Flagler County officials are questioning whether the county is lobbying its interests as effectively as possible as a new legislative session approaches.
The discussion arose when County Administrator Craig Coffey ran Flagler’s 2013 legislative priorities before the Flagler County Board of County Commissioners at a Monday workshop discussion.
The County Commission approved the list in November, but Coffey asked for last-minute input, especially from the two new board members, before the priorities are presented at the Dec. 11 Florida Legislative Session delegation meeting.
Commissioners didn’t want to change their priorities, but they did consider changing the way those priorities are voiced.
Currently, Flagler County is a member of the Florida Association of Counties, which represents the interests of Florida counties before state legislature. Flagler County also pays a lobbyist, Lester Abberger, to promote its interests.
Commissioner Barbara Revels said she felt too removed from the lobbyist’s actions.
“I was critical of our lobbyist (in the budget) this year because I don’t know what he’s doing or what he does,” she said.
Although Revels says she understands that Abberger was instructed to act through county administration rather than through individual commissioners, she said she would like to be updated — whether through administration or through Abberger himself — every few months so the County Commission can ensure that its money is being well-spent.
County Attorney Albert Hadeed assured commissioners that Abberger has given Flagler County priorities a voice in statewide legislation. He and Coffey said they would look at ways to keep commissioners updated on his specific actions in the future.
The County Commission also questioned whether its membership in the FAC is enough to keep issues important to their community at the forefront of state legislators’ minds. In the past, the board has decided against joining the Small County Coalition of Florida.
But, Revels noted, that was when the county was tightening its budget drastically. Membership to the Small County Coalition costs $4,000.
Now, she said she would support joining the organization. Commissioners George Hanns and Nate McLaughlin said the same.
Coffey said the Small County Coalition operates solely on a small-county perspective, whereas the FAC works with counties of all sizes.
“We’re kind of in-between,” he said. “We aren’t quite a rural county, but we aren’t an urban county either.”
But, Coffey said he knew the organization had seen success in promoting its issues.
Hadeed urged the commission to remember the benefits of the FAC as well as they moved forward.
“The FAC as a lobbying association has very substantially proved its effectiveness,” Hadeed said. “They’re why you saw the defeat of Amendment 4.”
Hadeed said the FAC has also stood for counties on issues of Medicaid billing and works to curb the transfer of fiscal responsibility for state-sentenced inmates to the counties who house them in their jails, as well as other things.
Coffey said he will draft a proposal to join the Small County Coalition for the County Commission to consider at a future date.
Flagler County’s legislative priorities
The following will be presented as Flagler County’s legislative priorities at the Dec. 11 statewide delegation meeting:
• Require online booking companies to collect the tourist development tax
• Oppose shifting prison inmates to county jails
• Repeal 2011 legislation prohibting local governments from regulating vacation rentals
• Oppose efforts to remove local authority to levly local business taxes
• Restore funding for Florida Forever
• Strengthen state regulations against the sale or possesion of bath salts and synthetic cannabis
• Oppose attempts to redistrict authority to regulate outdoor advertising