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Lee Town Council discuss paying bills online and town millage

Ashley Hunter

Greene Publishing, Inc.

On Tuesday, Aug. 2, at 7 p.m., the Lee Town Council held their general meeting for the month of August.

The council meeting started out with the usual pledge and prayer, before the council members went to business accepting the agenda and the minutes from their July meeting.

With no participants for public comment, the council moved ahead to holding the second public hearing for ordinance #CPA2016-01, which handled the land use map.

Jeanne Bass, of the Madison County Planning and Zoning Board, was present to inform the council members of actions that had been taken since the first public hearing for the ordinance in July.

“We have tweaked the future land use map a little bit and made some changes that the residents had requested,” said Bass. A few minor changes and corrections were made to the land use ordinance to designate what everything was and Bass said that it was ready for the council members to approve.

The goal of the ordinance will be to update the objectives and policies of future land use, including housing, transportation, infrastructure, conservation, recreational, inter-governmental, coordination, capitol improvements, and school elements as well as to develop an economical element to the comprehensive plan. It will also update the land-use map.

At the meeting, there was no public comment or input regarding the ordinance, so the council made a motion to adopt the ordinance and it was approved, 4-0.

There was no other new business, so the rest of the meeting went directly to the notes of Town Manager John Anderson.

Anderson gave an update on a loan to the  Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) as well as the town's progress in applying for Florida Recreation Development Assistance Program (FRDAP) grants.  The city of Madison had applied for similar grants, which had been used to update parks in the city.  It was Anderson's goal to have the grant writing submitted by the end of August so that Lee may also have a chance at updating their existing parks.

Anderson also discussed Lee's Lake Brittany, and the lake's need for a new aerator.  For the purchase of the aerator alone, the city is facing a cost of $1,000. Including laying tubing in the lake and set up, the cost was boosted to $2,600. Anderson had also priced decorative fountains, but decided that at the prices of the decorative fountains, he'd prefer installing two aerators instead.  Anderson did inform the council members that he would continue pricing aerators and fountains and come back to them with a final estimate of the price of the fountain and labor for installation.

Another item of interest to the council members was the progress that Anderson and Deputy Clerk JoAnn Kuhl had made in researching payment programs that would allow citizens to pay their utility bills through credit card and/or online. Up until now, customers had to pay in cash or check, but various citizens had requested an ability to pay through credit or debit cards.

Kuhl had researched various payment processing companies, but ultimately, the council members agreed on a program that offered the best benefits to the town while also providing ease of service to their utility customers.

In the upcoming future, there will be the option to pay online or through debit and credit cards, but there has yet to be a definite date set and, according to Anderson, there will be an announcement included on the utility bills informing clients and citizens on when the program is ready for use.

Next, council members discussed two cases of existing utility bills that Anderson was having difficulty getting the responsible parties to pay.  One case involved the death of a citizen who had an existing water bill and Anderson had been unsuccessful in getting family members to pay the bill.  Another involved a business owner who had an outstanding bill, but had packed up her business and disappeared.  It was agreed that the Town Attorney would write a letter to both parties and if the bills were still not paid, further action would be decided by the council.

Councilwoman Diane Beck advised that, in the future, the council and town manager need to be more forceful and aggressive on code enforcement.

Finally, the council agreed on a time before their September meeting to hold a budget workshop and reevaluate the town's millage; this will be separate from their regular meetings. While the council did not discuss millage rates and decided to save that conversation for their budget workshop, Mayor Eddie Bell did advise that while raising the millage may be unpleasant, in order to keep Lee functioning, it may need to be done.

“We hate to [raise the millage rate],” said Bell. “But we need funds to improve roads and other projects.”

Currently, Lee is looking at raising the millage to seven mills from its current 6.442, Mayor Bell advised that his own bill would be raised $12-$14 a year through the increase.   Another factor that Mayor Bell mentioned is that Madison County is currently at a millage rate of 10; Greenville is at nine and the city of Madison is currently in debate between raising theirs to eight or keeping it at seven. “We would still be lower than anyone else in the county,” said Bell.

The public is invited to attend the workshop, which will be held at Lee Town Hall, located at 286 NE CR 255, and will be held at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 23.

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