By John Ayers
The Gilchrist County Legislative representatives, Representative Chuck Clemons and Senator Rob Bradley held their annual Legislative Delegation Hearing on Wednesday, October 4 as a good group of Gilchrist County residents and government officials shared their thoughts for what the county needs from the upcoming legislative session which begins January 9, 2018 in Tallahassee.
This meeting began as Chairman Clemons requested Commissioner Todd Gray to give an opening invocation and County Administrator Bobby Crosby lead the salute to the American flag. Chairman Clemons and Senator Rob Bradley listened to the requests the public made from the state elected officials. The chairman pointed out at this time, we are uncertain going into the 2018 legislative session if there will be any funding available for projects that are not identified in the 2018 budget. The State of Florida has been impacted by direct hits from hurricanes this year and Florida will have to do what is necessary to help these impacted areas, the delegation explained.
Rep. Clemons called on chairman D Ray Harrison, Jr. representing the Gilchrist County Commission. Chairman Harrison thanked the delegation for coming to Gilchrist County. Mr. Harrison asked the delegation for $5 million in funding to assist Gilchrist County in the construction of a new jail. Chairman Harrison thanked the delegation for Department of Transportation funding of SCRAP and SCOPE programs that support rural counties in the paving and widening of major county highways. Chairman Harrison asked the delegation to support upscale broadband service in the rural areas. The Chairman and Commissioner Todd Gray expressed the need for support for funding to upgrade SR 26. Commissioner Harrison asked the delegation to protect the Home Rule authority that has been allowed by the State of Florida in the past.
Senator Bradley pointed out that due to the storm impacts felt in south Florida from the hurricane this year, funding for special projects will be scarce. The senator reported to Sheriff Schultz that Gilchrist County could request $500,000 to $750,000 for the construction of a new jail. “I just don’t see state funding available for local jail funding,” Senator Bradley explained.
Sheriff Schultz explained that he had recently talked with Governor Scott about the need for funding for the Gilchrist county jail project. The governor explained to the Sheriff that he and the County Commission should submit a request for funding of the new jail to the 2018 legislature.
Todd Newton, Gilchrist Clerk of Court thanked the delegation for coming to Gilchrist County. He explained that for the last several years, the budgets for the clerk’s offices in the State of Florida has been reduced. He pointed out that due to the increased service demands involving his staff, the clerks office needs an increase in funding. “We need a long term solution.” Mr. Newton explained to the state representatives.
Rob Rankin, Gilchrist County School Superintendent thanked the elected officials for coming to Gilchrist County. The delegation complimented the School Superintendent and his staff and students for doing such an outstanding job earning an A school grade in Gilchrist County. The superintendent asked the delegation for $90K to help in funding additional school resource officers in the four Gilchrist county schools.
The superintendent reported that Gilchrist County had received the No 1 ranking for grant funding for new school facilities in 2018. Senator Bradley explained that he would be completely, 100% in support in getting the new school funding for Gilchrist County. “This year Gilchrist County has our focus to receive the special school funding through the 2018 session,” Senator Bradley explained.
Howell E “Trip” Lancaster, III, Mayor of Fanning Springs asked the delegation for assistance for spring restoration and the expansion of the City of Fanning Springs water and sewer treatment facility. Fanning Springs is growing and the expanding need for water and sewer systems in the Gilchrist, Levy and Dixie counties is requiring the municipality to expand to be able to take care of the planned growth. Mayor Lancaster explained that through the Nature Coast Regional Water Authority, water is being piped to Old Town and the new college campus in Levy County.
Hugh Thomas, Executive Director of the Suwannee River Water Management District thanked the delegation for coming to Gilchrist County. He told the state representatives they were in the heart of spring restoration and in Gilchrist County we are big in heart-felt thanks, Thomas explained.
The SRWMD director pointed out that Rock Bluff and Blue Springs parks would be outstanding assets to the state parks in Gilchrist County. He thanked the delegation for Payment In Lieu of Taxes funding of $56K, which is paid annually to Gilchrist County for state property that has been removed from the tax roll.
Thomas pointed out that several programs are being implemented that helps farmers reduce that impact of watering through irrigation. These programs are also providing farmers with information that is reducing the amounts of fertilizers being applied to crops through irrigation systems.
Rep. Clemons reminded the audience that water in North Florida is a very important commodity. Senator Bradley has continued to lead the senate in prioritizing the spring water to reduce and restore the amount and the quality to as high as possible. “The North Central Florida area is expected to grow by 6 million people in the next 10-15 years, water is a jewel. The SRWMD provides 30% of the ground water recharge annual to the Floridan Aquifer.
Trenton resident Diane Clifton asked the delegation to let our young people know that water is a top priority in our lives. She asked for the delegation to assist Gilchrist County in funding support of our public libraries. She requested the State of Florida make Blue Springs in northeast Gilchrist County a State Park. Ms Clifton asked for continued funding for economic development in Gilchrist County. She closed her address to the delegation by asking for continued support and make the public aware of the need for continued protection for water conservation in North Florida.
Josh Akins was the spokesman for Gilchrist County Tobacco Free Partnership, Quit Doc Educational foundation in Gilchrist County. He explained that 85% of the tobacco users began experiencing tobacco use around the age of 17. He pointed out that here in Gilchrist County we have an increasing rate of smokers now using E-cigarettes. Many people feel that smoking e-cigarettes is harmless, but they too are very harmful to a person’s health, Akins explained.
The delegation asked Mr. Akins if he was in school, he explained that he would be enrolling at Santa Fe College in the upcoming semester.
Gabrielle Redfern asked the delegation to help the rural areas restore the beautiful historic buildings through appropriation funding through the legislature. The representative asked Ms Redfern if she has applied for grant funding for these projects. She explained that she had, but her project was not funded. The chairman and the vice chairman agreed that sometimes it takes continued application requests for these funds before the important projects can become a reality.
Senator Rob Bradley, left and Representative Chuck Clemons held the Gilchrist County Legislative Delegation hearing on October 4 in the Gilchrist County Commission Meeting facility.