LABELLE — Shane Parker, public works director for Hendry County, introduced the Port LaBelle Utility System – Increase in New Residential Customer Connection Charges as an agenda item to Tuesday night’s meeting of the Hendry County Board of Commissioners.
The agenda request states: “The Port LaBelle Utility System (PLUS) is in financial need of an increase for new residential customer connection charges in order to offset expenses associated with the new connections and to provide for future water plant capacity.
“The BOCC approved Resolution No. 2018-36 which established charges for new residential customer connections to the PLUS on May 22, 2018.
“At the request of county staff, the Florida Rural Water Association (FRWA) conducted a connection fee study (impact fee study) and made a recommendation on new residential connection charges for PLUS as a membership benefit. The study, dated Aug. 22, 2019, followed national water utility methodology standards established by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) using data specific to PLUS reflecting PLUS infrastructure (water treatment plant facility storage tank, distribution piping, etc.). The FWRA recommended an increase of $4,630 for new residential water connection fees from $2,205 to $6,835 and concluded that the wastewater fee in the amount of $2,455 should remain the same.
“The PLUS Advisory Board met on Sept. 19, 2019, to discuss the study dated Aug. 22, 2019, and voted 3-1 to recommend the BOCC increase the fee for new residential connections to potable water by $4,630 and to leave the wastewater connection fee the same as recommended by the FRWA.
“County staff felt the increase in the water connection fee was justified, but too high, so it further evaluated the fee with the help of consultant Dr. John Capece of Southern Datastream. Staff wanted to establish a reasonable and justifiable fee that would not deter development in Port LaBelle. Southern Datastream evaluated the fee and proposed an adjustment based on water loss in the PLUS potable water distribution system. After further review and consultation with staff, Southern DataStream recommend an increase of $2,763 for new residential water connection fees from $2,205 to $4,968. Staff agrees with the proposed water connection fee of $4,968.
“The PLUS Advisory Board met on Sept. 21, 2020, to discuss the proposed water connection fee based on the reduction proposed by Southern Datastream and voted 3-0 to recommend the BOCC increase the fee for new residential connections to potable water by $2,763 and to leave the wastewater connection fee the same as recommend by the FRWA study.
“The current fee is $2,205 with a credit of $540 making the actual cost $1,665. The new fee of $4,968 does come with a credit which reduces the fee for new homes in the Hendry County side of Port LaBelle to $3,993, the Glades County side of Port LaBelle to $3,918 and Banyan Village to $3,044.
“With the current rate of development in the area it’s predicted that the water plant will run out of capacity by the year 2027, which will cost about $2 million to expand the plant.”
Commissioner Karson Turner said, “This is a prime example of something that we need to jump on a grant with DEP for capital improvement upgrades.”
Several home builders urged the commission to phase in the 125% increase over time instead of making the increase so sudden.
Parker did some calculations on spreading this increase out over a period of seven months starting in January 2021. The BOCC agreed to discuss this agenda item at the November meeting when Parker and county staff will have a more accurate dollar amount to hook up to the utilities.
“I don’t want to raise the utility rates because then everybody is paying for the capacity of the plant when they have already bought into the capacity of the plant,” Parker said.
At the BOCC meeting on Oct. 27, Nick Szabo, of AguaCulture Technology Solutions, gave a presentation about the process his company does, which could be used on Lake Okeechobee to remove invasive plants and unconsolidated sludge, reducing the excess nutrient load that contributes to harmful algal blooms.
Randy Martin, city manager of Clewiston, spoke about the city’s consideration of what AguaCulture is planning and gave the company a strong endorsement. “Our boat basin is full of these aquatic weeds. We tried other ways mechanically to get it out, we failed and the only other alternative was spraying. Now we have dead weeds in the boat basin.” The city does not want to do any more spaying after what happened at the boat basin. The city wanted to give an endorsement to help AguaCulture to get state and federal grant money to help with the aquatic weed problem.
The BOCC voted to endorse AguaCulture Technology Solutions.
Margaret Emblidge, AICP, planning and community development director, introduced the Procedures for Lien Releases agenda request to the BOCC.
At the June 12, 2018, meeting, the board approved a policy for addressing liens encumbering property on which no code violation occurred. Under real property law, liens recorded for violations on a parcel of land encumber all parcels owned by the same person in the county. At the June 2018 meeting, the board approved a policy to grant partial releases of lien to owners of land obtained via a tax deed on which no code violation occurred upon payment of a $250 lien release processing fee. Liens on parcels of land not obtained via tax deed on which no violations occurred, but which were encumbered by liens for violations on other parcels, were to be evaluated by staff and presented to the board for final action.
In recent weeks, staff has received two requests for lien releases for two separate real estate transactions. In evaluating these two requests, staff has determined that a more comprehensive lien release policy needs to be developed that does not require board action each time. That is the purpose of this agenda item.
Staff are of the opinion that liens should be divided into three main categories: (1) Liens that are more than five years old and acquired through our previous code enforcement process; (2) Liens that are less than five years old and acquired through our previous code enforcement process; and (3) Liens acquired through the special magistrate process. The reasoning for these distinctions is that the county cannot pursue foreclosures on properties with liens that are older than five years when the lien was created through our prior code enforcement process. Within each of these categories are situations where the lien is for violations on the subject property and where the lien is for violations on other properties owned by the same person at the time of the violation. The basis for the approach set forth below is that evaluating lien release requests and obtaining board approval takes time. This delays land transactions. Staff are of the view that liens that are for relatively small amounts or are for violations committed on other parcels should be released to save time and facilitate land transactions.
The BOCC was given two options on this matter: Option 1: Approve the proposed procedures for lien releases set forth above. Option 2: Board direction. The board voted unanimously to go with Option 1.
This was Commissioner Mike Swindle’s last meeting, a he is running for the position of superintendent of Hendry County schools. “I want to thank the board and residents who allowed me the opportunity to engage in the mission of making Hendry Conty a prosperous place to live,” Swindle said.