Open Forum in The Villages, Florida

What's Happening in the City of Wildwood

June 30, 2023 Mike Roth & Wildwood Commissioner Joe Elliott Season 3 Episode 19
Open Forum in The Villages, Florida
What's Happening in the City of Wildwood
Open Forum in The Villages, Florida
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Show Notes Transcript Chapter Markers

Mike Roth’s guest on Open Forum in The Villages is City Commissioner Joe Elliott.  Joe is from a military family and served in Vietnam.

Joe gave us an overview of Wildw ood’s growth from 2016  - a city of 8,000 to 2023 with more than 27,000 people.

We talked about the improvements to US 301 in the Wildwood area, and the physical size of Wildwood.

 Major events coming up in Wildwood are discussed.  In addition Joe shares some details of the Downtown Master Plan and the possibility of a Civic Center with Convention Center.

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Open Forum in The Villages, Florida is Produced & Directed by Mike Roth
A new episode will be released most Fridays at 9 AM
Direct all questions and comments to mike@rothvoice.com

If you know a Villager who should appear on the show, please contact us at: mike@rothvoice.com

Speaker 1:

Welcome to the Open Forum in the Villages, florida podcast. In this show we are going to talk to leaders in the community, leaders of clubs and interesting folks who live here in the villages to give perspectives of what is happening here in the villages. We hope to add a new episode most Fridays at 9am. We have converted all of our shows to Buzzsprout. Of course, you can still listen to Apple Podcast, amazon Music and about 20 other podcast platforms. Your favorite podcast player will still work.

Speaker 1:

We are now a listener-supported podcast. You can become a supporter for only $3 or you can choose to pay more per month. Go to openforminthevillagescom and click on Support in the black box. There will be a shout out for supporters in episodes. This is a shout out to supporters. Tweet Coleman, dan Capellan, ed Williams, alvin Stenzel and Major Supporter Doctor Craig Curtis at K2 in the Villages. We will be hearing more from Dr Curtis with short Alzheimer's tips each week. Should you want to become a major supporter of the show or have questions, please contact us at microtvoicecom if you know someone who should be on the show.

Speaker 2:

This is Mike Roth on Open Forum in the Villages. I'm here today with Joe Elliott, a commissioner in the city of Wildwood. Joe, thanks for joining me.

Speaker 3:

Well, thanks for having me, Mike. I appreciate that.

Speaker 2:

But why don't you tell our listeners a little bit about your background, of what you did before you became a commissioner in Wildwood?

Speaker 3:

Well, thanks, Mike. To begin with, I associate myself generally with baby boomers, although I was born into the silent generation. in 1945 in Fort Sill, Oklahoma, at the age of one I moved to Key West Florida with my parents on their first post-war or war II duty assignment.

Speaker 3:

In a two-year period when I was 10 years old, i lived in the state of Florida, the state of Mississippi, oklahoma, texas and finally in Norfolk, virginia. After completing high school in Virginia, it was back to Florida, then to the Army, germany, vietnam, fort Bragg, where I learned how to jump out of airplanes, a college career in science, nasa, retirement, and then back to Florida. In between marriage, three countries, eight states, ending here with a taste for politics Two terms is a village CDD supervisor and currently nearing the end of my second four-year term as city commissioner in Wildwood. In a sense, my life has been hang on tight and enjoy the ride, And I have to say that I have loved every minute of it.

Speaker 2:

Well, that's great. That's great, and thank you for your service. Perhaps, joe, you can give our listeners an overview of Wildwood.

Speaker 3:

Well, thanks again, mike. In his book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, dr Covey addressed the notion of starting with the end in mind. If you want all the details, go to Wikipedia, your favorite website. I'll try to leave you with my proverbial educational Wildwood. That's being what you have left after you've forgotten all the facts. The beginning, the common theme that runs through many of the varied stories of how Wildwood got its name a conversation from a railroad worker who was repairing a downed telegraph line. When he was asked by his dispatcher and there's where it changes It could be his wife or girlfriend or children in some cases. Where are you? And the answer to the response was in the Wildwood. The name stuck.

Speaker 3:

Florida was admitted to the union in 1845. After the Civil War, wildwood was incorporated, which gets us to a more current look. I served as an elected commissioner for the last seven years. Some many of you listening today have lived here for a similar timeframe. So let's talk about that. 2016 to 2022 timeframe. Three metrics One is population. In 2016, our population was a little more than 8,000. In 2022, that grew to 27,000, almost tripling. The taxable value was 800 million. In 2016, it grew to 4.4 billion, with a B in 2022, a five-fold increase. And the taxable value was what we apply the Advolorum tax rate to, to determine how much money we're going to draw into the city for its running. And that Advolorum value in 2016 was 4.1. In 2022, it reduced by a third to 3.0. So all of this, all of these, indicate phenomenal growth Within the city.

Speaker 2:

So are you saying that the tax rate in Wardwood actually went down between 2016 and today?

Speaker 3:

It indeed has, and we've got commissioners who are almost insistent that that be the place that it go down, that we can take care of the very people that we're asking to pay the bills and run the city. The reason for our growth is, without a doubt, the villages, but there are other factors included, albeit to a lesser degree. But the other is villages as a transportation hub US 301, turnpike, interstate 75, and the many smaller highways that cross the county, and, of course, the railroad, which is still very important and plays a significant role in something that I'll talk to in a minute the downtown master plan. The persistent growth of Florida and increasing non-villages housing at times as much as 20 percent of Wildwood's growth.

Speaker 3:

They're common input which a lot of areas have. It's what is done with them that is important. No man, no man is an island. Our partnership with the villages, with Sumter County, with the state of Florida and other municipalities in and beyond Sumter County And, of course, our people and its commitment to them and theirs to you. The number of homes being built in the villages, through October of twenty-two, was fairly flat, between two hundred and three hundred a month. As the development shifted. as the developer has shifted from Sumter County to Lake County, that number of course decreased, beginning in November of twenty-two through the present to a level of around a hundred a month and in some cases, january of twenty twenty-three, as an example, to zero. I fully expect these numbers to increase as the developer gets further in to Lake County and at some point, at some point, they are going to have to go to zero, at least for the city of Wildwood.

Speaker 2:

Let me ask you a couple of questions about what you said so far. is that that financial? I've noticed that in Wildwood there are a great number of apartment developments and small houses being built along three oh one. Has any consideration been given to modernize three oh one to make the flow of traffic reasonable?

Speaker 3:

You know, that's one of the things that we are responsible for, and that is transportation, and transportation seems to be, for many municipalities and counties and even states, something that they are continuously behind in the saying is build it and they will come. In the case of roads, build it, and it's almost too late.

Speaker 2:

So that is something that we're paying attention are you, the state, going to do anything to improve the intersections like three oh one and forty four?

Speaker 3:

well, three oh one is the responsibility of the federal government. Right, federal government works with apartment or transportation in the state to handle those things. But what we can do is be the eyes and the ears that recognize a trend and work our way up through the chain of organization from the city to the county, from the county to the state and state to do to have those things taken care of. As a good example, you mentioned three oh one in the downtown master plan. One of the things we're looking at is a program called quiet streets that allows us to consolidate three oh one to make it a narrower legs center medians in there with vegetation and landscaping and parking on the sides to cause the traffic to slow down. So It's a partnership and we recognize that and work with them in any way that we can.

Speaker 2:

Mm-hmm, I was thinking more like adding more lanes to handle the accommodate the truck traffic which is very real through the intersections in Wildwood.

Speaker 3:

And, as a matter of fact, right now there's a plan that has been approved under the governors, moving Florida forward, which improves 301 from 470 all the way down to 44. And that includes adding lanes to 301.

Speaker 2:

So sections are one lane in each direction.

Speaker 3:

Well, hopefully we can fix that.

Speaker 2:

Before we build more houses or apartments or businesses along the route, which makes the land much more expensive to acquire for a road. That's true. Has there any thought been given in Wildwood to getting ahead of the curve and putting in a major limited access road north to south?

Speaker 3:

I'll have to be honest with on that one and say not to my knowledge, but that doesn't mean that it hasn't taken place. I haven't had any conversations as a Wildwood City Commissioner. My city manager, who works with County Administrator Brad Arnold, may have had those conversations and they may have taken place elsewhere that I'm not aware of. But I'm not aware of any of that myself.

Speaker 2:

In the city of Wildwood? how many square miles are in the physical city of Wildwood now?

Speaker 3:

Currently, Wildwood area is 58 plus square miles.

Speaker 2:

Mm-hmm, right now in the city of Wildwood, what would you say? the ratio of residences between villagers and non-villagers?

Speaker 3:

Mike, i don't believe you asked that question. Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you. I have done calculations on that probably every six months since I've been in office, and I do that by going to the supervisor election and getting voter rolls and then manually sorting those. Right now, believe it or not, villagers make up 72% of the registered voters in the city of Wildwood. Now there are other residents besides registered voters children that are under the voting age, people who have just not bothered to vote, people who don't care about voting, convicted felons and all the other stuff. But if you use registered voters as a thumbnail or as a metric, it's 72%.

Speaker 2:

Mm-hmm, you're one of three commissioners in Wildwood.

Speaker 3:

Actually one of four commissioners and the mayor, giving a total of five. You never want to have an even number because then you'll have a hung jury, so to speak. So the mayor, who's been there for over 45 years, mayor Pro Tem, pamela Bivins, who's been there over 20 years, julian Green, who is a businessman in the city of Wildwood, who's been here about 16 years. Myself last few years in my second term, so that's seven years. And Marco Flores, who is in the beginning of his second term, so he's been here about five years.

Speaker 2:

Mm-hmm, are you the only villager in Wildwood government?

Speaker 3:

I am at the current time.

Speaker 2:

Mm-hmm, and what year is the next Wildwood election?

Speaker 3:

They occur every two years. The next one will be in 2024, when we elect a new president.

Speaker 2:

I've noticed that there's a lot of growth in Wildwood in terms of annexation of unincorporated county lands. as a casual observer in reading these announcements in the Daily Sun, i look at the map and it's absolutely illegible. You can't tell where that piece of land is that they're annexing. How does that happen?

Speaker 3:

Let me set the record straight to begin with. The city does not go out on an active campaign to annex anything.

Speaker 2:

Mm-hmm.

Speaker 3:

Everything that we annex is the request of either a developer or a property owner, and that comes before the commission and they either acknowledge that or deny it for some reason. The main reason for wanting to be annexed into that is to take advantage of city services, particularly water and wastewater services that the city provides. As far as how you just keep track of that, the agenda is published online, which has a pretty good description on it, but that would require that we go online and look at those every time. In addition to that, a lot of the cases are published in the Daily Sun with a map on it, so you can take a look at that.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, really in today's technology it's possible to get a nice resolution map so you can read the street names. I have found that when I look at the maps I can see property lines but you don't see any major streets, so you don't know where that annexation is.

Speaker 3:

Thank, you again, mike. I had conversations with the city manager and you should have noticed a step increase in the clarity of those maps because we talked about it and realized that we could make it easier to understand. So I ask you to take a look at it and get back to me.

Speaker 2:

Okay, i will. This is Mike Roth with Dr Craig Curtis. We're talking about Alzheimer's disease for a few moments, dr Curtis, we've heard a lot about alternative treatments, holistic care. Does that work for Alzheimer's?

Speaker 5:

Well, certain things do work for Alzheimer's disease, for example, following a proper nutrition plan, if you consider that to be holistic, but also reducing stress, for example through meditation, and there are other ways that you can use, non-traditional ways of improving your overall lifestyle which might help your Alzheimer's disease symptoms.

Speaker 4:

With over 20 years of experience studying brain health, dr Curtis's goal is to educate the village's community on how to live a longer, healthier life. To learn more, visit his website, craigcurtismdcom, or call 352-500-5252 to attend a free seminar.

Speaker 2:

Let me change the gears here a minute. Why don't you tell our listeners about some of the major events that are coming up in the city of Wildwood?

Speaker 3:

The key to managing the city of Wildwood is pretty simple really It's to prepare and follow a strategic plan. I had a supervisor not my supervisor, but one I worked with at NASA that said to me Joe, if you don't know where you're going, any road will get you there. And so we've been working diligently with the city manager, who prides himself on having accurate strategic plans to govern the direction that we're going to be going on. Our strategic plan today has six goals in it, and the first one of those is to enhance public trust, encouraging civic pride, building cross-community partnership. To enhance the quality. to invest in multi-mold transportation that we had talked about early. To make sure that we have transportation systems that will accommodate the needs of our residents Positively impact affordable housing.

Speaker 3:

Affordable housing is a major, major issue, not just for Wildwood, but for many cities that exist in the state of Florida today. This past week I had a chance to meet with the new principal for Wildwood Elementary School and we talked about the number of positions that she has and the number of vacancies that they have and their ability to recruit people to fill those positions, and she said we have something very, very good We have pay scale, a pay range that is attractive to a lot of people but, if someone doesn't live close enough to our location, the likelihood that they're going to be able to find affordable housing that they're willing to live in in the city is pretty remote, and so it's a problem that we're facing every day.

Speaker 3:

And that was her statement, and so the city of Wildwood is working to accommodate that, and it's not a trivial problem and it's not easy to solve, but it's something that we're aware of and something we're working on. It's made the radar screen at the state level. They've had legislation they passed this year regarding affordable housing and what can be done. It's difficult, it's something we're aware of, it's something the whole state is working on and I honestly expect improvements across the board. Let me get back to the goals and the strategic plan. Number four is revitalize the city's core downtown, and that's something that we've been working very hard to try and bring about access and construct and maintain the city.

Speaker 2:

Can I ask you a question about what the core is? You know, not being a long-term Wildwood resident.

Speaker 3:

Kentucky Avenue north to Cleveland Avenue, on both sides of the street, the middle main part of the middle of downtown.

Speaker 2:

On 301.

Speaker 3:

On 301, yes.

Speaker 2:

So have any thoughts been given or requests to relocate the major traffic off 301 so you can have it downtown?

Speaker 3:

Well, as I said before, one of the things that we're working with Department of Transportation with is a program called Quiet Streets and what that does is allow us to make the lanes narrower, put a center dividing line in that landscape, that dividing line, parking on one or both sides of the street. That, i think, is going to make a real difference, because right now, if you try and cross 301, number one, there aren't enough crosswalks in the downtown area, correct, and number two the traffic is so heavy and so fast that a lot of people feel like they're actually taking their life in their hand to try and cross it.

Speaker 2:

Yeah, I would say that I'd have to become a speed walker to get across inside the time allowed for a pedestrian.

Speaker 3:

Intersections on any street in the state of Florida. one of the things that must be considered is a roundabout I expect to see a roundabout probably at the north and south end of this downtown redevelopment. and six, and that's to maintain the city's municipal infrastructure focus on water, wastewater and stormwater systems. Those systems are what enables the expansion of the city and from that standpoint they're extremely important. And the last one, number six, is to provide superior service through the recruitment and retainment of talented and dedicated employees.

Speaker 3:

We want to hire good people. Provide them with the training and a employee-friendly workforce so that they can do their job and, in doing so, can serve the residents of the city.

Speaker 2:

How many employees does the city of Wildwood have?

Speaker 3:

We've got about 140 now.

Speaker 2:

And in the city of Wildwood, do you use the Sumpter County Fire Department or do you have your own fire department?

Speaker 3:

No, no, it's the Sumpter County Fire Department. We have our own police, but we rely on them, through a contractual arrangement, to provide fire services.

Speaker 2:

You mentioned water in Wildwood. Where does water come from in Wildwood? I know where the village gets it. Where does Wildwood get it?

Speaker 3:

Mike, that's simple. Everybody goes down to 7-eleven and gets a bottle.

Speaker 2:

Let's hope we don't have to go there.

Speaker 3:

Seriously, most of the water comes from the upper aquifer or the lower aquifer now, and both of them are good water. Wildwood has received, i think, two of the last five years, an award for the highest quality water around here. We do have one problem with the water, and that is that there's iron in all the water, and, to make matters worse, we have some pipes distribution pipes that are also iron, and so there are occasions where the water that comes out of your tap looks brown, but it's perfectly safe to drink, but it's not too attractive, and we work very, very hard to control that. So far we've been doing a pretty good job of it, but it's not perfect.

Speaker 2:

And are there any major improvements besides the downtown district the city of Wildwood is planning?

Speaker 3:

Well, we're planning a major improvement to the wastewater treatment plant. That's extremely important. We have taken a hard look at that because we're bumping up against the treatment capacity that we've got, so we're planning to bring that up to an eventual eight million gallons a day. Downtown master plan is going to be executed in three phases And when I first heard about this they said Joe, what do you think about the three phases?

Speaker 3:

And I said you know, the last one is 30 years and very few of us are going to be here in 30 years, so we need to accelerate some of this stuff. So we've got a seven year plan to help us develop and execute the plan for the near future. Following that is a 10 year plan that continues effort started in seven year plan along Highway 301, south Main Street, concentrating Cleveland Avenue and down to 44A. In addition, it enclarges more development work on the west side of the train tracks along Martin Luther King Drive on the west side. That's where the overpass that I had mentioned to you before pedestrian overpass May end up being. And then a 30 year plan completes the vision and the principal flows for downtown Wildwood. It's a grand vision for the future that builds off of previous efforts. Major improvements in this phase will be full rerouting of Highway 301, full rerouting of Highway 301 and ownership of this right away being turned over to Wildwood.

Speaker 3:

We don't have any idea where it would be rerouted to. It's not our job to get it done, that's Department of Transportation. I'm working very hard with them to let that take place.

Speaker 2:

Now I'm just going to talk from my perspective. What's missing here in the Villages area and in Wildwood is a good, medium-sized convention center.

Speaker 3:

Wow, am I? am I glad to hear you say that One of the things that I've wanted to see is almost like a civic center, an auditorium type thing. A civic center with a theater, it would be held and take place and engage the residents and the citizens and others around this area. to just get up to speed on those things Well, you have the land, vacant land. Now would be the time to plan for it Before it gets filled up with something right Yeah, before they build another supermarket on it.

Speaker 3:

And in fact the old police department. we recently led a contract to have that taken down. There's a Y with the railroads CSX. We're working with them to try and allow them to shut that down, vacate the land and turn that over, and that's additional land that we can possibly use for some of that. I've had conversations with Lake Sumter State College to find out whether they would be interested in putting offices nearby, perhaps even in the city, and participate in the Civic Center that we had talked about, and we haven't gone any further than just basic discussions on that. but the answer is certainly yes.

Speaker 2:

Well good, It'd be great to get another institution of higher learning into the area.

Speaker 3:

Absolutely. I mean, that's what people look at when they are in the process of making the decision to come here. Education is one of them. Education for their kids, quality of that education, education for themselves as they mature in their career, What sort of activities and civic activities we have going on. So I think that's good.

Speaker 2:

So, Joe, in closing, someone wants to contact you after the show. How should they do that?

Speaker 3:

Well, certainly the easiest way is go to our website. My email address is on there. My phone number, my cell phone number and I carry that everywhere I go is 757-846-1998. That's left over from Virginia, but a lot of people carry their cell phone number with them when they move from one place to another. I welcome the opportunity to talk to people.

Speaker 2:

Good, Joe. is there any other additional information that you want to give to our listeners before we close out?

Speaker 3:

So one thing about local Go. we did the survey in 2021 for the Downtown Master Plan and we talked about communications being a key part of that. Every commission meeting that we have built into the agenda is the opportunity for people to ask questions of the commission before the commission makes a decision, and I think that's terribly important, and so I would encourage people to become involved in local government, to attend the meetings, to use the public forum part of that to question and engage with that, to look on our website and find the contact of our commissioners or mayor and ask them to sit down and have a cup of coffee.

Speaker 1:

Good, remember, our next episode will be released next Friday at 9 am. Should you want to become a major supporter of the show or have questions, please contact us at mikeatrothvoicecom. If you know someone who should be on the show, contact us at mikeatrothvoicecom. We thank everyone for listening to the show. The content of the show is copyrighted by Rothvoice 2023, all rights reserved.

Wildwood's Growth and Transportation Plans
Wildwood's Goals and Challenges
Downtown Master Plan and Civic Center
Getting Involved in Local Government