CLEWISTON — Hendry County’s two cities both are getting new “Welcome” signs installed along the major state roads running through them with state money, but officials are perturbed by an apparently new — and annoyingly costly — requirement for such projects.
Apparently the Florida Department of Transportation now is requiring municipalities that receive financing to erect greeting signs on state highways to prove they’d have the cash to restore the DOT-owned right-of-ways where the markers will be placed in case they are destroyed or must be moved.
Clewiston city commissioners discussed the matter in detail on Monday, Nov. 5, and ended up reluctantly approving a resolution to authorize the purchase of a letter of credit from First Bank in the amount of $28,236. It was, City Manager Al Perry explained, “to guarantee the Community Aesthetic Feature Agreement between the city and the Florida Department of Transportation,” which had been OK’d by the commission Sept. 24.
The staff report said the city requested pricing from local banks, and the lowest price and best terms were proposed by First Bank of Clewiston.
Mayor Mali Gardner, an executive of the bank, turned over her gavel to Vice Mayor Michael Atkinson and sat out the discussion since she would have a conflict of interest in voting on the issue.
Mr. Atkinson read the resolution, and Mr. Perry explained: “Mayor, this is to secure funding for our new entry signs on each end of town, and the DOT has come up with this silly letter of credit, that’s ridiculous, that we have to secure the funding to show that we can put the right of way back into its original condition if the sign was ever destroyed or moved. Nobody’s ever heard of it; this is one of those state agency things that just popped up. The $28,000 is not our figure; that’s the state’s figure, what they would estimate it would cost to put the grounds back in their original condition. It’s going to cost us $250 a year to secure the line of credit.”
Noted Commissioner Phillip Roland, “That’s $7,500 over the life of it (30 years), so we just ... throw it away. And we’re going to bring it up, right?” he hastened to ask Mr. Perry.
He answered, “Yes, we’re going to bring it up at our delegation hearing with (State Rep.) Byron Donalds and Senator (Kathleen) Passidomo; and the City of LaBelle’s in the same boat. They’re doing the exact same thing,” Mr. Perry added.
The vice mayor called for a motion, and Commissioner Julio Rodriguez made one to approve it. Then Mr. Atkinson called for a second and, after an extended silence, said, “Motion fails?”
Mr. Perry told commissioners, “It’s my understanding that we will not move forward with the signs without it at this point.”
Stated City Attorney Gary Brandenburg: “This is one of those rules that perhaps got tossed into the mix by someone who has a good intention to make sure that the state is covered ... Unfortunately, it’s been applied to everybody now and is universally scorned as not needed, and hopefully in the coming years they’ll realize that and take it off the books so it wouldn’t cost you any more money in the future. It’s really just a technical requirement,” he explained. “If you don’t do it, you’re not going to get the money.”
Asking how much the signs would cost, Mr. Perry said a quarter-million dollars.
“So $250 a year to get $250,000,” Vice Mayor Atkinson said, calling for a second again. The motion finally received one from Mr. Roland, and the commission voted 4-0 to approve it.
Mr. Perry said the document had been requested by the state weeks ago and that it would be overnighted to assure the city gets the grant. He said he and LaBelle officials would be bringing up the matter at the Hendry County Legislative Delegation’s local meetings in a few weeks.