AVON PARK — Time and money are the big factors in Avon Park’s efforts to extend its water and sewer service to the $240 million Nucor Steel Florida mill that will be built just north of the county line off U.S. 27.
A more detailed engineering study shows it will take more money than initially estimated, about $1.3 million more, for the utilities project.
The city received a $971,500 grant to fund the water and wastewater infrastructure improvements, which is now estimated to cost between $2 million and $2.4 million.
The time is short to apply and hopefully secure additional grant money and get financial assistance from Highlands County or other entities.
A delay in extending the utilities would delay Nucor’s timeline of hiring people in the community and would affect local companies that are gearing up to do business with Nucor.
At Monday’s City Council meeting, Deputy Mayor Jim Barnard said the city may spend $2 million out of its pocket to basically serve one customer who is not in the county and not in the city so Avon Park won’t get any property taxes or franchise money.
To him it looks like Polk County and Frostproof are the ones benefiting at Avon Park’s cost, Barnard said.
“I just think that this is getting to be way out of hand and it seems like it grows every time we have a meeting,” he said. “I am very concerned. I believe in future growth, but I believe in people paying for future growth.”
Anderson said it should be considered as an investment and he doesn’t care where it is located. The project should fund itself because it will generate $145,000 per year.
Councilwoman Maria Sutherland said there are grant possibilities that can be fast tracked that can be pursued without delaying the project.
Nucor Steel Florida Vice President and Plant Manager Drew Wilcox said almost a year ago Avon Park commited to Nucor that it would supply utility service so Nucor stopped looking at any other options to locate its mill.
“Any further delays or changes is absolutely going to stop us from hiring local people and completing this project,” he said.
Sutherland said the city is subject to the mistakes of its prior administration.
“I have no doubt that the project will go through,” she said, but the city should see what funding sources could help with paying for the utility extension.
Wilcox said Nucor needs to have a locker room and administration building with water and sewer service before bringing in a bunch of people to start training and doing what needs to be done to finish the project and operate the business.
Conley Jahna said Jahna Concrete has hired additional employees and will hire more and has new trucks coming for the Nucor project. Hicks Oil Company will be supplying the fuel for those trucks.
Highlands County Commissioner Jim Brooks said, “Let’s move forward; I would be willing to help,” but he does not know the opinion of the other commissioners on the matter.
Avon Park Infrastructure Director Ronnie Jones said the engineering for the project is 80% complete.
He said additional work would be needed on a preliminary study of an alternate route that was suggested to cut costs and permitting issues.
It was decided that a further study of the alternate route would delay the project and likely not save a significant amount of money.
City Manager David Flowers noted that, according to the grant the city received for the utility project, work has to start by Sept. 30.
As the city looks for funding assistance, Mayor Garrett Anderson stressed, “Progress is not being stopped.”