OKEECHOBEE —During its Sept. 26 meeting, the Okeechobee City Council declared a state of emergency due to the predicted path of Hurricane Ian. Police Chief Donald Hagan has been declared the city’s emergency management official and has the ability to extend this order as needed. “Hopefully, it won’t be needed,” said Mayor Dowling Watford.
The council met on Monday, Sept. 26, instead of the originally scheduled Sept. 20. The change was to accommodate the final budget hearing.
The millage rate for fiscal year Oct. 1, 2022, through Sept. 30, 2023, was officially set at 6.8987. This is the rollback rate.
The new budget can be found on the city’s website. https://www.cityofokeechobee.com/
In other business, Mayor Watford proclaimed the month of October 2022 as Hunger Action Month.
IRSC Campus President Russ Brown gave the council an update on the Promise Program and said at this time, they have just under 2,200 participants, including 150 Okeechobee High School graduates. Those who are registered full time will receive two years of college classes completely free of charge. Brown told the council we will definitely see the program again. The first version was only for public high schools, but they are hoping to expand it to charter school graduates, home school students and possibly private schools, although this could be tricky, he said. They are also considering an adult education program.
City Administrator Gary Ritter has been working toward getting funds to renovate city hall and the old fire department since he was hired. He asked the council to allow him to hire an architect firm to help him figure out what it would take to harden both buildings. This would help him secure funding from the state. He estimated the cost as between $4,000 and $6,000. The council voted to allow up to $10,000 for the service.
During the council comments portion of the meeting, Councilman Bob Jarriel reminded the council that a former city fireman, who lost his job when the fire department was closed, came to one of the recent budget hearings and reminded the council they had promised if the fire department was closed, they would give some tax relief to the people. “Two weeks ago, I spoke to an elderly woman, and she told me she and her husband moved here some years back, and he passed away two years ago. She says she only has his social security. That’s the only income she has.” She went on to tell him she is just hoping she will be able to keep her house until she dies, but with the way everything is skyrocketing, she isn’t sure that will happen. Another gentleman who owns several buildings told him he had already decided he was not going to raise rent on his tenants no matter what the council decided because he knows people can’t afford it. Several people thanked the council for setting the millage rate at the rollback rate, saying it really helped a lot he said.
Councilman Bobby Keefe asked why the city has not done a fire assessment and requested it be added to a future agenda.
Councilmember Monica Clark told the council Okeechobee will be hosting the Bass Master Elite Series in February. It has not been here for five years. It will be televised.
The council’s next meeting will be held on Oct. 4 at 6 p.m. at City Hall.