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Gilchrist County Legislative Delegation hearing held in Trenton last week

The Gilchrist County Legislative hearing was held last Thursday, January 7, in Trenton.
State Representative Chuck Clemons (R) who chaired the meeting introduced new State Senator Jennifer Bradley (R). He reminded the audience that Gilchrist County’s delegation or representation in Tallahassee consisted of himself and Senator Bradley, in comparison to large county’s like Miami-Dade that has 22 to represent them.
Rep. Clemons said, the State of Florida is facing a 1.8 billion short fall in the up coming budget year. Clemons said, “We are such a physically conservative state that there is 1 billion in reserves which has helped.”
Senator Bradley told constituents that this year’s budget was going to be extremely tight. She went on to say, “We are going to work very hard to do the best we can.”
Gilchrist County Commission, Vice Chair, Bill Martin spoke representing the County Commission. He thanked the delegation for the CARES funds and made a request for the Small Counties Coalition agenda items. He requested funding to assist in building a new jail in the county. Currently, Gilchrist County has the second oldest working jail in the state. Commissioner Martin went on to explain how badly this rural area needs better Broadband service.
Martin, also requested that SR 26 be made into four lanes from Newberry to Fanning Springs because of the high traffic on the road. Then Commissioner Martin talked about the Suncoast Connector toll road. He said, “It will destroy our rural way of life if it goes through the middle of our county.” He went on to say the citizens of this county do not support the Suncoast Connector.
Senator Bradley stated that Broadband was a number one priority in Tallahassee. She said, “To me its getting to be as important as electricity.” She said 6.1 million was already earmarked for those providers who will enhance Broadband service in Gilchrist County.
Todd Newton the Gilchrist County Clerk of Court spoke about the funding shortfall in his budget. Gilchrist County Clerk of Courts office, like all the Clerk’s offices in the state are funded by fees. According to Newton, because of COVID they did not take in enough fees in 2020 to fund his office. He asked that Tallahassee look at the recommendations for the Clerks Association to improve this funding situation. He said traffic fees alone were down 40%. He also stated that he had two positions become open in his office this past year and he could not make hires to fill the positions due to the budget shortfalls.
Rep. Clemons said large and medium size counties don’t understand the shortfalls that small counties have to deal with.
Sheriff Bobby Schultz who is the President of the Sheriff’s Association this year talked about what the Sheriff’s Association request were including that they did not want sentences cut short for those who are incarcerated in the State Prison system. He discussed the Drone Senate Bill 44 and a loop hole that needs to be closed in the sexual predator law.
Gilchrist County School Superintendent Dr. Jim Surrency also addressed the need for better internet Broadband service in the county. He made a request concerning the FTE possible funding losses due to COVID-19 and school attendance.
He went on to discuss his concerns about students who were not attending brick and mortar schools. Testing is a concern for the school district and his hope is that the state will show some grace to the students who have fallen behind this past year. In some cases students might be as much as one year behind their grade level.
Rep. Clemons stated that the Gilchrist County School system is always well represented in Tallahassee by the School Board. He advised that they continue to make the effort to be seen up there which helps the district receiving funding.
Michael McElroy the Tax Collector reported that back in July Gilchrist County received DMV drivers licenses Services at his office. Up until July, Gilchrist was one of only two counties who did not provide DMV service for their citizens. He thanked the delegation and the State of Florida for providing the equipment set-up and training for free to the county. Tax Collector McElroy said, “We appreciate the partnership which worked well. Thanks for the help.”
Since July 20, the Tax Collectors office has issued 1787 Drivers Licenses.
Hugh Thomas the Executive Director of the Suwannee River Water Management District spoke to the delegation. Thomas introduced the SRWMD’s new Community Affairs Manager Tim Alexander of Cross City. He also thanked the delegation for the Springs Grant which has helped fund the Devil’s Ear Spring Priority Focus Area conservation easement. Another project that was discussed was the improvements to the SR47 boat ramp park project at the Santa Fe River.
Mr. Clemont Lindsey spoke asking that monuments be respected in the future. He said, he understood that some monuments will be moved, but he did not understand the disrespectful distraction of Confederate monuments or any other monuments. He requested the delegation help in this matter. He reported that the local unit of the Sons of Confederate Veterans was working to educate people about history. Lindsey went on to say, “This is important we are talking about the loss of our ancestry here.”
A gentleman spoke by Zoom about medical marijuana and those using it being discriminated against in the work force.
Another individual who recently moved here shared his concerns about the poor cell phone service and insufficient Broadband in his part of the county.
Senator Bradley thanked those who attended the hearing and expressed their concerns. She went on to say, “It’s our obligation and honor to serve you.”
Representative Clemons stated that his office was always open to the people of District 21, and to contact his office with requests and concerns.
Florida House of Representative, Representative Church Clemons District 21, 105 Southwest 140th Court, Suite 1, Newberry, FL. Phone 352-313-6542, fax 352-313-6544 or Chuck.Clemons@myflridahouse.gov.
Florida State Senate, Senator Jennifer Bradley, District Office, Kingsley Center, 1279 Kingsley Avenue, Suite 117, Orange Park, FL 32073, (904) 278-2085, Senate VOIP: 40500, Toll Free (888) 347-3483.