Auburndale commissioners, other officials ride bus for annual city tour with stops at Rotary Butterfly Garden, Suntrax, other sites.

AUBURNDALE — City commissioners and other city leaders heard about everything from butterflies to stormwater projects Monday during a bus tour.

But perhaps the most memorable moment during the annual Commission Day came as the chartered bus bearing the contingent idled on the test track at the Suntrax facility. Auburndale Police Chief Andy Ray stood and began describing an agreement the city reached to lease vehicles from Enterprise Rent-A-Car, a deal that he said will yield newer cars at a lower cost.

“It's not your standard black and white,” Ray said. “We've got a whole new graphics package for you; very excited about it. It looks really cool. It looks fast sitting still, but it also looks friendly. For cops, cool police cars, they're, like, better than cake and ice cream.”

Ray glanced to his right, and the passengers turned to look in the same direction out the windows of the bus. As they watched, a procession of eight vehicles approached up a ramp and cruised past the bus, all with their warning lights flashing.

Ray said the prospect of driving in a new vehicle every five years will provide his department with a powerful recruiting pitch.

The five commissioners traveled through Auburndale on Monday along with such officials as City Manager Bobby Green, Public Works Director John Dickson and Community Development Director Amy Palmer. City staff branded the tour with the theme “Celebrating Partnerships.”

The tour allowed city leaders to view the effects of funding decisions made in recent years. It began with a visit to Hobbs Road, where the city recently completed a redesign that improves access for trucks entering and leaving the Coca-Cola plant.

The contingent then proceeded to the Coca-Cola facility, where a recently acquired fire truck was displayed with its 107-foot aerial ladder deployed. As part of an interlocal agreement, Polk County contributed $550,000 toward the truck's total cost of $946,000.

The Pierce Ascendant truck, which has a 500-gallon water tank, is awaiting some components and will be in service by Oct. 1, Fire Chief Brian Bradway said.

Other stops on the tour included the Rotary Butterfly Garden, the Bridgers Avenue area, Lake Ariana Park, Denton Avenue and the city sprayfields along Braddock Road.

En route to Bridgers Avenue, city leaders looked out the windows as the bus traveled along Pilaklakaha Avenue (known as PK Avenue) to admire a stretch of swales adorned with decorative rocks and aquatic plants as part of a flood-control project. At Bridgers Avenue, near the intersection with Eaker Street, commissioners left the bus for a presentation on plans to address perennial flooding problems.

Green described a partnership with Polk County to install drainage structures along the county-maintained Bridgers Avenue, which curves north from U.S. 92, and the city-maintained Bridgers Avenue West, which intersects with it at Eaker Street.

“We've all been here to see the water stand from Eaker and Pearl Street all the way to Highway 92,” Green said. “If it's standing here and it's coming over, there's probably a good chance that there's water in someone's house. We took care of that on PK (Avenue), and this partnership now with the county will help us take care of that on Bridgers.”

Jay Jarvis, Polk County's director of roads and drainage, said the county had recently purchased a former skating rink and adjacent bar along U.S. 92 as the site of a “surge pond” part of the project. Jason Alligood, an engineer with the Lakeland firm Chastain-Skillman, said the design calls for a series of drainage inlets on one side of Bridgers Avenue and larger drainage pipes underneath it.

The point where the two portions of Bridgers meet will be moved to the west so that asphalt can be removed near Eaker Street for the construction of a drainage pond, Dickson said.

In a brief stop at Lake Ariana Park, Dickson pointed to an emergency generator — one of three the city acquired to power stormwater lift stations in the event of a hurricane or other disaster. The city received a grant of $142,000 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the generators, which had a total cost of $190,000 to buy and install, Dickson said.

The bus later stopped on Denton Avenue, near the entrance to Elite Cable Park, a watersports park that opened this year. The road also borders the property of the former Five Star Family Growers, which will soon be converted into a recreational-vehicle park.

County regulations required the watersports park to pay for improvements to Denton Avenue, and Auburndale commissioners decided to “piggyback” on that project and make improvements to the road farther east, Dickson said. The city plans to install curb cuts for a future entrance to property it owns on the south side of Lake Myrtle Sports Park.

Auburndale plans to build three football fields along Denton Avenue. The city will widen Denton from Moss Road to the Auburndale TECO Trailhead.

The bus then traveled north for a stop along Braddock Road. Auburndale Parks and Recreation Director Cody McGhee directed attention to undeveloped land to the south adjacent to Lake Myrtle Sports Park, where the city plans to construct youth baseball fields. The project is currently out to bid.

Green said Auburndale plans to widen Braddock Road and install a light at the intersection with the road that leads to the Suntrax facility. Suntrax, overseen by Florida's Turnpike Enterprise, is a testing site for toll technology and will become a hub for the development of self-driving vehicles in its next phase.

During the morning visit to the Rotary Butterfly Garden, which opened in June adjacent to Auburndale City Park, Anne Yasalonis of the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agriculture Sciences program talked about plants that serve as hosts for caterpillars and provide food for butterflies. McGhee said a passionvine planted in the garden is expected to attract specimens of zebra longwing, the official state butterfly.

While city employees used provided materials as fans against the morning swelter, gulf fritillary and monarch butterflies fed on the flowers of blue porterweed plants and a black swallowtail flitted around a large specimen of common fennel.

Gary White can be reached at gary.white@theledger.com or 863-802-7518. Follow on Twitter @garywhite13.