This Wednesday evening’s legislative delegation meeting at the county commission chambers will feature more than just the usual requests for state monies for various projects.
Yes, at the 6:30 p.m. meeting Jan. 30, the county commission plans to ask State Sen. Bill Montford for help in securing state funds for a new emergency operations center, which tops the county agenda.
And no doubt the city of Carrabelle, the school board, and the constitutional officers will have their wish lists as well, for Montford, and outgoing State Rep. Halsey Beshears to consider.
Because Gov. DeSantis has appointed Beshears to head the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations, the Monticello Republican has vacated his District 7 House seat, pending his likely confirmation by the Senate, and the governor will set the date for a special election, for which a handful of candidates already have declared.
So with this House seat in flux, Montford will be carrying the water for the county’s requests, the most interesting of which so far is coming out of Apalachicola.
The city’s Community Redevelopment Agency is planning to ask the Legislature to approve changes in the Florida statutes governing Apalachicola’s existing status as an Area of Critical State Concern (ACSC).
That designation, which used to extend to the entire county until the county commission some years back successfully de-designated all but the city of Apalachicola, currently has the county serve as the governing body over the city’s remaining status as an ACSC.
Based on an agenda item that originated last year within the city’s CRA, Apalachicola is seeking to have statutory changes that would make city commissioners the governing body over the ACSC.
“Since the rest of the county was de-designated several years ago, it makes sense that the governing body would be the city commission since the city is the only remaining ACSC in the count,” said CRA Director Augusta West, who laid the groundwork last year by working with city lobbyist Patrick Bell to pass an amendment that explicitly added affordable housing, and water quality improvement projects, such as wastewater treatment, to the mix of ACSS priorities.
One key reason for this change to Florida statute is that city officials are weighing ultimately putting before voters, within the city limits, a referendum to levy an additional 1 percent tourist impact tax, on top of the current 2 percent bed tax. This money would go towards solving the city’s pressing need for affordable housing, either for new construction or the rehab of existing housing stock.
“This is a strategy we have never pursued before, and is modeled after the Keys’ extremely successful effort,” said West.
On Dec. 13, City Manager Ron Nalley met at the Capitol with Rep. Holly Raschein of the Keys, her legislative aide Kate DeLoach, and Bell. “The goal was to determine a path forward modelled after Rep. Raschein’s highly successful Keys Environmental Stewardship Act which resulted in $10 million of funding for their Area of Critical State Concern,” West told a CRA meeting earlier this month. “This was a very positive and productive meeting.”
She said that based on talks with former Tourist Development Council Director Curt Blair, Apalachicola brings in roughly 20 percent of the $1.25 million in bed tax monies, so that an additional 1 percent tourist impact tax would gather in the neighborhood of $125,000 annually to be spent on affordable housing.
“It makes sense for a community like ours, especially with the recent problems with the impact of Hurricane Michael,” she said. “It gives you an opportunity to have matching funds, or to partner with non-profits to create affordable housing.”
Raschein has advised city officials to craft their own bill similar to the Florida Keys Environmental Stewardship Act, and has made recommendations on pursuing this strategy.
On Dec. 20, Nalley, Bell, and West met Florida Department of Economic Opportunity staffer Gabe Peters, and ACSC Coordinator Barbara Powell for further guidance on the city’s legislative action items.
How the county will receive the city’s proposal for ACSC is as yet unknown, but Montford has asked them to weigh in on requests from both the county departments as well as the two cities.
County Coordinator Michael Moron reported on Jan. 15 that Montford is encouraging the county “to identify those programs/projects that have strong local community support and have been identified/recognized as a need by a state agency.
“Your assistance in addressing the most critical needs in your geographical community is also strongly encouraged,” Montford wrote. “Furthermore, I am requesting county and city governments combine and rank each budget request in one priority order.”
With the legislative session beginning Tuesday, March 5, Montford has requested this information be in his office no later than Monday, Feb. 11.