The situation that William Waters laid out for the four potential bidders was grim.
Out of 13,000 land parcels in the city, there are more than 2,100 vacant, abandoned or foreclosed properties.
“Code compliance is a struggle,” said Waters, the city’s director of community sustainability. His umbrella department covers planning, zoning, building, code enforcement and historic buildings.
The four companies will be bidding to become, in essence, the city’s code compliance department. Whether the current department will exist next year after the contractor is chosen remains to be seen. Its future is a negotiable factor in the contract.
Their work is cut out for them.
The city’s internal auditor, Ken Oakes, gave the in-house code enforcement department low marks in a report this year. Its leader has left the city’s employ.
Code compliance is key to a comeback. New, tighter ordinances – 35 of them — went into effect Sept. 1.
“It works in theory, but it hasn’t been put into practice,” Waters said. “That’s part of our challenge.”
Waters has completely rewritten the city’s land development regulations with an eye toward making it desirable for developers to do business here.
Under a steady barrage of resident complaints about vacant houses and other safety hazards, city commissioners in passing the new ordinances have identified stronger code enforcement as a key to making Lake Worth a more desirable place to live.
Code enforcement is also a building block in another big push: City commissioners want to proceed with basic but long-needed repairs to roads, streetlights and other unglamorous but essential parts of the city, which would improve not only residents’ quality of life but also the overall desirability of the city to outside investors.
In its present draft form, the wish list for the Lake Worth 2020 plan would cost $100 million, paid for by a multiyear bond issue.
The city of 34,000 residents has a lot going against it, not the least of which is the unhappy distinction of having the second highest poverty rate in Palm Beach County, after Belle Glade.
The city “has a widely diverse population and struggles with economic and social conditions, high rate of unemployment, high crime and limited resources,” according to the pull-no-punches request for proposals.
On the plus side, it has its own slice of the Atlantic coast, with a newly renovated $6 million beach project, a municipal pool and golf course and a few neighborhoods, mostly at the northeast end of the city, with houses valued from $200,000 to $1 million.
Those homes make up only a slender piece of the pie chart that represents taxable residential units.
More than half of Lake Worth’s homes are valued at $40,000 or less, and many of them do not contribute much in taxes to the city.
The southern part of the city, from Sixth Avenue South to the Lantana city limits and west of Dixie Highway, is a patchwork of modest, well-kept homes, punctuated by others that looked like they have not been cleaned up since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Residents repeatedly have told city commissioners that these homes are dens of drug use and prostitution.
The companies that sent representatives to the required bidders’ meeting were Calvin, Giordano & Associates of Fort Lauderdale, Alabama-based Revenue Discovery Systems, Federal Property Registration of Melbourne and Pennsylvania-based Severn-Trent Services.
These companies would be expected to provide code enforcement services, from writing violations to working with magistrates who mediate code enforcement cases.
City offices are so packed with city employees that the contractor will have to locate its offices elsewhere, Waters said.
On the commercial side, Waters told the bidders that there were businesses operating without holding business licenses, maybe as many as 50 percent more than the number who have bought business licenses.
Even so, business tax receipts were $650,000 this year in Lake Worth, up from $285,000 in fiscal year 2011.
The bidders must submit their proposals by Oct. 23. After they are evaluated, the winning bidder is expected to be chosen by mid-February, after which the contractor could begin code enforcement work in 90 days or less.