OKEECHOBEE — Whether it was a fear of coronavirus infected crowds or the fact that the town hall meeting took place on a night when many are in church, something caused an unusually low attendance at the biannual meeting Wednesday night, March 11. There were only four commenters, and one of those was the Economic Council of Okeechobee, whose spokesperson was Jennifer Tewksbury, executive director.
• Ms. Tewksbury read a letter from the EOC into the record stating, “After thorough research and careful consideration for the welfare of the community, the Economic Council of Okeechobee continues to fully support the complete merger of city and county fire rescue services. As proposed by the Okeechobee County Fire Rescue on Jan. 8 of this year, this action will save the city taxpayers roughly $700,000 annually without compromising our public safety. This will amount to a $3.5 million savings over the course of five years and a $7 million savings within the next decade…”
There was no mention of the plan the city fire department has come up with to buy their own ambulance and provide EMS services themselves rather than paying the county for those services, but when asked if the Economic Council had considered Capt. Lalo Rodriguez’ proposal before making their recommendation, Ms. Tewksbury did say yes. They considered it.
• Frank Irby thanked the council for holding the town hall meeting and said he believed a more informal environment was sometimes good because a lot of people are intimidated by a more formal meeting. He spoke about economic development and told them about a book by Quint Studer, “Building a Vibrant Community,” he had recently read on the subject. Later, Ms. Tewksbury told the council she had a copy of the book for each of them.
• Karyne Brass said she was concerned about the severance of the fire department. “To me it’s like cutting an arm off. If we are going to start dissecting this thing, I’m like some of the other people. Where does it end?” she asked.
Councilman Bob Jarriel said, “When this was first discussed, it was strictly for tax purposes, trying to save the citizens and businesses money and taxes.” He said nothing has been decided and they do not have the figures yet so they cannot make an intelligent decision. He also said half of the people he talks to do not realize the city does not have its own ambulance. “The ambulance service has been provided forever by the county and no one has complained about it in all these years. We need to quit talking about it until we get the facts, but I appreciate you coming,” he said.
• Hoot Worley thanked the council for having the town hall meeting. He said as a business owner in the city who does not own a home within the city limits, for many years, he felt as if he had no voice, but with the town hall meetings, he is able to make his voice heard and he appreciates it very much. He expressed his excitement about the beautification of the downtown parks, and said he is really excited about the way the city is concentrating on landscaping. In addition, he is a director of the Economic Development Corporation and said they walk a razor’s edge trying to bring economic development to Okeechobee while still keeping our small town identity. He does not want to see the City of Okeechobee disappear from the map, he said, and does not believe subcontracting the fire services to the county would be a first step in getting rid of the city. It’s just a matter of being a good steward with the city’s money, he explained. “I’m not going to ask for a tax deduction, but if you want to take that money and spend it to fix Southwest 11th Avenue … that pavement coming is apart.”
The next scheduled city council meeting will be held on Tuesday, April 7 at 6 p.m. in the council chambers.