Groups make pitches for their share of state funding

Bradley, Cummings, Payne to mull over requests ahead of next session


GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings sat for their last legislative delegation in Clay County Thursday, hearing from government officials, nonprofits, groups and concerned residents.

The pair are termed out in 2020. Rep. Bobby Payne, elected in 2016, chaired the meeting. His district covers southern Clay County.

BCC Chairman Mike Cella was the first to present to the trio. The county’s four-page memo detailed widening State Road 16, County Road 220, two portions of County Road 218 and County Road 209 to four lanes.

“We’re trying to get as many roads in place by the time the First Coast Expressway comes,” Cella said.

For public safety, the county asked for a $2 million consolidated communications facility, a relocation of Fire Station 20, training centers for Clay County Fire Rescue and the Clay County Sheriff’s Office and new buildings for Animal Services and the Health Department.

Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed a $750,000 Camp Blanding Museum expansion appropriation last year, but the county is asking for $1.6 million this year. Gov. Rick Scott vetoed a similar appropriation in 2018.

The city of Green Cove Springs asked for a police pier and dock, and the restoration of some brick streets. Bradley, who hails from Green Cove, said he was glad the city reversed an old policy of paving over the brick streets.

“It’s good to see what old is new again,” Bradley said.

The town of Orange Park wanted assistance with removing the area’s septic tanks, support for stormwater projects and home rule. Keystone Heights asked for $10 million for water and sewer at the Keystone Heights Airport and $5 million for a Clay County access road to the airport.

Clay County Economic Development Corporation President J.J. Harris lended the EDC’s support for the project, referencing MHD-Rockland Services’ $24 million acquired from Space Florida for an expansion.

“One of the opportunities we have is how do we get water and sewer to (the airport),” Harris said. “Right now, the airport is on well water and septic.”

Clay County School District Superintendent Addison Davis stressed VPK programs, closing the digital divide faced by students and he called for an end of some high school tests.

“High school assessments create a lot of angst. And in the high school model, I believe there’s potential to remove the FSA assessments and the EOC assessments because when seniors go to compete outside Clay County, throughout the state and the nation, no one asks them what their FSA or EOC scores are,” Davis said. “What they ask about is what they have done from a character and extracurricular perspective, their GPAs, SATs and ACTs.”

A $625,000 appropriation for Coppergate Elementary School of the Arts was vetoed by DeSantis earlier this year.

“Coppergate (Elementary) is worth taking another shot at,” Bradley said.

Three of the county’s constitutional officers were in attendance. Property Appraiser Roger Suggs asked for the state to provide aerial photography to low population and fiscally-constrained counties. Supervisor of Elections Chris Chambless insisted on the benefits of early voting sites and asked to eliminate the 10-cent cap on petitions. Clerk of Court Tara Green supported bills streamlining the juror management process and bills relating to guardianship.

“(Guardianships) will be a focus of mine,” Green said.

Groups and residents addressed the legislators in the final 90 minutes of the meeting.

The environment was a pressing topic. North Florida Land Trust President Jim McCarthy said his agency was looking at the contaminated Solite site in Lake Asbury and he thanked the delegation for its support of previous acquisitions.

St. Johns Riverkeeper Advocacy Director Shannon Blankenship mentioned the phosphorus-driven algae blooms on the St. Johns River, from Brevard County to Clay County, and asked that North Florida received the same environmental protections as South Florida.

Representatives from 1000 Friends of Florida and Florida Conservation Voters urged the trio to return Florida Forever, the state land acquisition program, to its previous funding, and support significant investment in the conservation and waterways.

A contingent opposed numerous bills involving children’s health, such as Senate Bill 64 and Senate Bill 46. SB 64 would delete exemptions from school-entry health examinations and immunization requirements for religious reasons and SB 46 would require eye examination for newborns.

“Let the parents decide for themselves,” Susan Callahan said.

Bradley thanked the groups for coming and said those bills didn’t stand a chance in the Legislature.

“Those bills aren’t going anywhere,” Bradley said to applause.

The 2020 Legislature convenes Jan. 14.


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