TAVARES – The Lake~Sumter Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) hosted the fourth session of Our Community – Our Future on June 11 at the Lake County Agricultural Center. The focus was on solutions to what the group had previously designated as the “Big Four,” which includes the areas of water resources, education, transportation and economic development.
Accomplishments of evening included a consensus on potential solutions to address major community issues. The group also concurred that a continuing forum for interaction among governments and community stakeholders would enhance communication, collaboration and cooperation.
The first three sessions, which began in May 2007, explored the vision for Lake County’s future. The visioning sessions included panel discussions on how local governments can become better organized at tackling issues that cross jurisdictional boundaries.
At Wednesday’s two-hour session, elected officials, community stakeholders and regional resource agencies grasped with the metaphor provided by moderator T.J. Fish: “We have many paddles in the water; are we paddling together?” The reference was made to the multiple planning efforts of local governments, the school district, economic development agencies, the water alliance and private business.
Goals for the evening were to examine problems or obstacles, establish solutions, examine interrelationships and opportunities for partnership, and address the need for communication, collaboration and cooperation.
The evening kicked off with a presentation from Harry Fix, Lake County School District director of growth planning, outlining Lake County School’s Five Year work program for constructing schools and highlighting educational initiatives including workforce development.
The consensus on education was that rapid growth has strained the school district to keep up with needs. Some participants acknowledged that the school system had been forced to focus on school construction, which has taken resources from educational programs. Some of the solutions discussed included:
- Shift back to neighborhood schools
- Emphasis on workforce development
- Strengthen ties into Community College
- Public Private Partnerships
T.J. Fish, executive director of the Lake~Sumter MPO, presented the grim picture of Lake County Transportation funding, where projected needs outpace projected funding by about more than two billion dollars between now and 2025. The group identified the problem of transportation needs outpacing the ability to cover costs under current funding structure.
The solutions to alleviate this problem included:
- Public /private partnerships
- Diversification of funding sources for transportation
- Stop sprawl, focus new development to city centers
- Increasing multi-modal transportation
- City/county/FDOT partnerships
The forum moved on to the topic of water resources as Tavares Mayor Nancy Clutts, who chairs the Lake County Water Alliance, provided an overview. She started her presentation with statement that the St. Johns River Water Management District Water has mandated development of alternative water supplies by 2013. This means no more consumptive water permits to pull water from the aquifer after 2013. With such an important topic the discussion focused on a number of strategies to meet the mandate:
- Unified approach to meeting mandate – Water Alliance
- Regional advocacy for Lake County
- Aggressive conservation via ordinance & enforcement
- Public education
- Create/provide incentives to conserve
- Regulate private wells
- Business/Industry partnerships
- Teamwork approach to solution
Lake County’s director of economic growth and redevelopment, Dottie Keedy, wrapped up the topics with an overview of the Lake County’s recently completed economic development plan. The group tackled the issue of Lake County not effectively diversifying the economic base. The result is that many residents of Lake county remain dependent on jobs outside the county.
Some of the solutions for enhanced economic development included:
- Strategic land use decisions
- Proper marketing of specific areas
- Plan Implementation
The evening ended with agreement that the Lake~Sumter MPO would lead the effort among the various governmental entities and community stakeholders to increase, and ensure direct communication, collaboration and cooperation in dealing with these issues.
The next Our Community-Our Future: Session 5 will be held in September.