Flagler County, FL (October 1, 2021) Chock full of big ticket items and representing the major sectors of Flagler County, familiar faces were on hand to deliver their organization or agency’s priorities and have their voices heard during the 2022 Legislative Delegation meeting hosted by Florida Senator Travis Hutson and Florida Representative Paul Renner on Friday afternoon in chambers at the Flagler County Government Services Building.
Taking an appreciative approach, Flagler County Education Foundation’s Joe Rizzo extolled the benefits of legislative support for the Take Stock In Children Program which boasts an 85 percent college graduation rate and the Workforce Development funding which has provided the ability to create a simulation lab and purchase state-of-the-art equipment necessary to train and advance students from the classrooms to their future careers.
Flagler Schools Superintendent Cathy Mittelstadt opened with an apology for Flagler School Board chairman Trevor Tucker’s absence as they awaited word of the delivery of “Flagler County’s newest student” before also thanking the legislative team for their support of the district’s budgetary needs.
“One of our concerns is recognizing that our Flagler County school district receives compression funding which is appreciated and only goes to certain smaller school districts,” explained Mittelstadt.
“Both of our local representatives have been champions of that in the past and so we just ask that they consider to pay attention to that opportunity moving forward in the future and that if it does fall off the legislative will, if there’s a way for them to perhaps come up with a special allocation to allow that $1 million dollars to continue to funnel here to Flagler County schools.”
Hutson expressed his support for the needed funding.
“That is the plan and what we’re going to fight for,” said Senator Hutson.
“The DCD (district cost differential) dollars really hurt Flagler and some other schools. That’s when we introduced compression, two or three years ago in the Senate, so it’s another categorical to help ease the differences in dollars from those big school districts from our rural area school districts,” he said.
Tourism, Public Safety, Access and Wellness Top the Requests
Presenting the top two requests for Flagler County, library director and legislative liaison Holly Albanese, brought forward the need for legislative appropriations to fund the Public Library Construction Grant Program as the county’s number one policy issue before discussing the big ask, $4,500,000 as the top funding request, to support and transform the state’s Florida Agricultural Museum into the high volume visitor destination it could be.
Lifesaving measures also figured into the equation, and Jarrod Shupe, who currently serves as the Flagler County Chief Information Officer and 911 Coordinator, as well as the CIO for the Flagler County Sheriff’s Office and City of Flagler Beach offered up the thought process behind the county’s number six policy request. Behooving the Legislature to consider an increase to the Florida 911 fee revenue from $.40 to $1.00 per device, Shupe noted the pressing need for support to implement the next generation of 911 technology throughout the 67 counties across the State of Florida.
Mayor of the county’s seat, the soft-spoken Catherine Robinson presented the city’s three requests, the first of which focused on funding for Flagler Central Commerce Parkway, which also ranked as Flagler County’s number two funding priority for the 2022 legislative session.
Home to the new Flagler County Sheriff’s operation’s center and the new Flagler County Public Library, the roadway will also open up opportunities for development of government, business and residential acreage for the City of Bunnell, according to Robinson.
Her second request, the upgrading and modernization of the city’s wastewater treatment facility has taken on a new sense of urgency with growth in the city.
“By the year 2024 it will be a problem for us to, we will be at capacity at that point,” shared Robinson in reference to the wastewater treatment facility. “We’re looking for $15 million dollars to try to upgrade that and get that done as soon as possible.”
The City of Palm Coast has scored big in the last few years with MedNexus as has the City of Flagler Beach with dollars for their much needed wastewater treatment plant upgrade, but infrastructure priorities still remain. The widening of Old Kings Road and western Palm Coast access was discussed by Palm Coast Mayor David Alfin, while Flagler Beach City Commissioner Jane Mealy invited legislators to help with the county’s number one tourist attraction.
“Flagler Beach has a tourist dependent economy of which our pier is a focal point,” said Mealy. “FEMA will no long fund repairs to the present pier which past storms and heavy weather conditions have severely damaged, and has allocated funds to replace and extend it. We hope the state will be an active partner in this complex restoration.”
Other issues drew questions from Hutson and Renner such as affordable housing brought to the podium by longtime social services advocate Denise Calderwood, whose husband had just passed from COVID related complications. Undeterred, she talked about the need for affordable housing and collaboration between municipalities and the state, which caught the attention of Representative Renner.
“There are other things from a regulatory standpoint that would allow us to build more affordable housing for the same amount of money we’re spending, that are smart, and a lot of that’s going to require the cooperation of local governments to find the locations, and be part of that process,” he said.
“We do realize it’s an issue and it’s only going to become a bigger issue because of the people moving into the state,” said Renner.
Calderwood’s remarks were among a mixed bag of public concerns including an update from the Palm Coast Regional Chamber of Commerce, SMA Healthcare, the Sierra Club, Defend Florida and the Flagler County Humane Society, whose director Amy Carotenuto, came with a good hearted agenda of her own.
“I mostly wanted to thank Senator Hutson and Representative Renner for supporting the pet telehealth bill and to also mention to Senator Hutson that there’s a bill hopefully in the works to ban the sale of puppy mill pets in pet stores in Florida,” said Carotenuto, after working closely with legislators in the past to achieve success.
“Since we have a local tie to puppy mills when we busted a puppy mill back in ’98, it would be really cool if Senator Hutson sponsored that bill to end puppy mill sales in Florida,” she said.
As Hutson and Renner head into committee weeks before the start of session in January 2022 when Representative Renner will become Speaker of the House, they reflected on the issues brought forward for consideration, and noted many are currently on their radar.
“I think we’re in pretty good communication with folks so most of the issues we heard were familiar to us,” said Renner.
“A lot of good things happening in Flagler County, but also as always, a lot of challenges. We’ve got a lot of people moving into the state. We hope we’re on the backside of COVID. That’s been a challenge, so I know that’s generated some issues on the mental health front with the lockdowns and all, that we’ve got to work through.”
Hutson agreed, while also keeping an eye on the budget as they discussed the requests.
“They’re similar issues coming up that we’ve seen though our other delegation meetings,” he said.
“Mostly some of our local governments that are needing funds, our support organizations obviously because we’re still in and out of the pandemic with highs and lows. It’s taken a toll on their budgets so we’re going to get back up there and our budget is as constrained as it was, if we don’t have the CARES dollars coming down next year like we did this year, we’re going to be more constrained, so we’ve got to figure out how to help those organizations without hurting them too much,” said Hutson.