Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Donna Storter Comments On Glades County

County In Dire Economic Situation Say Storter - Gambling, Potential For Growth?

MOORE HAVEN, FL. -- Glades Commissioner Donna Storter Long this week sent the following to Governor Charlie Crist's special assistant Marureen Jaeger:

Thank you for attending the Glades County Commission meeting yesterday and your interest in and concern for Glades County�s situation as a Special Representative of Gov. Charlie Crist. 

Glades County has dire economic needs/situations that are NOT a result of the impending SugarWater deal. Just in time for our budget workshop, our Property Appraiser gave us the ad valorem revenue figure of $6,379,253 for 2008-2009. No typo here.  That�s less than 7 million!

It just seems to me that while we have the sharp attention of Governor Crist and his staff, this is an opportune time to address ways Glades County can mitigate anticipated negative affects of that deal while alleviating some existing problems too.

I was disappointed that so much of the meeting was devoted to pessimistically lamenting the past without addressing the opportunities for the future of Glades County.  We must look forward, not back. Things will change and it�s our choice if we want to help direct the change

Though I greatly appreciate and support agriculture and will endeavor to work for its survival and growth. I do recognize, as Mary Helen Blakeslee pointed out, that we must diversify our economy and tax base.

As I told you I would, I�m listing here for you the points I prepared for my presentation yesterday (with some elaboration) and probably not in the order I brought them up yesterday, nor in any priority.
  1. Have SFWMD consider granting to Glades County all the development rights of all property owned by SFWMD, including past acquisitions.  Without the 5600 +/- acres of US Sugar land in Glades County, SFWMD already owns 13,150 acres in Glades County. Glades County receives $24.83 annually for PILOT.  That should increase with the recent changes in legislation and the purchase of 1400+/- acres WMD bought last year.  However, residential density units on those properties could be utilized in other developments and would allow density clustering.  They definitely have value and could be declared surplus and auctioned, or granted to the County for distributio
  2. In February 2008, we learned that a prominent Glades County Family, the Weeks Family, had bequeathed $6 million to the UF College of Veterinary Medicine, and was eligible for matching funds raising the total to $12 million. Can OTTED explore the possibility of UF/ IFAS creating a veterinarian training facility in Glades County, and help provide bovine veterinarian services to the areas ranchers?  Right now, there is no large-animal vet residing in and practicing in Glades County and currently, our agriculture extension agent is only a 4-H coordinator.
  3. According to Florida Dept of Health�s �Community Health Assessment Resource Tool Set, (C.H.A.R.T.S) information that was made available May 2008, about 15% of Glades County population is below the poverty level.
The health profile shows we are in the 4th quartile for deaths from heart disease, cancer, HIV/Aids, 4th quartile for birth to unwed mothers, 4th quartile for late or no prenatal care, and 4th quartile for infant deaths after age of 1 month. (Unwed mothers mostly black, but infant deaths mostly white.)

We are in the 4th quartile for adults who were unable to get health care and 4th quartile of adults with no health coverage.

Our public health department is understaffed and underfunded working from a crowded, outdated facility in dire need of replacement, not just remodeling. (Mr. Taylor told me you later requested a visit to the facility yesterday and saw this conditions we discussed.)

How can OTTED help Glades County�s health needs?  We hear that statewide there is a shortage of trained nurses.  Why not build a nursing school in Glades County along with a public health clinic for their internship?   

We have no pharmacy, so why not build a pharmacology college here, including a dispensing pharmacy? We have one medical doctor residing in and practicing in Glades County; no dentist, no optometrist, no chiropractor, and no medical services clinic other than the woefully inadequate public health department that you visited.  It is astounding to me how the public health staff operates as well as it does in the conditions and financial limitations they endure.  They are VERY dedicated people, serving people with real health needs.
  1. The county-owned Industrial Park near Moore Haven needs $$$ to develop and market itself.  The mortgage is $800k, and we don�t have enough funds to finish the engineering, design and infrastructure installation and can barely make the mortgage payments.  Even with enterprise programs and tax abatements, without proper development we really have little to offer but bare land.
  2. High speed/broadband internet access is not available in much of our rural county.  Today�s technology is a basic requirement for most commerce, industry and normal business operations.  FHREDI has been working on this already, why not step up with some grant $$ to providers and finish the job.
  3. Determine what new state-funded and federal-funded projects, such a Veterans Hospital, FEMA distribution center for SW Florida, DOT work center, will soon be needed in Florida, and site them in Glades County.
  4. SFWMD has pledged $5 million to clear/clean Pearce Canal, Moore Haven Canal, and other access points to Lake Okeechobee, to be expended over the next 5 years.  Why wait?  That itself could be a giant economic stimulus in a one-year period.  We need to clean the outlet/mouth of Harney Pond Canal, deepen Dyess Ditch access, and restore the campground at  Indian Prairie Canal and build more and  expand existing boat ramps, add paid  attendants.  These are GIANT eco-tourism stimulants.
  5. Glades County already has a long-term lease on Curry Island on the western edge of Lake Okeechobee restricted for recreational use, with no funds to develop the natural wildlife habitat for eco-tourism such as birding, or fishing or duck hunting.  Those three recreation industries bring BIG $$$$ into areas prepared for and inviting to them.   Glades County has more shoreline on Lake Okeechobee than the other counties, and more frontage on the Caloosahatchee River than the other counties.  It has great eco-tourism potential!! 
  6. Lake Hicpochee may have development potential, either for hydrating and restoration for eco-tourism projects or part of the proposed inland port, as it is only 3 miles southwest of Moore Haven. This was on my list but Tracy Whirls actually brought it up.
  7. We have an eco-tourism development, Port LaBelle Marina on Caloosahatchee River, is battling state agencies for final permitting.  Help could be granted in expediting the process, resulting in significantly addition to our tax base.  DCA has also put up roadblocks for other important development considerations in Glades County, such as rural land stewardship programs.
West Glades Elementary needs to expand to senior high school.  When students complete the 8th grade there, their parents withdraw them from Glades County school system and enroll them in other county high schools or private schools rather than put them on school transportation for 3-4 hours per day to go to Moore Haven High School. We have 200 acres for expansion there and just built a new gym.
  1. The City-County Public Works Authority is out of funds for the next needed phase of expanding municipal water and wastewater services to greater Moore Haven area.  In addition, Buckhead Ridge in the northeastern part of the county needs wastewater treatment system just as badly because there are more septic tanks on canals leading to Lake Okeechobee up there, than there are in the City of Moore Haven.   We must do our part to prevent pollution, but we need funding.
  2. Of primary importance in the giant scheme of things, Glades County needs legal counsel expertise in water resources, land development and tax law.  SFWMD staff has indicated willingness to fund this for us.  After the meeting the Chair of the Glades District School Board called me and said after talking with Water Management staff he has decided to have the School Board solicit such funding for counsel.
  3. So far, the one single idea brought to me that seems have the most potential for large economic growth for Glades County, is legalized gambling.  I will say it is not my first choice of revenue options, but I have yet to hear of a higher-paying plan!  A later thought came that support at the ballot box may be garnered if we promote the concept  that a portion of the revenue Glades County receives could/would be encumbered to support Northern Everglades restoration projects. Why not have Gov. Crist as our spokesperson for this?  And OTTED funding the campaign for voter approval?

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