City helps hurricane victims by donating surplus fire truck

Councilwoman Monica Clark’s father served as a volunteer firefighter for 50 years, she said at the City Council meeting on April 16, and she was thrilled to make a motion to donate a surplus firetruck to a volunteer fire department in the Panhandle.

Originally, the truck was scheduled to be sold at auction. “It’s pretty worn out,” said Fire Chief Herb Smith. But, when Chief Smith attended a Treasure Coast Fire Chiefs meeting, he was made aware of the fact that there is a need for fire trucks and equipment in counties/communities in the Panhandle that were affected by Hurricane Michael. One of the other departments sent an engine/pumper up there recently and requested that our community assist if it all possible, said Chief Smith. Chief Smith believes Engine 5 will serve well for this purpose, and requested the council’s approval.

The truck will go to St. James-Lanark Village Volunteer Fire Department in Franklin County, which, according to City Administrator Marcos Montes De Oca, is the poorest county in the state. The council voted unanimously to donate the truck, and Chief Smith will be checking for other things they might be able to send as well.

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
Mayor Dowling Watford proclaims the month of April 2019 as Water Conservation Month and presented Okeechobee Operations Director Libby Pigman with the proclamation.

Major Donald Hagan explained the new code enforcement procedures now that code enforcement has moved from the fire department to the police department. The first step, he explained, is observation. When Code Enforcement Officer Fred Sterling observes something such as a yard with overgrown grass, he gives it a week to see if it changes, because the owner might just be on vacation. “You don’t want to write a violation because someone took a vacation,” he said. If after a week, it is still in violation, he would send a card letting the owner know about the violation. He gives them 10 days to take care of the problem before sending an order to appear before the magistrate. The magistrate will make a ruling. If they do not show up for that, he can impose a day-to-day fine between $50 and $250 if they are repeat offenders. So far, Code Enforcement Officer Sterling has sent out 67 courtesy cards. Police officers come into play, he explained, in the evenings and on weekends. They will make contact with anyone who appears to be in violation, take pictures and turn it over to Code Enforcement Officer Sterling on Monday. If it is a blatant safety violation, they might have to call him then to come out and handle it, he said. He also mentioned the need for an agricultural waiver of some type for people who are growing grass in order to harvest it. Obviously, they need to be allowed to grow their grass taller, and the city needs to have something written into the book to allow for that. He also said if you see someone working without a permit, you can call and report anonymously. The number for dispatch is 863-763-5521. He explained that they are trying to be proactive about code enforcement and are attempting to educate the public on codes. Often people break the rules just because they don’t know what they are, he explained. “We want everyone to feel good about our city.”

Lake Okeechobee News/Cathy Womble
Guardian ad Litem volunteer Barry Scanlon is pictured with Mayor Watford after the official proclamation of the month of April as Guardian Ad Litem Month.

In order that they might attend the joint meeting of county commissioners cheduled for May 7 at 6 p.m. to discuss Lake Okeechobee and other matters of mutual interest, the council has decided to change the time of their next meeting to 2 p.m. The joint meeting of county commissioners will be attended by commissioners of Okeechobee, Hendry, Glades, Martin and Palm Beach counties. It will take place at the Okeechobee High School Lecture Auditorium, 2800 U.S. 441 North, and the public is welcome to attend.

City Attorney John Cook discussed his recent trip to Nepal, where he hiked six to eight hours a day carrying a backpack and lost almost 20 pounds. His trip was organized by the publisher/editor of Backpacker Magazine, partnered with All Hands and Hearts. They spent one week working on three schools in the Sindhuli area and the next week was spent hiking through the mountains. For two days, he spent seven hours a day with a sledge hammer and pickax. He isn’t used to that. “It was very difficult,” he said. “It was much harder than I expected.”

In other business:
• Okeechobee Main Street was recognized as a Nationally Accredited Main Street.
• Mayor Dowling Watford proclaimed April 2019 as Guardian ad Litem Month.
• Mayor Watford proclaimed April 2019 as Water Conservation Month.
• Mayor Watford proclaimed the week of May 19-26, 2019 as Florida Water Reuse Week.

Cathy Womble is a staff writer for the Lake Okeechobee News.

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