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Lake County Cities Set Common Goals

June 27, 2008

By Martin E. Comas, The Orlando Sentinel, Fla.

Jun. 27–TAVARES

Elected officials from Lake County’s Golden Triangle cities — Eustis, Mount Dora and Tavares — met face to face this week to discuss working together on a host of issues ranging from water conservation and public safety to synchronizing traffic lights and purchasing office supplies.

Tuesday’s meeting at Tavares City Hall was an introductory meet-and-greet session. Attendees followed no agenda. However, all the council members and commissioners attending, along with their city managers, agreed that the neighboring communities have common interests and concerns. Combining resources will save taxpayer money and provide government efficiency, they concluded.

“I was excited that everyone spoke and participated. I found that very historic,” Tavares Mayor Nancy Clutts said Wednesday.

The next Golden Triangle Summit is scheduled for January. Until then, city managers — Tavares’ John Drury, Mount Dora’s Mike Quinn and Eustis’ Paul Berg — are charged with putting together a list of priority items.

The first tasks should be simple ones, and they should be tackled before moving on to more complex items, summit participants said.

“We need to learn the process of working together and building relationships at first,” Clutts said. “We’ll get to the big-league issues after working on the little issues first.”

How cities can work together

Here are some Golden Triangle issues discussed at Tuesday’s summit:

IMPROVEMENT OF THE DORA CANAL

Boaters use the waterway linking Lake Eustis and Lake Dora to travel between the three cities. However, low water levels because of below-average rainfall the past few years have made it difficult for large boats to use the waterway. The three cities should work with the Lake County Water Authority in improving the canal, officials say.

“We have businesses in Mount Dora that depend on boaters traveling across Lake Dora and using that canal,” Mount Dora Mayor Melissa DeMarco said.

SYNCHRONIZATION OF TRAFFIC LIGHTS ON U.S. HIGHWAY 441

About 40,000 vehicles use the thoroughfare between Tavares and Mount Dora every day. Along much of the route, U.S. 441 is the dividing line between Eustis and Mount Dora. Officials said working with the state Department of Transportation to coordinate the lights would make it easier for motorists to travel the roadway.

COMMON PURCHASES

Each city has to buy the usual items — office supplies, equipment, vehicles and fuel. It would be more efficient if the Golden Triangle cities bought many of these items together in bulk at a discount, saving taxpayer money, officials said.

Tavares City Administrator John Drury suggested that the cities’ purchasing departments “get together to form a Golden Triangle bidders’ list.”

RECREATIONAL TRAILS

Eustis officials recently started mapping a network of trails and sidewalks, hoping that one day residents will have access to almost every pocket of the city by walking or riding a bike.

Mount Dora officials, meanwhile, have supported building a Mount Dora Wekiva Trail that would provide a paved route across U.S. 441 from the downtown district and run along the State Road 46 corridor. As part of Tavares’ plans to renovate Wooton Park, the city would offer a trail head for bikers, walkers and skaters in its downtown area.

During Tuesday’s summit, city officials talked about linking their trail networks.

WATER RESOURCES

Eustis Commissioner Jonnie Hale and Mount Dora council member Bob Thielhelm said the Golden Triangle cities should work together on developing a long-range plan for water conservation and alternative water sources for irrigation. Alternative water sources supplement reserves coming from the Floridan Aquifer. They can be stormwater retention ponds, treated wastewater and surface water. St. Johns River Water Management District officials say the underground aquifer — a vital source of drinking water — soon will not keep up with increasing development demands.

“Water conservation is a serious issue for everyone,” Hale said.

PUBLIC SAFETY

Eustis Commissioner Scott Ales recommended that the Golden Triangle cities develop a joint plan on coordinating police and fire-rescue services. However, officials said that may be a complicated effort that could be worked on over time.

SENIOR SERVICES

Mount Dora council member James Yatsuk said the Golden Triangle should work toward building a senior resource center for elderly residents — many with low incomes — seeking services.

“Having a [senior] center in the Golden Triangle would be an admirable endeavor,” he said. “But it would be a long-range thing.”

Martin E. Comas can be reached at 352-742-5927 or mcomas@orlandosentinel.com.

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