AVON PARK — Tuesday night, Highlands County Commissioner Don Elwell took the opportunity to point out some of the economic improvements expected to come to the community.
Chief among them, he said, was the eminent arrival of NuCor, a North Carolina-based steel company due to set up a mill just outside the county in Frostproof.
Benjamin Dunn, director of Development Services for the county, said it should bring 250 jobs with an average annual salary of $60,000. Avon Park is in the process of using a state grant to extend water lines to the facility.
Residents asked about environmental issues with NuCor, and Dunn said the company goes to great lengths to avoid pollution of contamination.
In addition, Dunn said, the former Sun Pure juice plant just inside the county line, north of Avon Park, is expected to house a plastics recycling and reuse company.
Sun Pure Holding, an international plastics recycling and manufacturing company, acquired the existing 90,000-plus square-foot facility and chose Avon Park as the location of its first U.S. production facility.
Dunn said the Economic Development Commission pushed hard to get funding for these utility improvements.
Also brought up during Tuesday’s “Town Hall XVII,” alcohol sales have now begun on Sunday mornings in the county. The Board of County Commission approved on Jan. 8 the change of sales hours.
The city of Sebring, on first reading, also approved a similar change in its alcohol sales. A final vote by the city is expected at a future meeting in February.
Elwell said there is also a move to get $40,000 from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to conduct a study to address an apparent lack of workforce/affordable housing in the county.
Elwell said developers need this information to get financing for their projects.
Elwell said Culver’s fast food restaurant, known for “ButterBurgers,” frozen custard and “Wisconsin Cheese Curds,” is looking at possible locations in Highlands County.
Meanwhile, Jersey Mike’s Subs, Elwell said, is preparing to open a store in an outparcel in front of Lowe’s Home Improvement Warehouse in Sebring.
The expected opening date, Elwell said, is Jan. 23 or as late as Jan. 31.
Highlands County still stands to get a Wawa store — as many as three of the Philadelphia-based restaurant/gas station/convenience stores — outside Sun ‘n Lake Special Improvement District at U.S. 27 and Valerie Boulevard, and in South Sebring across Sebring Parkway Phase 2 from Highlands Regional Medical Center, and in Lake Placid at the old SunTrust bank site, across Dal Hall Boulevard from the Gate Station.
Residents who live and drive on Arbuckle Creek Road made a request for mile marker signs, for purposes of 911 calls for breakdowns and wrecks.
The residents said 911 dispatchers ask for the nearest crossroad, and all the resident sees are cows in adjacent pastures.
“Do you want us to number the cows?” residents have asked.
County Engineer Clinton Howerton Jr. said there are addresses on the road, though Elwell said motorists may be far from the nearest mailbox.
Howerton said there’s also a cost issue. Since none of the other roads have mile marker signs, the county would then need to install them on every road.
Elwell suggested that perhaps the county could paint numbers on the pavement, but Howerton said those numbers would still need to be repainted regularly.
Right now, an impromptu, unofficial truck stop exists in West Sebring at U.S. 27 and Bayview Drive, at the site of the former Scotty’s Builders Supply, which closed in 2005, with the building knocked down soon afterward.
Residents asked how long trucks could park there. Elwell said that would depend on the owner.
“Over time, you’ll see that change,” Dunn said.
He expects the intersection to develop before long.
Avon Park stopped its recycling program after Hurricane Irma because it got too expensive. Elwell said such programs used to make money, then they broke even.
“Now, it’s not even close,” Elwell said.
One problem is contaminated loads, which contain food or non-recyclable garbage, and won’t be accepted by international customers.
“At some point, we will have a decision to make,” Elwell said.
Since he attended the town hall meeting, Sheriff Paul Blackman fielded questions about the Safe Schools Program, which added 11 deputies onto the eight-member School Resource Unit.
The 11 new slots were all at elementary schools. To save costs, Blackman had those deputies work only when school is in session: 180-190 days out of the year.
Two of those slots are not permanently filled, Blackman said, so road patrol deputies are filling in, and are paid overtime to do so.
Updating residents about the matter of county commissioner term limits, which was reported in the Highlands News-Sun on Jan. 9, Elwell said County Attorney Joy Carmichael had made an inquiry to the Florida Attorney General’s Office and was told an unchartered county like Highlands can’t set term limits on elected commissioners.
She asked about exceptions and was told a second answer could come back as early as a month or as late as a year.
“I don’t care. I have no dog in the fight,” Elwell said Tuesday. “This is my third term, (but) I’m not going to be doing this for 25 to 30 years.”
“I know I’m not going to keep running if I’m not going to be effective,” Elwell said.
A member of the audience shouted out that the county has term limits, in the form of elections.
Still, Elwell encouraged members of the public to run for office. He said there is nothing more rewarding that being able to fix a problem for a resident or group of residents.
Elwell listed county commissioners by district and end of current term:
Jim Brooks, District 1, lives in Avon Park. His term ends in 2020.
Ron Handley, District 3, lives in Sebring. His term ends in 2020.
Arlene Tuck, District 4, lives in Lake Placid. Her term ends in 2022.
Greg Harris, District 5, lives in Sebring. His term ends 2020.
Elwell’s term ends 2022. He said all commissioners represent all residents, no matter what district.
If anyone wishes to contact Elwell, he can be reached at 863-381-5622, email@example.com or by calling Highlands County Government at 863-402-6500 from 1-5 p.m. Mondays.
His next town hall meeting is tentatively set for July 16 and will examine the Fiscal Year 2019-20 budget.