City holds first ever strategic planning workshop

OKEECHOBEE — The city of Okeechobee held its first ever strategic planning workshop on July 9 to lay out a framework for the future and establish goals to increase the quality of life in the city.

Okeechobee City Council members as well as city administrator Marcos Montes De Oca, fire chief Herb Smith, police chief Bob Peterson, public works director David Allen and finance director India Riedel all took part in the workshop which was moderated by James R. Spratt of Governmental Services, LLC.

One of the first orders of business at the workshop was crafting a vision statement of what the future of Okeechobee should look like. Those in attendance settled on a vision statement put forth by council member Bobby Keefe.

“Create and maintain a vibrant community built on our unique character, history and friendly small town feel,” read the statement.

Members agreed the city should provide quality municipal services that enhance residents lives and businesses while maintaining a fiscally sound community.

The workshop set some goals for the city to meet in the next five to ten years.

Some of the first year goals include performing an ordinance review on things like parking and signage. The city plans to look at adding flexibility to current parking requirements and minimizing complexity for both existing and new businesses who wish to install signs.

Beautification was a large point of concern at the workshop, with members hoping to maintain a higher level of code compliance. A unified design plan for businesses downtown to create a more cohesive look for the area was discussed as well.

The need for a city maintenance plan was also brought up. Council member Keefe described feeling frustrated at not having answers when residents asked him when a sidewalk is being repaired or a road stripe repainted. Moderator James Spratt interjected that most cities already have maintenance plans in place and that it might already exist. But public works director David Allen informed Mr. Spratt that, in fact, the city did not currently have a maintenance plan.

The public works department now has a year one goal of developing a maintenance plan for upkeep of things like roads striping, sidewalks, roadways, drainage and medians.
The city will also have a year one focus of filling vacant stores within its limits. They plan to work with the Okeechobee County Economic Development Corporation to recruit business to fill vacant stores by providing flexibility to those businesses and working to increase parking capacity.

During the public comment portion of the workshop, former city council member Noel Chandler spoke about the need to follow through on plans made at the workshop.

“Beatification has been on the books forever,” said Mr. Chandler. “We need to implement. We’ve had goals before. I mean I started in 1995. We came up with all kinds of stuff, some of it we did and some of it we just didn’t do. So we can’t just make goals, we need to implement them too.”

Former county commissioner Frank Irby also spoke and mentioned how when he arrived in Okeechobee 25 years ago, that widening highway 70 was in the 5-year improvement plan. Not only was it in the 5-year plan but it was listed as a number one priority. Instead of taking 5 years the project wouldn’t be done for nearly 25.

Mr. Irby used that example to demonstrate that although you can make a long list containing everything you’d like to do, most of the time you are only going to be able to accomplish a few.

Members of the Economic Council of Okeechobee (ECO) were in attendance at the workshop and voiced their approval at the actions the city was taking in prioritizing the design and general appearance of Okeechobee.

“Thank you so much for doing this,” said ECO executive director Jennifer Tewksbury during the public comments. “This is a great dialogue and we really appreciate it. I agree with all of the comments said here tonight especially with the beatification and helping the business community.”

“This year we’ve seen more homes and more construction than the past three years I’ve been here combined,” said city administrator Marcos Montes De Oca during the workshop. “We won’t have those numbers until next year, but hopefully we’re on the uptick. We’re not back to where we were back before the bubble in 2006 and 2007, however we have seen that uptick.”

Mr. Montes De Oca also agreed that working with people to get an empty business filled is more important than having an empty building sit there.

More long term goals mentioned at the workshop included partnering with public schools and IRSC to ensure adequate training for the local workforce and the possible annexation of additional land to expand city limits and increase the small tax base the city currently has.

Richard Marion is a staff writer and photographer at Lake Okeechobee News and can be reached at rmarion@newszap.com.

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