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Palm Coast Friday, Dec. 23, 2016 2 years ago

Storm repair, education matters lead as officials and residents share concerns with legislators

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Other issues raised included animal protection, medical marijuana, the business rent tax and adding an additional county court judge for Flagler.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

As about two dozen speakers came forward to address Rep. Paul Renner and Sen. Travis Hutson at the Government Services Building Dec. 21, a few themes emerged: Residents and officials were concerned about potential repairs for State Road A1A, about retaining funding for education and about getting a second county court judge for Flagler. 

The legislative delegation meeting is held annually, a chance for officials and residents to pitch their concerns to their representatives before the start of the legislative season, and lobby for state money for various projects.

At the opening of this year's meeting, Renner warned attendees that "this year's budget will be tight."

"We have had a very severe storm that will create some priorities that will be important to all of us to achieve this year, and so that being said, other priorities will have to perhaps take a secondary place when we look at appropriations this year," Renner said. "So I want to prepare you for that up front. If you’re coming and looking for state dollars, we’ll do the best we can, but it’s going be a tight budget year and our piorities are going to be making sure our beaches are restored and we get back to where we were before the storm."

Beach erosion in the wake of Hurricane Matthew was a priority for a number of Flagler residents and officials who spoke at the meeting.

"Obviously, my top priority to present to you today is storm damage,” County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin said at the meeting. "There’s more than just that road that’s going on here. As you’ve seen, we’ve got a lot of dune damage, and we need to have that restored. … The key that really sets us out here is the flooding that we’re getting in some of the neighborhoods north around Sea Colony and around Malacompra. And what makes that unique is that makes this not just a dune problem now — now we’ve got a public safety situation. We’ve got ocean water coming in, and at this point today it wouldn’t require nothing more than maybe a minor nor'easter — we don't need a hurricane to cause this problem again, because the dunes have been breached and they’ve been diminished."

Flagler also needs a second county judge to cut down on current County Judge Milissa Moore-Stens' workload, McLaughlin said, and it needs a fifth county commissioner to take the seat that's been sitting open since Commissioner Frank Meeker died in July. That seat is supposed to be filled by an appointment by the governor. 

"We know the governor's a busy, busy man, and we know there's a lot of things on his plate," McLaughlin said. "We would just like you to recognize that we're down to a 2-2 vote, and we are in an economic growth period, and any 2-2 vote, something would fail ... and so that fifth vote is very important to us at this time."

Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland emphasized the city's need for water and wastewater funding. 

"It's critical to the community that we meet those needs. ... Water and utilities are our main focus and priority," she said, adding that the city was preparing requests for appropriations for three projects.

The city also put forth a request for the state to support the school district's program for adults with disabilities. 

"Our school district has taken on this initiative for several years, and it's a need in our community that they have fulfilled as a service, but we also understand that they fell into this sort of gap or loophole were funding was lost. ... We're asking for a solution, and not only a support of this initiative, but a continual support."

Holland said medical marijuana issues were also a priority for the city: The city has passed a nine-month moratorium on the construction or operation of any medical marijuana facility in the city limits, to wait for the state to prepare regulations. 

"We just do not want to move forward in lieu of the true understanding, so we're asking for that to be resolved this legislative session, so we have a clear and better way to move forward," she said.

Jacob Oliva, the school district superintendent, thanked Renner and Hutson for their past support for the adults with disabilities program. 

He said the district would like to see some adjustments made to the school accountability testing system, as well as to the "district cost differential" formula that determines how tax money paid into state coffers is disbursed between the various counties for education. 

"Locally, the citizens in our county are in the top 10 highest mileage rate ... but yet we’re in the bottom 10 in per student allocation," Oliva said. "Our funding is being used to supplement other counties’ initiatives, and it’s really hurting our students here locally.  … It's an antiquated formula that hasn’t ben updated."

Oliva also said that while the district supports school choice, non-public schools should have to meet the same accountability standards that public schools do. "I think it’s unethical and not fair that we can take taxpayer dollars to support private industries and special interests, and those folks that are doing tahat are not held to the same level of standards that we are," he said.

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