Ortona center to have phone line installed

Two matters of special concern to western Glades County residents came up at the commissioners’ regular meeting earlier this month, one that brought prompt action and another that will require further discussion and planning.

Commissioner Donna Storter Long, who represents District 2, introduced 18-year Ortona resident Shirley Nugent, who is president of the Ortona Community Association (OCA) and wanted to talk to the board about the lack of communications at the county-owned community center there.

Mrs. Nugent first thanked the board for providing the “beautiful facility,” adding that the OCA takes good care of the building “and we use it frequently, almost daily.”

She noted that it’s used as a polling place and soon will be designated as a Red Cross shelter, provides space for many OCA activities including weekly bingo during season, and even houses a volunteer-operated, two-week children’s summer program without any outside help or financing. She said she was concerned about safety and emergency response because “there is no telephone line to the building and, although most of us all use cellphones, they will not operate inside the building due to weak signals in the area and because of our metal roofing.”

The OCA’s membership, she explained, mostly “consists of senior citizens with some medical alert devices which do not work inside of the building; also, we realize that the radios of our first responders, police, EMTs and firefighters, cannot receive or send inside our building.”

Mrs. Nugent said she’d done a lot of checking into possible solutions, talking with AT&T and Verizon, learning that micro-cells are no longer available (“although I have no idea what those are”), trying hotspots via cellphones (which also don’t work) and even pricing satellite internet service.

All those options either were too expensive or impossible at present because there’s no cell tower nearby, she explained.

She said the least expensive option was to get a regular land line installed by Century Link and added that the OCA would pay for a telephone and the monthly service fee.

“We respectfully ask the board to consider helping OCA become safer with phone service in the center,” Mrs. Nugent concluded.

Board Chairman John Ahern said he was sure the county would have to authorize installation of phone service since it owns the building, and Commissioner Tim Stanley wondered aloud whether other community associations would come seeking the same consideration.

Commissioner Donald Strenth moved that the county pay for installation of a phone line and let the OCA purchase a phone and pay monthly fees, Mr. Stanley seconded the motion, and the board approved in a 5-0 vote.

During public comment, Diane Cianfrani, who lives in Muse, raised the issue of the community’s firehouse, which was damaged during Hurricane Irma.

“This week will make eight months since Irma destroyed a lot of properties in our county, and I drive by that firehouse quite often,” she began. “So there’s been rumor that it’s going to be torn down, it’s going to be moved; I’ve heard it’s not worth repairing, so my question is what’s going to happen with the firehouse? This will have an impact on a lot of homeowners’ insurance. What is the intent of the board to replace our firehouse?”

Board Chairman Ahern answered: “I’ve been there and it has not been repaired, so you’re correct on that. I think it was turned in on an insurance claim.”

Former County Manager Paul Carlisle, who is under contract as a county consultant, confirmed that.

“It was. And it’s severely damaged and molded … it’s really not a facility that can be restored,” he said, adding: “There is an application in for mitigation money to rebuild the station, so it’ll be the board’s decision on how we want to rebuild it. There is conversation that we would rebuild a joint station out behind the West Glades Elementary School; there’s property there so we can still adequately service Muse and … that whole area.”

Commissioner Long asked, “When you say joint, you’re talking about a fire rescue/EMS station, right?”

Mr. Carlisle said, “Yes. Because the station that EMS is in now is on Lykes Brothers property, we have a long-term lease; but, in my opinion, it would be more beneficial to build it on property the county would have control over if you’re going to spend that kind of money.”

Mrs. Long responded: “I really like the idea of having the joint EMS station and fire department on the school property, which we could lease and wouldn’t be an issue. But … we need to start looking forward on that. If we don’t, nothing is going to happen.”

Mr. Ahern directed that the matter be put on the agenda for the commissioners’ night meeting, at 6 p.m. Monday, May 28.

On another issue, Public Safety Director Bob Jones asked the county board for a consensus on permission to let his staff move generators around in preparation for hurricane season. “During the hurricane we had issues at Muse with the generator, and I was talking to (Public Works Director) Jerry (Randolph) and a couple of others, and we got a grant for a transfer switch and pad at Ortonal. Well, we have the old generator from the courthouse that we want to move out there … and then we’ll take the old generator from the health department and put it in Muse. I think there’ll be minor expenses that we’ll be able to absorb within the department. Maybe a roof might be needed in Ortona, but that’s yet to be seen; so if there’s no objection we’re going to start moving forward with that.”

Chairman Ahern thanked him for bringing it up, and commissioners assented to the action.

The Glades County Democrat is published every Thursday.

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