Saturday, October 15, 2011
Hendry Ask For State Help, Want To Raise Taxes
LABELLE, FL. -- Representatives from Hendry and Glades county met with Florida State Representative Denise Grimsley Friday, asking for state funding help with projects from courthouse improvements to street widening, and a request to be able to levy additional taxes on utilities and communication services.
Photo: Hendry County Leaders At Meeting With Rep. Grimsley
Grimsley met Friday morning October 14 in Moore Haven with Glades county's School Superintendent and Glades county officials, and in an afternoon meeting in LaBelle met with School Superintendent Rick Murphy, City of LaBelle Mayor Paul Puletti, and Hendry county administrator Judi Kennington-Korf and other interested official public and private.
Hendry county's list of requests for state funding was by far the largest of the day. Despite a recent historic property tax increase of 12% voted in by Hendry Commissioners Darrel Harris, Janet Taylor, and Al Perry, county commissioners are still seeking funds for eight major projects, as well as a "legislative remedy" to allow Hendry to raise taxes on "Public Services" and "Communications Services."
Kennington-Korf provided Grimsley a list of items from the County Commission, with an explanation that the county was in it's sixth year of a declining tax base, (not unlike every other county across the country,) and a 17.9% unemployment rate and 22.6 poverty rate among it's 39,140 residents.
Per capita income for Hendry county is only $14,591. Yet, it's property tax millage rate is among the highest in Florida.
The county is seeking grants for "economic development, infrastructure needs, housing, and social services," according to the printed ten-page request given to Rep. Grimsley.
Hendry officials listed in order by category, priorities for needed grant funding.
County Wants To Wipe Out Huge Debt Owed To State
The first request was forgiveness of an $815,000 debt the county owes the Agency for Health Care Administration for medicaid charges from October 2008 through February 2011. The county was notified in April of $1.1 million owed, which the county says was a result of "maladies with the State Medicaid billing process," and "misinformation and miscommunication among agents."
Hendry county, as one of the poorest counties, is ranked third in the state for Medicaid recipients per capita, about 1 in 4 residents receive Medicaid,
Big Projects For Courthouse And State Road 80
$1.5 million was asked for to rehabilitate the 1926 original Hendry Courthouse on SR29 and SR80. The county says there is mortar joint failure and the concrete foundation falling away from the rebar, as well as a failed cast iron pipe from the Courthouse to the sewer main.
The county continued to support the widening of SR80 from Birchwood Parkway east to US27. Two segments have yet to be funded, with an estimated $27.6 million needed.
Walmart and Speculators Benefit From $3 Million Road Request
The county also supported a $3 million Helms Road extension project to extend Helms Road at SR29 west to SR80. The project would be a "shortcut" from SR29 to a future Walmart store that may be located on SR80 west of the city. Walmart bought the land several years ago but gave up plans to build shortly after.
A benefit not mentioned for the Helms Road extension is a good size housing subdivision originally platted in the 1930s and now surrounded by orange groves, is landlocked near the end of the proposed road. Much of the land, originally sold to South Americans years ago, is now in the hands of local speculators and investors, contemplating the road building, then benefiting from having access to the lots after the road is extended.
Airglades Airport Industrial Park White Elephant? $3.5 Million Request To Benefit "Developer"
The county requested $3.5 million from the Department of Environmental Protection for a wastewater main to pump sewage to the City of Clewiston's wastewater treatment plant. The airport currently has a wastewater treatment plant to service existing business.
The county has been trying to sell or lease the airport to a businessman, and the project would possibly help get FAA approval to sell or lease the property. The FAA says it's unlikely to approve a government airport change to private hands.
The county has lost money developing the central Hendry county's Airglades "Industrial Park," with limited success at getting businesses to relocate and then pay the rents. Ocean Boy Shrimp was the county's first stunning error in judgment in building a plant and then having to evict the company when rents were not paid.
Not mentioned is the treatment and plant costs incurred by the City of Clewiston to handle any future sewage pumped from mid-county all the way to Clewiston.
$500,000 To Repair Leaks In Port LaBelle Sewer System
The existing system is said to have leaks in the gravity sewer system.
Felda $1.25 Million And $500,000 IN NW Hendry For Stormwater Drainage
The county wants to "alleviate localized flooding" in rural Felda, south of LaBelle off SR29, and the "four corners" area of northwest Hendry where Charlotte, Lee, Glades and Hendry county meet. The county has already received $600,000 from the state for Felda, and $1.4 million as far back as 2002 towards Four Corners.
Selling Off Hendry County's Airglades Airport - A Longshot Business Gamble?
Hendry county and it's quasi-governmental Economic Development Office continues to work towards selling or leasing the largest of Hendry county's two airports to a once secret fledgling businessman's Florida Cargo Fresh, Inc. with little experience operating an airport.
"For nearly two years County staff has been working with an aviation company on a potential air cargo project," says the county commissioners' request.
Although the FAA must approve any transfer of a public airport to a private entity, and has indicated that is highly unlikely to do so, the county continues to argue for funds for water and wastewater appropriations and grants, citing this "potential" project.
Hendry Wants To Collect More Taxes On Phones, Internet And Utilities?
Concluding it's requests to the state, Hendry commissioners ask the State Legislature to "authorize non-charter counties the ability to levy a Public Service Tax; and, authorize non-charter counties the ability to levy a Communications Services Tax."