Thank you for taking the time to read this special edition of Worth Noting, a New Years message from City Manager Mike Bornstein called, “One City.”
Aside from the Mayor and Commissioners, I am the only other person in our community who is immersed on a daily basis in all the difficult problems we face as a City. While we live in paradise, there are many issues and most times we creatively come up with an effective, efficient and legal way to deal with them. However, sometimes we fail to get beyond the legal authority granted to us by state law and/or our limited resources due to our financial condition.
As City Manager, I also get to fully appreciate the tremendous value of what we are and what we have as a community. Lake Worth citizens: the friends, families, neighbors, business owners and visitors who inhabit and enjoy the many wonderful places, buildings and shared spaces each day are what really make Lake Worth that special place. It is truly a place to call home and unlike any other in the county.
The City employees who serve the citizens are also special. I have often said that the City staff is like a crew in a lifeboat. They are so busy rowing to keep things moving each day you sometimes do not realize that they are also very busy patching holes in the hull and fixing the rudder as they row. Some days are better than others, but every day is a blessing and I am deeply honored to work for and with people who are dedicated to doing their best for this community.
I regularly receive questions and comments about issues ranging from potholes to sober houses. In most cases our issues are not unique to Lake Worth as cities across the state are dealing with the same ones. We share our ideas through organizations such as the League of Cities and from working with them it becomes evident that all cities must consider two important factors. The first is the limits set by external entities such as the federal or state laws, and, secondly, the resources necessary to pay for a solution if one is possible.
For example, in dealing with sober homes, cities are prohibited by the Federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Fair Housing Act from enacting laws that treat them differently than any other type of rental. Thinking with common sense may lead you to believe that these are businesses operating in residential areas with potential negative impacts when operated by unscrupulous owners. You may ask, “Why doesn’t the City require a special license or prohibit them altogether?” The simple answer is that as long as Congress considers a person with an addiction as protected under law, the City is greatly limited in our response. Instead, we must work with our state and federal leaders to figure out how to creatively and legally mitigate the impacts while also working for changes to the laws.
As for problems like potholes and the poor condition of our streets throughout the City, the fact is that there is not enough money to cover the costs. The money currently available for streets just pays to patch potholes, make small repairs, and do an occasional project in coordination with a utility project that must be done under the pavement. Citizens ask about grant money and there is only one source for residential streets called a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG). It is based on our poverty rate, which is around 30%. The Commission has been investing this money into Greenway and roadway projects such as 10th Avenue South and the upcoming Barton Road and Tropical Drive project. Again, we are coordinating with a much needed water line replacement project there. The CDBG grant is approximately $250,000 a year, so it is nowhere enough to solve the problem citywide which would require well over $50 million just to catch up.
These two examples demonstrate that the issues you see are much more involved and complicated than a simple answer will address. As the representatives of the City Organization, we are problem solvers by nature and we much prefer to be a part of the solution instead of being seen as unhelpful or unwilling. Many times when I get a chance to sit and discuss the details of an issue, residents start to understand a more comprehensive approach is required. To this point, the City needs to do a better job of getting important information into your hands. As Citizens, you have a much greater ability to engage other levels of government, to help make decisions on how to fund needed improvements, and to find creative solutions beyond the City’s capability to address.
In the past couple of years we have developed a new website, created a newsletter insert in the utility bill, set up a Twitter account, and most recently started an email newsletter and an online electric utility map to check outages. In the coming year we will be working to open more lines of communication by creating a Facebook page. We are also exploring specialized online engagement for people who do not attend meetings, improved surveys, and more traditional town hall meetings across the City. Solutions to the issues that concern you start with you getting involved. We are committed to doing a better job of giving you all the information you need to understand the issues and to provide input.
Lake Worth is known for how passionate the citizens are about our City. As City Manager, I believe that what joins us is greater than anything that separates us. While sometimes extreme points of view dominate the discussion, most everyone I see genuinely cares about our City, its future, and wants the best for all. We face many challenges in the coming years and the only way we will be able to meet them is by seeking out the points where we agree and working through those areas where we do not agree as a community. We are well on our way of being the best version of ourselves – One City.