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Palm Coast Friday, Dec. 7, 2018 6 months ago

County, city, push legislators to fund water infrastructure projects, library, additional judge

Among the topics raised by residents: New options for dangerous dogs, addiction recovery support, alternatives to water management district's marsh plan.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

Flagler County and city of Palm Coast leaders have asked the area's state legislators to push for state funding for local water and wastewater projects, a new public library branch and an additional judge, among other requests.

Residents' requests touched on issues as varied as dangerous dog laws, affordable housing and the St. Johns Water Management District's restoration plan for a local marsh.

Sen. Travis Hutson speaks with Flagler County Tourism Director Matt Dunn at a legislative delegation meeting Dec. 7. (Photo by Jonathan Simmons)

"The overall theme on this is really focused on water quality, water availability issues," County Commissioners Donald O'Brien told state Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. Paul Renner about the Flagler County government's requests when Hutson and Renner visited Flagler County as the county's legislative delegation the afternoon of Nov. 7. The county is seeking $8 million for wastewater system improvements on the northeastern coast, including switching septic tank areas over to sewer. It's also asking for support in making improvements to the utility at Plantation Bay.

O'Brien also emphasized the need to add an additional county judge, so that the county's sole county judge — Melissa Moore Stens‚ doesn't continue to carry the state's heaviest county court caseload.

"The need is well-documented," O'Brien said. 

Renner said that the Florida Supreme County certifies the need to add additional judges, and that it had done so a couple years ago for Flagler, but not done so the following year. 

"It’s a challenge; we don’t know what the Florida Supreme Court will do this year," he said. "But if they don’t certify a judge, it's very difficult for us to get that funding on a permanent basis."

The county also is asking the state for $500,000 in state library construction program funding to build a new Bunnell branch of the Flagler County Public Library, behind the Government Services Building on East Moody Boulevard.

The legislative delegation meeting is an opportunity for local officials and interested residents to tell legislators what they want to see happen during the upcoming legislative season. Government bodies each assemble lists of legislative priorities and have officials present those list to the legislators during the meeting's comment period. They have to keep their remarks succinct: Each speaker has up to three minutes. Renner and Hutson asked clarifying questions during the meeting, but didn't speak at length on any one topic. More than two dozen people addressed them.

Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland represented the city of Palm Coast during the meeting, seeking appropriations to extend Palm Coast's sewer force main to Marineland and to extend its fiber optic network to the University of Florida's Whitney Lab.

Flagler County Commissioners Donald O'Brien, David Sullivan and Joe Mullins. (Photo by Jonathan Simmons)

"We see this as a benefit not only to the resiliency of the septic, sewer drainage issue that’s going on the island, but it’s an extension to our forced main," she said.

She also voiced the city's support for the Flagler School District's Flagship Program local funding initiative and the Palm Coast Arts Foundation's requests for appropriations for its event center.

"That will allow us to have some cultural arts experiences in our downtown ... for our residents to enjoy for years to come," Holland said.

Other officials and residents addressed the following issues during the meeting:

  • Rick Belheumer, a city of Flagler Beach city commissioner, asked that the state promote beach renourishment and support Flagler Beach's push to upgrade the area's sewer and water treatment systems.
  • Palm Coast resident Dottye Benton, whose dog, Cooper, has been ordered to be euthanized after he bit someone after having previously been officially designated dangerous for another bite, told Hutson and Renner that she wanted the state to change the law so that dogs like hers could, instead of being killed, be released to rescue facilities that would be willing to take them. Benton had pressed the city of Palm Coast, and then a Circuit Court judge, to let Cooper be released to a rescue ranch in western Florida that had offered to take him, but city officials and the judge said that that arrangement would violate Florida law. 
  • S.E. Cline Construction President Scott Sowers held up a jar containing two different kinds of sand, one layered on top of the other — one kind looked like the cinnamon-colored sand that is native to Flagler's beaches, and the other was visibly lighter. The cinnamon-looking sand, Sowers said, doens't meet the Department of Environmental Protection's standards for sand that can be used to replenish Flagler's beaches during the ongoing beach renourishment process, while the light-colored sand does. Sowers asked the legislators to push DEP to relax regulations on sand that cold be used for renourishment.
  • From the school district, Superintendent James Tager, Student and Community Engagement Executive Director Lynette Shott and School Board member Colleen Conklin said the district is seeking additional funding for its flagship programs, and seeking support for the funding of more mental health specialists in Flagler County, not only for students, but for families. 
  • Flagler County Supervisor of Elections Kaiti Lenhart told Hutson and Renner that there are sections of state law that need to be updated to comply with more recent case law and federal court orders.
  • The Rev. Charles Silano said he would like the state to support new options for recovery for people with substance addiction. "Florida is in incarceration mode," he said. "What we’d like is some interaction between the judges and law enforcement to see if perhaps incarceration would be looked at again, so that we can sentence people more to recovery than to prison."
  • Martin Collins, representing The Sheltering Tree, the local cold-weather shelter, said the organization is seeking $30,000 to build showers and a laundry facility, "to give these people the basic dignity of cleanliness." He also noted the area's lack of affordable housing. "People can’t afford a deposit for rent to a property, not to mention purchase of a property," he said.
  • Several residents voiced their opposition to a planned St. Johns Water Management District project to remove old mosquito control dragline ditches in the marshes off the Intracoastal in Flagler Beach. Renner said that he and Hutson could not tell the water management district what to do, but could ask the agency for evidence that previous, similar projects have been beneficial.

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