By BEN GRAFTON
City Planner Latilda Henninger opened the Freeport City Council meeting of Nov. 13 by presenting a draft ordinance on equine management to the Council.
Mayor Mickey Marse told the Council that a lot of complaints, principally about droppings, were being received about people riding horses on the city’s sidewalks and bike paths.
The Henninger reported that nuisance provisions in the Land Development Code already addresses some, but not all, of the issues involved. She commented that under the draft ordinance animal owners would not be allowed to let droppings accumulate on premises where the animals are kept and riders would not be allowed to let droppings remain on sidewalks or paths. Off premises riders would be required to have manure bags fitted on the horses. She said, ” If any manure hits the ground the rider can get a ticket,” and “… fines would increase for second or subsequent offenses.”
Marse said, “I don’t want to stop the people from riding but I want them to be responsible for the mess that is being left behind in the path of another resident.”
Councilwoman Elizabeth Brannon stated she is not in favor of those portions of the draft that apply to property where the animals are kept. Councilman Earl King agreed saying, “Trying to regulate a 48-hour cleanup policy on private property is going to be difficult.”
Councilman Harold Taunton advised the Council that Walton County has a policy that of requiring horse owners to provide a minimum of one acre for one horse and two acres for two.
Henninger, with concurrence of City Attorney Clay Adkinson, asked that the presentation of the draft ordinance at this meeting serve as its first reading provided the ordinance is revised and that the second reading of the ordinance will be advertised at least 10 days in advance of the second reading. Henninger will revise the draft and place copies in the mail boxes of the Council. The Council approved the request.
Henninger then asked the Council to set a workshop for discussing changes to the Land Development Code that cover requirements for industrial properties. The Council set the workshop for Wednesday, Dec. 5 at 7 p.m.
Interim Fire Chief Al Ford presented the fire department monthly report. The fellowship dinner was a great success and the department is now planning a Christmas dinner.
Ford reported that in October there were 48 medical calls, three structure fires, one garbage truck fire and others calls that bring the total number to 74 for the month. Firefighters participated in 85 hours of training in subjects that included fire safety and water rescue.
Bidders on the work to upgrade the fire station electrical service to a 200 amp system with an emergency cutoff clarified their bids by adding a detailed listing of the materials that would be required. The lowest bid, $7,579, was by Delta. The Council accepted the bid and authorized Ford to get started on the work.
Parks Director Shane Supple presented a maintenance update. Three new swings and three new tables have been installed at the Sports Complex. Rye grass was put out on the playing fields in mid-October. Repair work on the irrigation well system has been completed. All lights have been replaced in the bathrooms.
Supple reported that the soccer program, participated in by several hundred players, went well and was concluded last week. Basketball is starting now. Next year’s schedule includes seven baseball tournaments.
Preble-Rish Engineer Charlie Cotton reported that the bids have been received for the water control valve project at the Portland tank. The low bid at $69,750 came from Utility Solutions. The bid package calls for completion of the job within 120 days of its start and Cotton feels this period is adequate. Lead Water Operator Ben Lewis advised the Council it is essential to do this work if the city’s different water systems are to work together. A motion to proceed with the work was approved.
City Clerk Robin Haynes asked for Council approval of five items having to do with personnel: (1) Each employee to have two evaluations per year using a new form; (2) Adopt the revised job descriptions and the new organization chart; (3) Provide a 3-percent raise to all employees, but exclude the Mayor and Council; (4) Advertise for new employees to fill openings; and (5) Adopt the new organization chart for the fire department. All of the items were approved.
Marse asked for and received Council approval to cancel the second regular meeting in November because of the conflict with the Thanksgiving holiday.
A local group of Oath Keepers members have asked the city allow them to meet in city facilities with a waiver of fees. (According to Wikipedia, “Oath Keepers is an American nonprofit organization that advocates that its members [current and former military and law enforcement people] uphold the Constitution of the United States should they be ordered to violate it. The Oath Keepers motto is ‘Not On Our Watch!’, and their stated objective is to resist those actions taken be the U.S. Government that overstep Constitutional boundaries.”) The local group expects there will be no more than 10 – 15 people at their meetings. The Council approved their request.
Councilman Ray Jackson reported that he thought the very well-attended “Fallen Soldier” memorial dedication ceremony at City Hall was outstanding.
A Tropical Way (a development outside of Freeport City limits off of Bay Grove Road and dating to about 2005) resident addressed the Council saying that his septic tank has failed and that he doesn’t have the funds to pay the regular tap and impact fees and asked for some relief. Another Tropical Way resident vociferously spoke out about the failed septic systems in this development and claimed she had appealed to Walton County Commissioner Sara Comander about the situation to no avail. Haynes reported that she has received two other similar requests.
The city recently offered a fee reduction to residents in Tropical Way who would hook up to the city sewage system, but the response to this offer was less than expected and it has recently expired. Jackson suggested re-activating the hook-up fee reduction until the end of the year. Adkinson cautioned that to extend the fee reduction until the end of the year was all right but that the city can’t continue to waive impact fees.
King commented that the city has tried to be pro-active in helping to clean up the Bay and asked if help couldn’t come from the state or from the health department to help deal with the health issues that exist in this area (Tropical Way).
The Council approved a motion to extend the fee reduction program for Tropical Way to the end of the year and it will set a workshop to review and plan for dealing with this situation. Both Marse and King appealed to the residents to help the city by contacting their county commissioner and county agencies about the septic problems in this subdivision.