News & Notes: Randy Knight gets thumbs up from commission
Howell Branch tail project stopped and parks wi-fi to get upgraded
Oct. 13, 2023
By Beth Kassab
City Commissioners gave a nod of approval to longtime City Manager Randy Knight during his annual job evaluation, approving a 5% raise that will bring his salary from about $240,000 to $252,000.
The raise includes a 2.5% increase that all city employees received along with the maximum 2.5% merit increase available to city staff this year.
Commissioner Sheila DeCiccio, who is running for mayor, moved to give Knight the maximum.
“My feeling is he does a great job with all of the conflicting interests he has coming at him,” she said.
Mayor Phil Anderson agreed pointing to what he called “big strategic initiatives” in recent years such as the purchase of an 18-hole golf course, the recovery from Hurricane Ian and now the expansion of the Community Redevelopment Agency tax district and potential annexations.
“Not that everything is perfect,” he said. “I think there are areas for improvement.”
Howell Branch trail scuttled
Plans to build a trail through Howell Branch Preserve for birdwatching, fishing and other activities died this week when commissioners decided the project had grown too expensive.
Originally estimated at $227,000, the cost increased to as much as $530,000 after the St. Johns Water Management District reviewed the plans and objected to the design and route of the trail because of impacts to the wetlands.
The city received a $2 million grant from the state in 2015 to acquire more than 40 acres of wetlands next to 50 acres of wetlands already owned by the city. A portion of the funds was to be used for the trail project and other improvements.
City staff told the commission the changes requested by the water management district, along with objections by residents who live near the property, led to a recommendation to discontinue the project.
Commissioners approved a new proposal to direct a portion of the funds instead to other improvements at Howell Branch Preserve.
“It’s sad, but I concur that maybe we can turn it into something good because that retention pond area is kind of a mess,” said Commissioner Marty Sullivan. “It could be a very nice feature since we can’t move forward with trail project.”
Wi-fi upgrades in parks
During the COVID-19 pandemic the city installed public access wi-fi in Central Park and Shady Park and the nodes are now in need of an upgrade, according to a staff memo.
Money for the project comes from American Rescue Plan Act funds, a series of federal grants intended to help local governments in the aftermath of the COVID shutdowns.
Winter Park received more than $15 million in ARPA funds and will spend $30,000 on the wi-fi upgrades in the parks.
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