Communication Builds Our Community

"State of the City" Good, Mayor Hilligoss Reports

An upbeat assessment of activities during the past year and a positive look toward the future was offered by Lake Wales Mayor Jack Hilligoss at the annual "State of the City" luncheon sponsored by the Lake Wales Area Chamber of Commerce Friday. The event drew some seventy area residents to the Performing Arts Center at The Vanguard School.

In a speach running about 25 minutes Hilligoss cited the implementation of a "180" utility city area, which "establishes the footprint" of the city and defends it against encroachment by surrounding communities citing the annexation of 700 acres of new territory into the city, saying that "I will nearly always be in favor of proactive, cooperative annexation, which places us in control of how the land is developed," he said. "If Lake Wales Envisioned is more than just a dream for us, then...annexation is non-negotiable for us."

The newly-launched Envisioned effort will address a host of potential impacts from an expected wave of future development by establishing a set of higher standards for new neighborhood development that will elevate Lake Wales above surrounding communities.

Hilligoss cited the importance of the city's new "mobility fee," adopted last year. "If you were at the Envisioned kick-off you saw that an entire segment devote to the importance" of the city's new multi-modal fee, he said. The fee will require new development to help fund improvements to the not only street improvements but may also be used to fund any sort of mobility project from sidewalks to shuttle buses. Lake Wales is the first area city to adopt the mobility fee.

Hilligoss lauded the city's Development Services Division, which received the "Plan It" award from the Florida Planning Association, as well and the Finance Division, which received an award for budget presentation for the fourth straight year.

Turning to the Lake Wales Connected plan, Hilligoss pointed out that the city has completed or initiated work or 50 of the action items included in the plan "to transform Lake Wales into a City in a Garden and I think it will be one of the most attractive downtowns in all of the state of Florida," he said.

The city has secured $18.5 million in financing for the project. The city has also secured several million dollars in grants that will support elements of the project, and more are being sought.

Affordable housing construction and rehabilitation of existing home, the funding of a business incubator, and the grants for new restaurants were put forward to highlight city investments in the Northwest Neighborhood, an economically-lagging area of the city. The area is also targeted for new sidewalks and street trees as part of the Lake Wales Connected plan.

Five additional police officers, three additional firefighters, and new equipment, including a new fire engine, were also cited by the mayor as needed improvements, along with new street lighting initiatives. The city is currently upgrading lighting with a focus on school bus stops following the pre-dawn death of a student struck by a truck at an unlighted stop.

A new parks master plan, airport improvements, street paving, water main replacement, and sewer line extensions, and the city's adoption of a "Water Star" conservation program were also mentioned in the speech.

Under economic development Hilligoss cited the decline of the citrus industry, and city efforts to prepare more "shovel-ready" sites for new employers. He made no direct mention of the proposed ADS project, a vast plastic pipe factory proposed for the southeast area of the city. That project has been the driver of much controversy and sharp divisions in recent weeks.

The city commission will soon consider an ordinance passing zoning authority from the commission to staff at the Development Services Division.

Under the topic of economic development, Hilligoss pointed out that, despite the approval of vast new residential tracts within the city limits, only 79 residential building permits were issued in the city last year.

The mayor told the audience that "most of the impacts that you're feeling locally on infrastructure, they have little to do with development that's happened in the City of Lake Wales. The cities to our north, that have been annexing and developing aggressively for the last ten years, these are the impacts that we're feeling, and we're not gaining any of the financial windfall that comes from that."

"Now we do have eighty-eight hundred, almost eighty-nine hundred domestic units with site-plan approval, well over 3,000 in various stages of site development," Hilligoss said, but cast doubt that all would be built, saying "there's many a slip between cup and lip."

"It would be unique, and almost miraculous, if all of these things were built," Hilligoss said. "Even so, it would take two to twenty years for all of these things to happen."


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