Will wait on derelict property ordinance
Gary Pinnell | Highlands TodaySEBRING - The Florida Joint Legislative Auditing Committee could be done with its inquiry into the Highlands County Tourism Development Council, so county commissioners on Tuesday adopted a new plan.
Published: October 17, 2012
Published: October 17, 2012
Commissioners also asked County Attorney Ross Macbeth several times in several different ways if the TDC or the county has committed fraud, broken the law or abused its power.
No, Macbeth answered each time.
Tourism Director John Scherlacher was asked if the TDC was ever asked for money from the art community. No, he said.
"I'll contradict that exactly," said Dale Wilson, who rose from the audience to remind commissioners that Fred Leavitt had asked last year for $400 for a Lake Placid arts event, and was turned down.
That was a Lakeshore Mall event, said Commissioner Don Elwell, and it was rejected because Leavitt's arts committee could not guarantee that tourists would spend the night here.
The heads-in-beds rule changed last month, Elwell said. Now, $1,000 grants can be made without verification that hotel rooms were rented.
The agenda item called for amending three sections of the county ordinance allocating money to the TDC fund. Bill Youngman, Mike Berry and John Nelson objected that the legislative auditing committee was still investigating the TDC.
Scherlacher revealed that the state commission had emailed him that morning:
"Thank you for your response dated Sept. 27, 2012, to the request from the Joint Legislative Auditing Committee dated July 2, 2012, and the additional questions from Mr. William F. Youngman. We greatly appreciate the time and effort you dedicated to providing the answers to the questions that were asked… We have no further questions at this time," said Kathy DuBose, JLAC coordinator.
"We have, however, forwarded your response to the office of Rep. Denise Grimsley. Our Chairs, Rep. Mayfield and Sen. Norman, sent the request to you as a courtesy for Rep. Denise Grimsley in response to concerns raised by one of her constituents. Should any further questions arise, we will let you know."
"It is not resolved," Nelson said. "The audit is still in play."
"No, it's over," Commission Chair John Richie said.
That said, the commissioners voted 5-0 for the new TDC plan, which reallocates money from a remaining $332,000 balance to the various funds which should have received it over the past 10 years.
The commission spent more than an hour debating changes to the code enforcement.
At issue are several houses and lots which may have been abandoned by residents. Banks and the property owners, some who have left the county, are getting letters requiring them to mow tall weeds and pick up the junk that has accumulated in yards.
The ordinance changes would give the county authority to place liens and "require persons having an interest in property to maintain the property…"
That includes banks with mortgages on the derelict property, but two Highlands County magistrates were uncomfortable with enforcing that rule, which is currently applied by letters from Macbeth or the code enforcement department.
By a 4-0-1 vote, with Commissioner Ron Handley abstaining because he is on the board of directors of Heartland Bank, the commissioners tabled the issue until the Florida Supreme Court decides a similar case.
Supervisor of Elections Joe Campbell received permission to use the county commission chambers during early voting. The candidate ballots will take up a legal page, and the 12 constitutional amendments will occupy another two legal pages, so voters may take a long time in the booth. Voters will have privacy because the commission chamber is large, he said.
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