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News Story
Updated: 12/11/2013 08:00:02AM

County to seek Tiger, Northern Connector money

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Rep. Seth McKeel

Ed Smith

Ben Albritton

By STEVE STEINER

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When municipal leaders from Polk County, as well as Polk County Commissioners, meet Dec. 16 with those who represent Polk County in the Florida Legislature, the City of Bartow will not be among those communities, according to City Manager George A. Long, as the city has no issues before the legislature.

However, the Polk County Board of Commissioners will be presenting a small list of requests when it meets with all eight legislators.

According to Commissioner Edwin V. Smith, the county plans on presenting legislators with the following issues:

• Alternative water supply

• Major League Baseball

• Phase Two of the Bartow Northern Connector

The county wants the state to enable funding to address the growing need for water over the coming decades, said Smith.

Major League Baseball specifically regards the funding mechanism (State statute 288.11631) for Tiger Town, the spring training facility for the Detroit Tigers and home of the Flying Tigers minor league team. The stadium — Joker Marchant Stadium — opened in 1966 and was renovated in 2003. It seats 8,000, not including lawn seats. The Tigers have been in Lakeland 78 years, since 1934, the longest-lasting relationship between a major league baseball team and a current spring training host city.

In July, the BOCC approved on a 5-0 vote to contribute $14.6 million in tourist tax dollars in an effort to keep the Tigers in Lakeland; $17 million had been sought. At that BOCC meeting of July 9. Mark Jackson, director of tourism and sports marketing, was asked where the tax funds came from. Jackson’s reply was half came from short-term rentals, hotels and motels. The money for the Tiger Town renovation would be the fourth cent of a five-cent tax.

Altogether, the project’s estimated cost is $37 million. The remainder of the funding will come from the City of Lakeland, the Detroit Tigers organization, and a state grant; the latter is expected to contribute approximately $20 million.

What the BOCC wants state legislators to support is changing the language of payments. Currently, it reads the state will pay the grant in equal payments over a period of 30 years. The BOCC wants it paid over a period of 20 years.

“It makes a big difference when you’re talking about bonding,” said Smith.

The BOCC will be seeking $15.4 million from the state for Phase Two of the Bartow Northern Connector. When completed, it will consist of four lanes from U.S. 17 to State Road 60. The construction, said Smith, is generated by the CSX Logistic complex. He defended the upcoming request.

“It is consistent with Polk County’s long-range transportation plan,” he said.

The all-day legislative delegation starts 9 a.m., with the BOCC. Following lunch, municipalities will have the opportunity to meet and discuss.

While Bartow will not be sending a delegation, Lake Wales plans to talk about signage to the Lake Wales airport, the entrance road to the airport and the sales tax exemption.

The airport needs signs to help identify where it is. That will be especially important when the CSX project in Winter Haven is completed in early 2014 and the area around S.R. 60 and U.S. 27 expected to grow busier.

Fort Meade City Manager Fred Hilliard said the city won’t present anything. Frostproof City Manager Tenney Crowley did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

About the Polk County Legislative Delegation

Rep. Seth McKeel will serve as chairman of the Polk County Legislative Delegation. It will hold its annual meeting with other elected officials and hear all local bills that have been filed, as well as from speakers who will be seeking appropriations or general legislation.

The meeting will take place starting 9 a.m., Monday, Dec. 16, at the Polk County Administration Building in the BOCC chamber, 330 W. Church St. The meeting is open to the public.

The tentative schedule is:

9-10:30 a.m.: County Commissioners

11 a.m.-12:30 p.m.: Lunch

1 p.m.-conclusion: Constitutional Officers; Judicial; Municipalities; Public Testimony

Florida state legislators representing Polk County are:

Seth McKeel, R-Lakeland

Ben Albritton, R-Wauchula

John Wood, R-Winter Haven

Neil Combee, R-Auburndale

Denise Grimsely, R-Sebring

Kelli Stargell, R-Lakeland

Darren Soto, D-Orlando

Mike LaRosa, R-St. Cloud

Bill Rogers contributed to this article.


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