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Big lots, low price: Sun ‘N Lake to consider selling 1,300 lots for $500K

SEBRING — Local government entities have wanted to get vacant, foreclosed lots out of public hands back in private hands, and on tax rolls again.

Sun ‘N Lake Special Improvement District has an opportunity to do that on Friday with 1,300 lots in the Unit 12 area, between Tanglewood and Ortega Boulevard.

The Board of Supervisors has a contract in front of it to sell those lots to Ramsidtor Properties Inc., of which local developer Raymond Hornick is a principal, for $500,000.

Those lots would be the majority of the 1,534 lots the district foreclosed on in December last year, according to Sun ‘N Lake General Manager Tanya Cannady.

The appraised value for that entire unit, which includes more lots than the sale, is $3.85 million, according to agenda materials.

Cannady said the appraisal was done prior to the foreclosure, on Nov. 26, 2019.

When asked if $500,000 is a fair price for the lots, Cannady could not venture an opinion.

“That’s up to the board,” she said.

The dollar difference has raised eyebrows with regular attendees of the board meetings, including former supervisor David Halbig.

“I am and have always been a big fan of Raymond Hornick. I believe he has done more than anyone in developing Sun-n-Lake,” Halbig wrote in a letter to the board. “I also believe most everything he has done has been on his nickel.”

He said it looks as though Unit 12 would need to be re-platted, but he expressed concern that the level of detail in the contract might indicate discussions had taken place on the issue outside of board meetings without public comment.

The resolution in the agenda states that the board has determined that the sale “is in the best interest of the District.” Halbig disputes that.

“In no way, shape, or form is selling this piece of prime real estate for 15% of the appraised value in the best interest of the District,” Halbig said in his letter.

Referencing the counteroffer page that states certain lots will be removed, he also asked if the materials contained the latest appraisal, and whether or not that appraisal constitutes a counteroffer.

“Hopefully decisions have not been made and the Board will move in the best interest of the District in securing the best possible price for this property,” Halbig concluded.

Larry Bertetto, another concerned resident and regular at board meetings, said when he read the contract on the agenda, the appraiser said that the development of that area is not financially feasible.

“If [you] add 1,300 homes, which won’t happen in a day, how can our sewer system upgrade for that?” Bertetto asked.

He recalled that when National Recreational Properties Inc. (NRPI) owned many of the lots in the District, that company had engineers come in and put in a water treatment plant, or set aside land for that.

Bertetto recalls that such a plant costs $5 million, 10 times the purchase price.

“Who’s going to pay for that?” Bertetto said.

Bertetto expressed concern that planning for a development works in conjunction with improvements in infrastructure so that new residents will pay the cost to expand systems with their connection fees and monthly bills. Otherwise, he wondered if existing residents might see their rates go up. So far, that hasn’t happened with other developments in the District.

Hornick has developed many parts of the district already.

His website, HornickHomes.com, states that as a third-generation builder, he has constructed Deer Run Estates and The Preserve at Sun ‘N Lake and is currently developing Magnolia Golf Villas and Magnolia Place in the District.

Cannady said Hornick “has expressed” that [Unit 12] is planned for development. It would require a new entrance onto Ortega, but not onto Schumacher Road to the south, she said.

When asked if the district can absorb that many more homes into its utility system, Cannady said the district charges water and sewer connection fees to both run and expand the system.

It would take a long time to clear, plat, plan and layout a new development, she said.

“You’re talking years,” Cannady said.

Then the developer and District would have to market the area, bringing in new residents to buy lots and build, which would take many more years, she said.

Electoral College: 'Crisis management' here to stay

SEBRING — Five times since the founding of the United States, presidential candidates have won the popular vote but lost the election to the Electoral College.

Some have begun to wonder if it might be better to end that system for a popular vote, but doing so may not be as easy as it seems.

“The small rural states will never give up their power,” said Dr. Marcy Everest, professor of political science at South Florida State College. “They are never going to agree to give electoral votes to who wins the national vote.”

It came from the aftermath of the Revolutionary War. In 1787, just four years after England recognized the United States’ independence, the nation was in a huge economic depression, Everest said. Commerce had ground to a halt with food shortages, no national trade laws, every state printing its own currency, with exchange rates changing by the hour.

The nation had no funds for an army or navy and no way to pay back foreign powers who helped them win the war. The Founders figured they had two years, at best, before another nation invaded.

Also, Shay’s Rebellion in 1786 had shown the nation couldn’t afford to compensate its veterans, who, still trying to rebuild their lives, were unable to pay taxes to help the nation rebuild.

The Founders met during a sweltering summer in Philadelphia for the Constitutional Convention of 1787 and told the public they wanted to “tinker” with the Articles of Confederation.

“They knew they would have to throw them out and start from scratch,” Everest said.

They just didn’t want to panic a public that had just overthrown the previous government.

“This was ‘Crisis Management 101,’” she said.

They discussed having Congress pick the president. The Founders chose a popular vote, but the number of white male property-owners in southern states was low.

Thus, Founders did the “Three-Fifths Compromise." Slaveholder states could count three fifths of enslaved people for the population-based House of Representatives and the Electoral College.

“Ever since then it’s given the old southern slave states a heavier weight,” Everest said. “It was the only way the southern states could have influence in elections, [but] it pulled the country out of the ditch and got the economy moving.”

The Electoral College was never intended to be the “perfect” system for picking the president, said George Edwards III, emeritus political science professor at Texas A&M University in an article for History.com.

“It wasn’t like the Founders said, ‘Hey, what a great idea! This is the preferred way to select the chief executive, period,’” Edwards said. “They were tired, impatient, frustrated. They cobbled together this plan because they couldn’t agree on anything else.”

Akhil Reed Amar, who teaches constitutional law at Yale University, said in his book, “The Constitution Today,” that the system had bias in favor of slavery. For 32 of the Constitution’s first 36 years, a slave-holding Virginian held the presidency.

Virginia was the California of the era, according to a Time Magazine essay based on Amar’s book. Out of the 91 electoral votes at that time, Virginia had 12, more than one fourth of the 46 needed to win an election.

After the 1800 census, Amar said, Pennsylvania had 10% more free people than Virginia, but still got 20% fewer electoral votes.

Also, the more slaves bought or bred, the more electoral votes a slave state would receive, he said. Any freed or escaped slaves who went north would take electoral votes with them.

“By the time of the Civil War, there was no way slavery would extend west, because none of [the western] states would have anything to do with it,” Everest said of the road to abolition. “[They were] kicking that can down the road for 60 years.”

She said it was an economic problem as much as a moral one: A unified country can’t exist with competing economic systems of slave labor against a free market economy.

Slavery needed to end in the South, Everest said. No one wanted to work for free if they could make it to the North and get paid for work.

Editorials in newspapers at the time, she said, argued that the influx of people who escaped slavery also flooded the job market, creating competition for people already there.

Everest points out that without slave labor, the nation could not have competed in the global market during those early years, but slavery needed to end.

Amar also said one Founding-era argument for the Electoral College was that ordinary Americans in a vast continent lacked good enough communication and information to choose presidential candidates directly.

Early emergence of national presidential parties rendered that objection obsolete, he said, because people could then evaluate candidates based on those parties’ platforms.

Another reason the Electoral College persists today, Everest said, is because it benefits the small, rural and less-populated states.

The 12th Amendment, which establishes the Electoral College, states that every four years, electors are chosen and meet in their respective states to vote for the president and vice president.

Their votes are tallied, listed, signed, certified, then sent to the Senate and counted by the Senate President, also known as the sitting vice president.

The person with the most votes is president, but if no one has a majority, then the House of Representatives — each state getting one vote — chooses the president from the three who got the most votes.

“We are the only democracy on the planet that doesn’t elect by popular vote,” Everest said.

Since 1988, the Republican Party has not won the popular vote for 28 of those 32 years, she said. The one exception is 2004, by roughly 500,000 votes, or less than the population of present-day Polk County, Florida.

There is a move now for states to give their electoral votes to the national popular winner, not the winner in that state. It would need all states agreeing to do it to change the system, and aside from the fact that amending the Constitution is an arduous process, Everest said small states won’t do it.

When asked if adding Puerto Rico and/or the District of Columbia as states would shift the electoral balance, she said it might, temporarily.

It would change the Senate, but not the House of Representatives, she said.

Plus, a state that votes “blue” or “red” now might change its color in the future.

“’All politics is local,’” Everest said, quoting former Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill.

County adds 20 cases of COVID, 3 deaths

SEBRING — The Florida Department of Health’s Wednesday COVID-19 report showed Highlands County having a poor day for the second day in a row. On Wednesday, the county added 20 new cases of coronavirus and reported three more deaths from the previous day’s report.

The new infections bring the total positive cases to 2,285, including non-residents. The report shows the cases came from 164 processed tests on Oct. 6. The positivity rate for Oct. 6 was 10.87%, per the Wednesday report. That is a slight tick up from the previous day’s positivity rate and the highest since Sept. 22. A positivity rate of 5% or less for two weeks is a guideline for reopening.

According to the Highlands County Board of County Commission, 21,963 people have been tested with 19,667 negative tests with 11 inconclusive and 13 tests still pending on Wednesday.

The three new deaths has brought the overall death toll to 97 people, or 3% of all cases. There have been 248 hospitalizations in the county. Currently there are 19, five more people admitted than the previous day’s report.

Statewide, the positive cases rose by 2,582, which includes non-residents. The new total of positive case on Wednesday was 722,707. The new cases came from 58,810 tests processed, which was quite a bit more than the previous day’s tests at 41,120 tests. There was an additional 137 new deaths to bring the toll to 14,904.

The FDOH report shows a slight dip in the positivity rate to 4.15%, down from 5.25% the previous day. In the case of positivity, less is always better.

Other counties have not been as fortunate as Highlands County, which has only every seen single and double digits. Many neighboring counties have come down from quadruple digit jumps and are down to a relative low triple digits. They are: Broward — 239, Dade — 421, Duval — 189, Hillsborough — 139, Orange — 195, and Palm Beach — 138.

Dixie and Liberty counties must be doing something right as they had zero new cases in Wednesday’s report.

Nationally, there have been 7,533,976 cases of infections and 211,492 deaths.

Globally, there have been 35,980,287 cases of COVID-19 and 1,052,193 deaths reported.

Arrest made in pedestrian fatality

AVON PARK — A Lake Wales pedestrian was killed Tuesday night after being struck by the driver of a pickup truck near the intersection of College Drive and U.S. 27.

The Florida Highway Patrol arrested Clifford Clayton Coleman, 63, of Sebring in the death of the victim. Coleman has been charged with DUI cause of death to a human and negligent manslaughter, DUI cause death, fail to render aid. He is being held without bond in the Highlands County Jail.

FHP crash reports no longer come in with names involved in crashes and/or fatalities. The FHP crash report involving Coleman and his victim did not contain the names. However, the FHP arrest report obtained through the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office shows the name of the suspect and victim.

According to the report, the fatality occurred along U.S. 27 just south of Sachsenmaier Drive at about 7:27 p.m. Tuesday. The arrest report shows the victim was James Marvin Carter, 44. The FHP crash report shows the next of kin was notified.

According to the report, Carter was walking southbound with a companion on the “outside paved apron of U.S. 27.” The report said Carter was walking backwards talking to his partner when he pushed her out of the way. The woman told troopers a pickup truck then struck Carter and continued south on U.S. 27.

During the investigation, troopers found Coleman’s truck on the outside shoulder of U.S. 27 south of the crash site. He was arrested for DUI manslaughter, according to the report.

According to unofficial records kept by the Highlands News-Sun, this is the 19th fatality on Highlands County roadways. Carter is the third pedestrian to be killed.