Residential growth is the fuel that’s adding to the Town of Dundee’s fire, and the small East Polk County town hopes retail and commercial development will follow.

“Permit activity continues to grow and new houses are being built throughout the town,” said Town Manager Deena Ware. “This construction is viewed as a positive economic indicator that our town’s prosperity is continuing to return. We have had at least 100 new construction permits pulled annually for the past few years. We understand that more rooftops means more interest in larger companies coming to town, so we anticipate even more economic growth.”

Ware, who was named town manager in September 2017 after working as assistant town manager and town clerk for four years, enthusiastically reports that construction has already started in a new single-family community that will contain 250 houses.

“It has definitely picked up since the housing bust in 2008,” said Ware, who has a bachelor’s degree in urban affairs and a master’s degree in public administration from Wright State University. “We have been seeing an increase with inspections from our Building Official for residential and commercial properties.”

With stints in Polk City and Fort Meade before beginning work in Dundee, Ware knows about small towns. Property values are increasing in the nearly 12-square-mile town, which fuels revenue in the town. Building more houses should attract more business, thus diversifying the town’s tax base and revenue stream.

“In the next five to 10 years, I expect to see more residential growth, more commercial growth, and technological infrastructure improvements (i.e. Town Fiber Network),” Ware said of Dundee, which was incorporated in 1924 and named after a city in Scotland.

In the last six months, five new businesses have opened, including three on Main Street: Dundee Pizza, Dundee Bakery and The Nutrition Spot. In addition, Center Food Mart opened at 301 Center St. and Hope Thrift Store opened at 28054 U.S. 27.

That growth will provide “more funding opportunities to address any future projects,” a necessity for the town to remain progressive, she said. “We have aggressively pursued grant opportunities and plan to keep that momentum.”

Right now, agriculture and service employment sustain the town’s economy, complemented by “a comprehensive education system, and a healthy quality of life supported by abundant green space and recreation areas,” Ware said.

“We are aware that quality education plays a major role in the development of a strong community, and we are proud to announce that both our elementary school and middle school are IB accredited institutions,” she said.

In addition, crime is low — “we are a safe small town” — and the cost of living is lower than in bigger cities, Ware said.

Town leadership under her predecessor, Ryan Taylor, helped push Dundee forward following the 2008 recession. Ware said some of those changes include:

  • A new Town Hall/Library complex.
  • A new water plant (Hickory Walk Water Plant).
  • Upgrades to water and sewer lines.
  • Nearly $1 million in road repaving.
  • New equipment for city facilities, including a ladder truck for the Fire Department and bulletproof vests for firefighters.
  • A Citrus Connection bus stop at Town Hall.

The last item is important to provide residents opportunities to get to Winter Haven, the Eagle Ridge Mall in Lake Wales, and the western portion of Polk County, said Erin Killebrew, director of external communications for the Citrus Connection for the last four years.

“Dundee having transit service is vital to their community. They are quite literally located in the center of the Ridge,” said Killebrew, who praised the town manager for her willingness to include the Citrus Connection on meeting agendas and arranging one-on-one time with commissioners.

As for Mayor Sam Pennant: “Sam is probably one of the most forward-thinking mayors this county has,” Killebrew said. “He is like that in most regards, but specifically when it comes to transit. He has said on more than one occasion and in public forums he and his commissioners are happy to look at paying a little more for more (fixed route) service.”

The town has also adopted a downtown vision and action plan, Ware said. Minutes from a September 2018 town meeting show Vice Mayor Rukhsana Harper is pushing to ensure four projects continue to progress.

“I believe it is time to actuate the vision we put together as a community four years ago,” she said in early January 2019. “We are growing as a community with new developments and new residents. We must step up to accommodate our growing population via creation of a more bustling business community on Main Street.”

The city is working to secure grants to satisfy what the community said it wanted, according to Harper. Those four things are:

  • A bike route to connect Lake Marie to the Scenic Highway, which is in the works. Harper credited Commissioner Willie Quarles and his work with the Polk Transportation Planning Organization for moving this along.
  • Sidewalks to connect Main Street to Lake Marie from Dundee Road. Some are in the works now.
  • Beautification of Main Street, which is a work in progress.
  • Infrastructure for sewer and water for local businesses, large projects that will take time.

Even with positive growth in the town of about 4,000 and what some call a “progressive” Town Commission, Ware would like one more thing — if she had a wish to use.

“It would be more unrestricted cash reserves,” she said. “We have received another clean audit with almost 35 percent in our Fund Balance (over 30 percent more than five years ago). Such reserves allows for funding of more projects throughout the town.”

Asked what keeps her up at night, Ware shows off a lighter side: “I try to make sure that I get a full night’s sleep every night because I never know what the next day might hold.”

Then, the energetic single mother who loves yoga and roller derby, says: “I think about many things. I think about the employees and their families. I think about the commission and their goals/plans for the town. I think about doing my best for the town and making a positive impact. I think about ways to increase our community impact in Polk County and Central Florida. We are a small town, but we have big dreams.”

Harper summed up her town: “The town of Dundee is quaint and beautiful with lakes and parks and family diners and good schools. What’s not to like?”

And its future: “In the next five to 10 years I see a bustling community with new infrastructure to sustain our population, catering to the needs of our beautiful community, happy and prosperous.”