ORANGE PARK – A discussion about growth and how to handle it took center stage at the recent State of the County address.
Moderator Kent Justice began the event by asking panelists how Clay County’s cities and the county government are going to address fire and EMS services with the completion of the First Coast Expressway in the next four-to-five years.
“Public safety is job No. 1, as far as I am concerned for public officials,” said Mike Cella, chairman of the Board of County Commissioners. “We have a tremendous fire and rescue and service...and also a sheriff’s department so I think you can’t talk about one without talking about the other and we’ll need increased services both on the sheriff’s side as well as fire and rescue.”
Each year, the Clay County Chamber of Commerce hosts the State of the County address, but this year, Chamber officials decided to change the format from previous years in which just the BCC Chairman gave a speech. This year, a panel of the mayors of Orange Park, Green Cove Springs, Penney Farms, Keystone Heights and the chairman of the Board of County Commissioners fielded questions from a moderator.
To further drive home his point about public safety, Cella touted the county’s recent completion of its newest firehouse, Station 11, in Keystone Heights. He said future plans call for Station 22 on Fleming Island and Station 20 in Green Cove Springs to move westward to accommodate incoming growth.
Orange Park Mayor Gary Meeks said Orange Park’s ongoing effort to see EMS placed back under the town’s control – instead of the county’s – was also its commitment to bolstering public safety. The town received a Certificate of Need in December, one of the first steps needed to take to make the once-controversial issue become a reality.
Staying with the growth issue and the First Coast Expressway, panelists were asked how traffic flow will be handled because of the expressway toll road. He cited proposed changes to the Henley Road and County Road 220 intersection as one way to meet that need.
Penney Farms Mayor Elizabeth Ryder said she’d like to see a police station placed within Penney Farms to help manage growth of traffic coming through the State Road 16 area that runs right in front of the town. As part of the Expressway design, the Penney Farms area is set to get an Expressway interchange, which will likely lead to new commercial development in the area.
Keystone Heights Mayor Karen Lake said the city’s forthcoming Streetscape 2020 Project will make the city pedestrian-friendly and provide a Main Street USA feel when completed.
Justice wrapped up the event by asking panelists to cite their two most important initiatives moving forward.
Meeks said water and stormwater management and public safety were his two concerns.
“Law enforcement and keeping up with that is always a priority in our town,” Meeks said after explaining that although the town’s population is small, it still requires a heightened force of public safety due to the number of cars that pass through the town and the hotels within the area.
Ryder said Penney Farms plans to focus on improving the wastewater management of the town and the infrastructure. Lake said that, in addition to Streetscape and the Keystone Airport, her city will be keeping a close watch on the Black Creek Water Project which she said will supplement the ongoing effort to restore the city’s lakes back to their former glory.
Green Cove Springs Mayor Connie Butler said the city continue to focus on improving its electrical and wastewater infrastructure, as well as its piers and parks.
Cella finished the conversation by prioritizing again public safety and upcoming repaving and road repair projects.