"We should be ambitious this year"

County commission legislative priorities ready to go

By Nick Blank nick@claytodayonline.com
Posted 11/10/21

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Through the county’s three elected legislators, the Board of County Commissioners is targeting expanding the Clay County Jail, improving broadband and establishing a juvenile …

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"We should be ambitious this year"

County commission legislative priorities ready to go

Posted

GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Through the county’s three elected legislators, the Board of County Commissioners is targeting expanding the Clay County Jail, improving broadband and establishing a juvenile justice program.

At a workshop last week county commissioners decided to establish legislative priorities for $10 million for a jail expansion, $5 million to bolster broadband infrastructure and $250,000 for a Sheriff’s Work Ethics and Training program. The formal approval was pushed to a Nov. 23 BCC meeting, which would give staff the time to create a printed card of the priorities to pass to legislators.

Commissioners also created four backup items: improvements to Wells Road and Blanding Boulevard, water and drainage projects, funding for greenways and trails and upgrading barns at the Clay County Fairgrounds.

Assistant County Manager Troy Nagle said implementing broadband improvements statewide will not have one solution. He said county staff would present the BCC with options for projects to increase the county's broadband capabilities.

"It's going to have to be at the local level saying, 'Here's how we solved the problem here,' as opposed to running wire all over the state which isn't feasible," Nagle said.

County Manager Howard Wanamaker said the appropriations and policies discussed are not new. He said the Capital Improvement Plan and American Rescue Plan Act funding list served as a roadmap. He added the workshop last week was to narrow the list of appropriations and ask commissioners what bills staff should track.

Lobbyist Joe Mobley of the Fiorentino Group said projected revenues for appropriations are higher than usual. He said the state could pay police officers a bonus like what Gov. Ron DeSantis did it for teachers last year.

“There is certainly money and we should be ambitious this year,” Mobley said.

Commissioner Betsy Condon asked if the commission could pass a resolution opposing vaccine mandates for employers or not show support for it. Chairman Mike Cella said DeSantis’ position was clear and said the issue wouldn’t be an easy task for legislators.

“Your employer shouldn’t have any say in your healthcare,” Condon said.

During public comment, Keystone Heights City Manager Lynn Rutkowski told members about establishing water and sewer at the Keystone Heights Airport. She said the city and airport has funded a feasibility study to add the infrastructure.

“I’m asking the commission to please put support behind our water and sewer,” Rutkowski said. “It’s important for our county and economic development.”

The 2022 Legislative committees started meeting in late September. The regular session convenes Jan. 7 with the last day being March 11.

In other business, the BCC received feedback from the College Drive initiative, a community-based plan to improve a major thoroughfare in the county. The process is led by former Orange Park Mayor Connie Thomas and Rev. Gregg Kaufman. Thomas was joined by The Way Free Medical Clinic, Mercy Support Services and PACE Center for Girls and other nonprofit staff.

“It has just been a tremendous effort,” Thomas said.

Forums held over the past year yielded multiple approaches of how to improve College Drive that focused on traffic safety, quality of life and making College Drive attractive. Thomas outlined several requests from forum members:

• Establishing the best zoning uses on College Drive and involving residents.

• Hosting food truck events at the Thrasher-Horne Center.

• Preparation of the Clay County Development Authority’s vacant site on College Drive.

• Using the county’s communication and tourism departments to promote and brand the initiative.

• Traffic light and intersection improvements at Old Jennings Road and College Drive.

• Regular cleanup of the area and increased walkability by repairing or replacing sidewalks.

• Increased code enforcement efforts on College Drive.

Thomas said collaboration is a key factor in making the initiative work.

“It’s a very nice thing to see that collaboration happen. That way we’re supporting one another, we’re not duplicating services and we’re making sure we’re using all of our resources in the best manner for our citizens," Thomas said. "That’s what we want to do for College Drive.”

The initiative has been in discussion since the fall of 2020. Cella said the requests can be folded into regular county business and he thanked stakeholders for their input.

“It’s a very important north-south roadway,” Cella said. “It’s got great promise and you see the kind of interest it’s generating amongst these other folks.”

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