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State of the city: 'Stable and improving'

PLANT CITY — In the past year, the city has added fluoride to the drinking water, launched a $1.4 million overhaul of Mendonsa Road and installed a drainage system for a proposed soccer complex on Cherry Street.

Poised to start this month is the long-touted Midtown project with the first of several public works projects to realign streets and create a 1-acre village green.

As the city looks to craft a new fiscal budget, beginning with a workshop in July, officials took time Monday to reiterate accomplishments and outline goals for the year.

Called the State of the City, the hour-long presentation by City Manager Greg Horwedel and former Mayor Mike Sparkman was the fourth such annual assessment since Horwedel was appointed to the manager's post.

The address, held at City Hall, was accompanied by a slide presentation and featured a mix of old and new projects with an emphasis that officials held the property tax rate to the level of previous years. They anticipate holding the property tax rate to 4.7157 mills. One mill is equivalent to $1 of tax for each $ 1,000 of assessed, nonexempt real property.

"This has been a tough economy we've been in and we've worked hard to stabilize Plant City," Sparkman told the crowd of mostly city employees.

The overall message by officials: Plant City is pushing ahead despite slow economic improvement.

"I think we have positioned ourselves to attract companies looking to relocate and to attract families looking to move to an area that is thriving," Horwedel said.

Horwedel started by outlining a list of accomplishments. Chief among them was the awarding of a contractor's bid for the first phase of Midtown, the proposed commercial and residential district on 85 acres south of downtown. The city owns 14 acres.

After eight years of planning and several delays, work will start this month to realign Wheeler Street between Renfro and Alabama streets. Later, Wheeler will be extended a block south to Ball Street to create an additional block for redevelopment.

Among other highlights, the city:

• Appointed a new police leader, Chief Steve Singletary, to replace former Chief Bill McDaniel, who was promoted to Assistant City Manager for Public Safety in January.

• Completed the first phase of Brewer Park at Grant and Hunter streets, adding a trail around what initially was a drainage pond.

• With the help of the Chamber of Commerce and Florida Strawberry Festival, brought back the Fourth of July fireworks celebration at Plant City Stadium after a four-year hiatus.

• Launched a major overhaul of Mendonsa Road that was delayed seven months because of weather and utility relocations. Road work will finish in about a week.

• Built a reclaimed water pipeline to the Walden Lake Golf & Country Club for greens irrigation. About half the $4.7 million cost was funded by the state.

Also important, but not likely to spark buzz, the city crafted an agreement with Polk County to allow it to keep its sanitation costs down.

"It's not sexy, but it's very important to our citizens," Horwedel said. "This is the fifth year we have been able to keep our sanitation costs from going up."

Horwedel said the city now aims to build a train-viewing platform south of the downtown depot using private funds; and to forge an agreement with the state over maintenance responsibilities for Wheeler and Alexander streets once the Department of Transportation finishes the Alexander Street extension north of Interstate 4 in 2014.

Still unknown is the fate of Plant City Stadium. The city is looking to eliminate maintenance costs, which exceed what the stadium earns in leases. Horwedel said officials expect to know by Oct. 1 whether the city will keep the stadium, lease it, or sell it after hearing from bidders.

Said Horwedel: "Plant City is stable and improving and we're putting ourselves in a position to handle the next wave of development and prosperity."

Rich Shopes can be reached at rshopes@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2454.

State of the city: 'Stable and improving' 06/13/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 12, 2013 4:52pm]
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