning
that workshop sessions of the Code Review Board had addressed the
home-office issue, but had not made recommendation for official action.
Council agreed to not cite Mr. Beason for currently using his home-office
for his business and would inform him when formal action would be
necessary for permit application after Code Review Board action. Notice
was given of upcoming application for four parcels to be annexed into the
city including property on Live Oak Lane, 1180 Hwy 80 West, Fort Denaud
Road, and South Captain Hendry Drive for approximately 21 acres. Hearings
will be separate for each parcel though application was signed by same
Jerron Hull of AIM Engineering noted the plan for the Lyons parking was to
straighten out the radius, and mentioned he had received a request from
Johnson Engineering and had checked out the Fort Thompson property.
Mike Boyle reporting on the sewer line expansion project stated that the
Notice To Proceed was signed on the 16th, and should start Phase II and
"turn dirt" on July 6th starting on Martin Street by Ace Hardware. In
response to citizen inquiry, he stated that because there was an existing
lift station on Martin, it would be possible to quickly tie into the new
lines for residents on that street, subject to DEP's inspection and
approval. He also confirmed that LaBelle would be providing a contractor
who could/would do multiple tie-ins and individuals could either pay
direct or allow costs to accrue on assessment. On the CDBG grant for
Kenny Wallace, the re-designs and revisions have been sent to DCA and next
week it should be allowed to go out for bid.
Dave Lyons showed the design work-up of the signage for the James
Singleton homage. Citizen Carolyn Ford appeared requesting information
on zoning along Martin Luther King in Sunset Park. She was invited to
attend the Thursday Code Review Board meetings as input is being sought
for Sunset Park to follow-up with plans of James Singleton.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:13 AM

    All this is leading to is the same as Lee County now the people in Buckingham will end up having to connect to Lee County water system bcause the county allowed Bonita Bay to build those homes knowing that the 2" wells would dry up. When the city gets done they will turn the people outside the 5 mile radius over to Barry to hook up to their approved water plants when we all moved out in the rural area to get away from the water companies and their exorbant water bills. LEAVE US ALONE, we are happy just like we are and have no desire to hookup and pay exorbant water bills to anybodies water utilities.