Polk County Commissioners will gather at their annual business retreat in February to talk about a wide range of issues, many of which were enumerated by Commissioner George Lindsey during an address to the commission shortly after his re-election in November.
County Manager Bill Beasley told commissioners last week that he hopes the annual sit down will take a long look at some of the major issues facing the county over the long-term, rather than concentrating on short-term issues.
“We need to talk about the big stuff over the long haul,” Beasley told the board.
He suggested topics such as “managing growth” and “how to jump start infrastructure.”
Lindsey said he hoped the five-member county governing body would also consider the areas he suggested in November, when he outlined what he says he sees as the major issues facing the county in the coming years.
Lindsey's list included topics such as transportation, water resources, a uniformed countywide recycling process, behavioral health issues and affordable housing.
Commissioner Martha Santiago also asked to add a discussion of how the board may be able to develop strategies to aid struggling small businesses and investigate ways to establish countywide broadband availability.
Lindsey said past retreats had focused on public safety issues, most of which he said have been addressed, and “we need to put those on cruise control” to tackle the other issues.
In recent years, the board identified the need for additional fire and EMS stations, some of which are already under construction or soon will be, Lindsey said. Provisions for hiring additional firefighters and paramedics have also been included in the budgeting for the coming years.
Law enforcement also topped the agenda in last year's retreat, with Polk Sheriff Grady Judd making a detailed presentation on his department's wants and needs. A new Sheriff's intake and processing center also is under construction and jail renovations have already been included in the 2020-2021 budget.
“We're looking at a 10-15 year policy discussion,” Beasley said, “and these are really meaty issues.”
The board usually hires an outside facilitator to run its annual retreat, but the board opted to bypass that method this year and leave the meeting coordination to staff instead. The retreat is scheduled for Feb. 18 and 19 and a location has yet to be decided upon. Earlier retreats have been held at the Circle Bar B Ranch Park meeting facility.
Another suggestion from Beasley also drew board approval: a joint-session of the county board with the school board.
The county levies impact fees on new development, portions of which have been earmarked for the school system since 2015. He suggested a joint session be held in April or May, after the school system has hired its new superintendent. Among the issues expected to top that agenda is that of impact fees, said the county manager.
Also on that agenda would be discussion of hurricane or disaster shelters. Presently, the county uses some schools as shelters, but Beasley said “important joint agreements” may need updating.