SEBRING — With minimal fanfare, and the same amount of discussion, county commissioners removed local prohibition on Sunday morning alcohol sales.
They voted unanimously to allow retail and restaurant alcohol sales to begin at 7 a.m. and end at 2 a.m. the following morning — the same as all other days.
There was no crime increase for other jurisdictions that changed their hours, said Highlands County Zoning Supervisor Linda Conrad. Development Services Director Benjamin Dunn said this would make Highlands County consistent with many other counties and cities throughout the state.
Thus, the county will be more competitive for tourists, he said.
Prior to Tuesday’s Board of County Commission meeting, Dunn said this will save tourists from having to take a Sunday sales restriction into account when booking a table for brunch or when shopping for alcohol for a gathering that afternoon.
Commission Chair Jim Brooks noted that several businesses have requested this change throughout the years.
Commissioner Don Elwell cited informal surveys by him and one other county resident; the results of which had 73-88 percent of the respondents in favor of the change.
Elwell said his survey had approximately 260 people participate. The other survey had 140 participants, he said.
When he asked local representatives from the two major political parties, he said Democrats were OK with the change and Republicans liked the idea of removing a government regulation.
Brooks then invited Elwell to make the motion, which was seconded by Commission Vice Chair Ron Handley.
No one from the public spoke at the hearing on the matter.
The public also did not speak on a hearing to spend $25,000 to buy a half-acre strip of land on the east side of the future Sebring Parkway Phase 3 at the approach to Ben Eastman Road.
County Engineer Clinton “Gator” Howerton Jr. explained that the strip would give more room between the deceleration lane and the edge of the right of way.
Howerton plans to use that room to put in drainage swales to collect stormwater runoff at that point along the road.
Otherwise, he said, Road and Bridge Department crews would have to have installed catch basins under the median to catch and filter that runoff.
Those would have eventually filled with sand, requiring repair, Howerton said. The swales, if they do catch sediment, will only need to get dug out again.
Commissioners also approved a contract with Marmer Construction Inc. to pour the concrete curbs, walls and separators for Parkway Phase 3.
Howerton said the $1.37 million bid was the only one the county received, but with some cost savings already built into the road plans, he hopes to shave $400,000 off that price tag.
When asked by Commissioner Arlene Tuck how many companies had looked into the construction, Howerton said five received requests for proposals. Excavation Point was the only other from within Highlands County.
He said Excavation Point and the other three told him they were too busy with other projects to consider submitting a proposal for the Parkway concrete work.
Howerton said the contract includes concrete work for what he calls the “Memorial Drive” roundabout on the north end of the project.
The “Sebring” roundabout at the soon-to-be-former 90-degree turn on the south end of the project is not in the contract with Marmer.
He said he will see about having that added onto the contract.
In other business, County Attorney Joy Carmichael told commissioners that she had sent out a letter to the land owners on Oak Manor Avenue on Dec. 21, 2018, informing them they all have until Jan. 31 to sign the petition to the county requesting to enter into a paving agreement.
There is one holdout landowner, without whom, the other landowners have said they cannot afford to pay their part of the paving costs.
Carmichael said in her letter that if all are not on the petition by Jan. 31, the county will no longer consider the paving project.
She also answered Tuck’s questions on whether or not the county can set term limits for commissioners. Carmichael has sent a letter to the Florida Attorney General’s Office asking if a non-charter county can impose term limits on commissioners, and if certain recent changes to the Florida Constitution affect that.
However, Carmichael has been told by officials in Tallahassee it may take a month to a year to get a reply, especially since the state was swearing in a new attorney general on Tuesday.
County Administrator Randy Vosburg also answered Tuck’s concerns about code enforcement. Tuck said there had been problems with unregistered cars at homes in Lake Placid.
Dunn said code enforcement officers had done sweeps of neighborhoods in and around the town. Tuck asked if there were enough staff to do these sweeps regularly, and Elwell said staff has been short since the Great Recession.
“The case load is huge,” Dunn said, adding that officers prefer to educate and encourage compliance before imposing fines.
Brooks said it takes several visits and sometimes a hearing with a magistrate to get compliance. Tuck asked if the county couldn’t just take people’s homes, and Brooks said Florida law does not allow that.
“We can’t just go in and take it if it’s their homestead,” Brooks said.
Vosburg said there are a lot of repeat checks and repeat offenders.
“A lot of it is continual follow-up,” Vosburg said.