OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee Utility Authority board discussed an inventory of property they own to decide whether they should sell them at the board’s regular monthly meeting Tuesday.
Three OUA properties currently have agriculture leases. Two have small maintenance costs. The question is should the utility sell them, and cash them in.
Mr. Clay said he is not big on the OUA owning a lot of property but also wanted to take a long-term look on projects and costs the utility could face.
For example, a housing development has been proposed in Buckhead Ridge which could bring over 600 new homes. While that would add customers, it would also add costs.
“The infrastructure would be immense. They will need a sewer plant,” Mr. Clay said.
The development would also use OUA water.
OUA Executive Director John Hayford said surveys have been done for the project. He said lots have also been platted.
There are a number of small sewer plants along State Route 78 that one day could be joined to the utility. It would be costly to run sewer lines down SR 78 to the Okee-Tantie Park, an estimated $11 million.
Chairman John Creasman said he would hang onto the parcels as the utility has no cash needs at the present time. Utility members also agreed the property values will likely increase over time.
“We are going to wait until something better comes down the line,” he added.
The utility plans to construct a 3-million gallon storage tank at the Surface Water Treatment Plant this year. Eckler Engineering was selected as the engineer.
The board honored Finance Director Basil Coule who retired this month.
A subcommittee will address changes to the inter-local agreement that created the utility. Members from the City and County of Okeechobee will also take part in the meetings.
Mr. Clay said he didn’t want this process bogged down with attorneys and administrators and would prefer that board members are appointed.
OUA Staff will work on an agenda and timetable and make two appointments at the May meeting.
A recent workshop with the county commission and city council led to discussion that OUA board members should be live online.
Creasman said he didn’t think the meetings should be streamed online.
Mr. Clay supported being online for an accurate record and transparency.
Mr. Steve Nelson said they should continue to hold meetings at the OUA and stream them.
Board member Harry Moldenhauer questioned the costs of putting the meetings online at the OUA building. He said it would be cheaper to record and post the meeting video later that day
Board member Michael Myers said he supports putting the meeting online.
The board decided to get cost estimates on the equipment needed to stream the meetings live.
Mr. Clay said he wants more emphasis on customer service and wants to improve the visibility of the utility authority in the community.
“We need to be customer service from head to toe.”
He suggested an expert be hired to advise the OUA on how to improve the customer service.
“If people don’t pay the bills none of us exist.”
He said every employee should get additional training.
The board discussed various ways to better promote what they are doing to the community like festival participation and sponsorships, clay shoots, helping fund raisers, banners at the OCRA fields, county fair and parade visibility. Hayford said there is a line item in the budget each year for promotions that could be used.
The Board honored employee Steve Sieracki for 25 years of service.
Charles M. Murphy is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News