City of Okeechobee’s Town Hall meeting well received; city residents complain about double taxation

OKEECHOBEE — “I’ve been waiting for this meeting for 50 years,” said Sandra Pearce of the City Council’s Town Hall Meeting held on Tuesday, March 19. Although her comment was said with humor, the general consensus in the room was that the meeting was long overdue, and many thanked the council for taking the time to hear the concerns of the citizens. There were no arguments or fisticuffs.

Mayor Dowling Watford began the meeting by letting everyone know the council would not be replying to the comments during the meeting but that each issue raised would be addressed later either by the department it pertained to or in a future council meeting if that seemed to be the best way to handle it. As each comment or issue was mentioned, it was carefully recorded by City Clerk Lane Gamiotea for later review. Each commenter had a time limit of three minutes, and for the most part, that seemed to be plenty of time.

Former Councilman Noel Chandler started the ball rolling by saying he was very glad that business owners would be given a chance to have their voices heard since they don’t have a vote. Later in the meeting, County Commissioner Brad Goodbread made a similar comment stating he owned property within the city limits but lived outside the limits which made him ineligible to vote. He said he feels people who pay taxes in the city should have the right to vote on city matters and asked if there was a way to make this happen.

Sandra Pearce asked about double taxation. She explained she lives in the city but for 50 years has been paying both city and county taxes. Her comment was greeted with many exclamations of “YEAH!” “YES!” and “RIGHT!” She said many years ago she went to the county to ask why she had to pay two sets of taxes and was told she was paying for use of the county roads, but she believes people who are not paying city taxes are using city roads too. She knows county taxes pay for fire department services and sheriff department services but said in the city, the city fire department comes and the police department comes so why is she paying for both?

Jonathan Bean mentioned the drainage problems in the southwest section behind the library. He said water accumulates there and saturates the area, and many homes in that area are still on septic tanks so this is not a good situation. He requested someone please clean out the ditches and review the size of the drainage conduits in that area.

Paula Poskom and several others mentioned code enforcement. She believes it is not her job to have to call and report violations. She thinks the code enforcement officer should drive around and see the violations himself. “If you want people to come here,” she said, “you have to clean it up.”

Several comments involved codes not being enforced and Hoot Worley was particularly offended by one code offender he said was let off the hook repeatedly for 12 years. “It’s unconscionable you would collect everybody’s taxes for 12 years and not do your job with this man,” he said.

Bill Rose would like to see code enforcement handled differently. He said the code enforcement officer has stood outside his establishment taking pictures and then left, leaving him to wonder what he did wrong, rather than just come in and talk to him like a regular person. He also said one time he came back to find several of his banners just gone, removed with no explanation or warning. He would like a friendlier relationship. He doesn’t understand why it has to be like that.

Bruce Donner suggested a one-cent sales tax to be used for funding police, fire and education. “We are strapped to pay for services in our community,” he said. He believes educators are spending too much of their time fundraising, and this tax could help with that.

Other comments involved speeding on Southwest Fifth Avenue, dusting off the city’s charter to see if it is still applicable, updating the city’s website, video access for Council meetings, sidewalk repairs, traffic lights at main intersections, parking near Okeechobee Drug Store, lighting on side streets, out-of-town vendors and the fact that in the southwest section of Okeechobee, there is a neighborhood watch group.

At this time, there are no plans to hold another town hall meeting, but Mayor Watford said the public is welcome at the regular meetings and there is always a time for public comments during the meetings.

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

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