Company presents economic snapshot to city

OKEECHOBEE – A highlight of the Okeechobee City Council’s regular meeting Tuesday, besides the marriage proposal that ended in the city administrator’s engagement, was a discussion about the Okeechobee County Economic Strategic Plan.

The council talked about the county’s Economic Strategic Plan with William Fruth of POLICOM Corp., who presented a summary of the condition of Okeechobee County’s economy on behalf of the Palm City company. POLICOM analyzes a local economy from the perspective of how the economy influences the “economic quality of life” of the people who live and work there. Annually, POLICOM Corp. ranks all metropolitan and micropolitan areas for “economic strength,” which is the long-term tendency for an area to consistently grow in size and quality.

A chart depicting the “Economic Strength Rankings” of the past 10 years was provided in the packet. According to POLICOM’s methodology and rankings, of the 550 micropolitan areas in the United States, the highest rank Okeechobee County achieved was in 2015 at 345/550, or just outside the bottom third. In fact, over the last 10 years the average rank has been at 407/550.
The packet given the council stated that the principal cause for the growth in employment over the past 30 years has been population growth, principally retirement-age individuals. When people stopped moving to the county beginning in 2008, job growth stalled. The county has lost population in five of the past seven years.

The amount of money earned each year determines the “economic quality of life” — mentioned earlier — for individuals and households. There are several means to measure the growth in the quality of a local economy. One is to compare the average annual earnings (wages) of an area to the average for the nation. Since the cost of living varies greatly among communities throughout the U.S., it is not necessary for an area to be at or above the national average. In the graph, if the line goes up, it’s good; if the line goes down, not so much. POLICOM’s line graph shows that not only has Okeechobee County been on a steady decline since 1990 and currently drastically lower than the national average for a strong micropolitan economy, but it is just slightly above, almost on par with, a weak micropolitan area’s economy in the realm of wages.

Another indicator of local economic condition is the percentage that “government transfers” (entitlements; Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, etc.) are of total personal income. It is a characteristic of strong economies to have little dependence on government transfers while weak economies have become dependent upon them. As the line graph depicted, Okeechobee County’s figure (approximately 34 percent) aligns with that of government transfers for a weak micropolitan economy (about 38 percent) compared to a strong micropolitan economy (around 15 percent).

City Administrator Marcos Montes De Oca said, “POLICOM made several specific points to the economic development state we are in, and I am hopeful that we can grow as a community utilizing some of this upcoming board’s strategies.”

In business actions at Tuesday’s meeting:

• The council was first presented with an updated status regarding the Hurricane Irma FEMA Transition Recovery Emergency Measures Project by Jefferson Mason. City Administrator Montes De Oca said that the city is currently “awaiting distribution from FEMA.”

• The council approved an addendum to the contract for medical services with Treasure Coast Medical Association Inc. The addendum allows for a term of coverage to begin Oct. 1, 2018, and terminate on Sept. 30, 2020.

• The council approved a temporary street closing application that was submitted by Okeechobee Main Street for the 2018 Labor Day Festival. The closed areas will be the 200, 300 and 400 blocks of Southwest Park Street between Southwest Second, Third and Fourth Avenues between North and South Park Streets; also, the 200 and 300 blocks of Southwest Park Street will be closed on Friday, Aug. 31, at 5 p.m., continuing through Monday, Sept. 3, at midnight. The Labor Day Parade will be Saturday. All proceeds from this event will go to the operations and continuing efforts of Okeechobee Main Street to enhance the downtown area as the heartbeat of the community.

• The council also approved amending the contract awarded to Painting and Pressure Cleaning by Big Lake LLC, for the project of pressure washing and painting City Hall, the Fire Department and the Records Retention Building. The contract amendment waives the performance bond requirement in addition to amending and clarifying the workers compensation and liability requirement to specify that Big Lake may operate under the Florida workers compensation exemption law, or outside workers must be hired through an agency with workers compensation.

• The council additionally granted a request for a 21-day extension for the Police Department roof replacement project. A memorandum from Public Works Director David Allen to City Administrator Montes De Oca said there has been a change in the specifications because the contractor determined that the deck of the roof is metal rather than plywood as anticipated. Slight changes are needed for fastener size, felt and granulate, he said. The contractor requested the extension because the new specifications need to be approved by the manufacturer to assure that the 15-year warranty is valid. Given the potential for rain delays, Mr. Allen’s department requested that the contract completion date be extended by 60 days to account for any other possible delays, with a contract ending date of Oct. 26.

• A contract for $35,865 was granted to bidder Boromei Construction for a project to replace doors in City Hall.

• Purchase and installation of a new gas pump was approved for the public works facility. The new pump was purchased from Glasgow Equipment Service Inc. for $15,775.

• The council also approved a motion to dispose of obsolete and surplus equipment deemed to no longer be needed by city staff. Items to be sold include obsolete or broken equipment, surplus furniture, computers and other office equipment. Disposal of the items will be made by placing the items on the auction website. All items will be sold as is and will be the purchaser’s responsibility to pick up from the public works facility.

• A contract was awarded to bidder Ten-8 Fire Equipment to rebuild the motor on the Fire Department’s ladder truck for $31,574.97.

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