Freeport City Council Holds Marathon Meeting, Fires Parks Director

By JEFFREY POWELL

The Freeport City Council held its first regularly scheduled meeting of the month on August 8, 2017. Approximately 30 members of the general public attended the meeting. Council member Kasey Cuchens was not in attendance. The meeting began at 9 a.m. and ended close to three and one-half hours later.
Freeport Finance Director Sara Bowers brought before the council several options concerning employee insurance for the upcoming fiscal year. The council decided to continue with Florida Blue for health insurance and to stay with the Florida League of Cities for their public risk insurance. Bowers also asked for and received permission to purchase new billing and accounting software to replace the antiquated software currently in use. The purchase is with the American Data Group at the cost of approximately $75,000. The cost also includes training and conversion from the current system.

Under the planning and zoning heading City Planner Latilda Neel asked for several land development code amendments including standards that are no longer valid. She asked that the city do away with irrevocable lines of credit, move from two- tier to three-tier height restrictions, eliminate sidewalks to and from industrial parks, and place long needle pines on the city protected trees list. The pine trees could still be removed if they caused a hazard to structures. Bob McGill of Freeport Residential, LLC discussed a number of changes to the Riverwalk development which has been dormant since the latest economic downturn. He pointed out the addition of commercial property adjacent to U.S. 331 and the increase of single family and multiple family units. He echoed Neel’s concern for affordable housing for both seniors and those in the workforce. McGill’s requests were approved by the council.

Under the parks department heading Director Dana Weiler discussed a recreational trail grant for approximately $191,000 to be used on 18 acres south of the Freeport Regional Sports Complex. She informed the council that the state had to be notified of the city’s intentions by Friday, Aug. 11. A vote for her to move forward received no second and appeared to have died.

Public comment from the audience supported the process to move forward and expressed the belief that the grant would be positive for the community. Later in the meeting council members reversed their previous decision, as attorney Clayton Atkinson said the city would not be obligated until a final approval was given. Council member Amanda Green stressed that she had not had time to review the proposal as she was new on the board.

Council member Elizabeth Brannon suggested that the city hire an outside organization to conduct a forensic audit. She questioned impact fee accounts and was unsure where $80,000 was. The council decided to get bids for the audit which would go back five years. Brannon also brought before the council a resolution prohibiting deep injection wells of waste leaching in Freeport and the surrounding area. The council approved the resolution.

Council member Eddie Farris discussed a proposal to the county to finally solve the wastewater problems that have plagued the Brandon Oaks development, which is south of Freeport. The city would enter into an agreement which would allow the city to work off a $145,000 debt by covering the $8,300 cost of installing sewer to the first 17 homes most in need of repair. The city will review the possibility of contracting out the work. Farris’s second order of business was a motion to remove Parks Director Dana Weiler from her position effective immediately. A second was made by council member Brannon and the motion was approved by a 3 to 1 vote. Council member William McCormick voted no.