Story and photos by BEN GRAFTON
Before a standing room only crowd with overflow in the hallways, Councilman Ray Jackson called the Freeport Council meeting of July 25 to order and called City Clerk Robin Haynes forward to administer the oath of office to newly elected Mayor Russ Barley. Following the oath the crowd broke into cheers and applause. Then, Barley proceeded to swear in newly elected Councilwomen Jennifer Laird and Janice McLean and reelected Councilwoman Elizabeth Brannon.
After the applause died down Barley took up the gavel and called for reports from staff.
City Planner Latilda Hughes advised the Council that a development order has been issued to Waste Management for construction of an expanded facility. It is expected that, over time, there will be a 10-person increase in staffing. The facility will perform maintenance and administrative work.
Hughes said new Planning Board members are needed and asked those present to consider volunteering for service.
Hughes also reported that there are five properties along SR-20 West that are in violation of code provisions. These properties have recently been taken over by new owners who have agreed to correct the existing problems.
Fire Chief Chad Harrell reported that during June the department responded to a total of 85 calls. These included 59 medical calls and seven vehicular incidents among others. There were 311 training hours logged and 50 fire hydrants were inspected and painted.
Anna Hudson of Preble-Rish reported that work on the water and sewer engineering models is going forward. Information gathered will help in analysis of the existing system. Field verification of data is underway in five water system areas and six sewage system areas.
Haynes asked for and received approval for a budget hearing on Sept. 10 and there will be a budget workshop at 7 p.m. on Aug. 12.
Haynes also reported that presently the proposed budget millage is 4.73 mills and the roll back rate is 4.86 mills. The budget rate can go lower, but it cannot exceed the roll back rate. Councilman Harold Taunton commented that the roll back rate does not mean that taxes will increase next year.
Barley’s nomination of McLean for Council President was approved.
Freeport City Historian Becky Buxton submitted a letter of resignation but Barley asked her to stay on. She has agreed but needs to get assistance from a volunteer.
Brannon announced there will be a Northwest Florida League of Cities (NWFLC) ethics workshop in Orlando. She also gave Council members a NWFLC issues survey packet to identify city items that need to be brought before the legislature. Freeport’s response is due by Sept. 4.
Barley announced he thinks Freeport should have an annual festival and asked Council members to prepare to discuss this at the next regular meeting. He also proposed converting the Old Post Office into a Freeport museum.
Board members were given assignments as follows for the coming year: Laird – Water Department; Jackson – Sewer Department; McLean – Fire Department; Taunton – Parks and Brannon – Legislation.
A celebration of Freeport’s 50th birthday will be held from 5 – 7 p.m. on July 31 at City Hall.