Last Updated: Nov. 5, 10:11 a.m.
The Flagler County Commission this morning unanimously approved making support for Palm Coast’s partnership with the University of Florida’s proposed medical-education initiative in Town center the county’s top legislative priority for 2020. The county approved a resolution “strongly” endorsing “the founding of a State University System presence in the City of Palm Coast.”
The county’s move is the first in what Palm Coast hopes will be similar moves by Flagler Beach, Bunnell, Marineland and the school board as city and county hope to present a united voice to legislative leaders who’ll be responsible for appropriating UNF’s $12 million financial request. The amount does not include money committed by Palm Coast and AdventHealth Palm Coast. Local governments pitch their wish lists to Flagler County’s legislative delegation on Nov. 21.
UNF’s request was one of 12 submitted to the state university system’s Board of Governors. The board’s Strategic Planning Committee approved all 12 proposals without dissent on Oct. 3. The package was scheduled to be discussed by the full board last week but the items were postponed to a November 19 finance committee meeting, according to Brittany Wise, the board’s spokesperson. “There will be a conference call on November 22 for the full Board to approve any changes,” Wise said. “More specific information will be noticed on our website when it gets closer.”
Palm Coast City Manager Matt Morton said he wasn’t reading anything into the postponement, particularly since it affects all 12 universities, and a University of Florida official in the communications office said such postponements are not unusual.
UNF is proposing what it calls its MedNex initiative, what UNF President David Szymanski described to the strategic committee as an effort to develop 70 registered nurses in the first graduating class between the university’s Palm Coast and Jacksonville operations, and feed health care businesses such as AdventHealth, not just in Palm Coast but throughout the region, with professionals who would pledge to remain local for a period. The initiative, which would also include other health-care related disciplines, seeks to fill a gaping workforce shortage in the field. (See the details: “UNF Pitches Medical Hub in Palm Coast’s Town Center in Major Partnership With City, Schools and AdventHealth.”)
But it’s ambitious and dependent on the fickleness of political appropriations. Palm Coast is hoping that by mobilizing local governments to what it sees as a countywide and regional goal, legislative leaders will lend a closer ear. If the Board of Governors passes on the initiative O’Brien said the county’s and cities’ actions would become a moot point, and those local governments could then line up any other priorities in the UNF initiative’s stead.
“By doing this resolution, we’re saying hey, we support this, and I think we are,” County Commissioner Greg Hansen said.
“And it’s my understanding the other municipalities in the county are doing the same thing,” County Commission Chairman Donald O’Brien said. “The fact that we’re all together on the same page and requesting this of our legislators would give more weight to the request.” He said part of the objective was to make the request “our number one priority.”
Palm Coast Mayor Milissa Holland drafted the local cities support through the Flagler County League of Cities, the quarterly meeting of the county’s mayors. Holland briefed the mayors at their Oct. 16 meeting in Flagler Beach, specifying that Palm Coast is contributing $1.5 million (though the city has yet to formally approve that appropriation).
The Palm Coast City Council takes up its own resolution on the matter Tuesday. Bunnell City Clerk Kristen Bates confirmed today that the city had received the resolution and would be considering it at its Nov. 12 meeting. The Flagler Beach city clerk on Monday said the city had not received a similar request, while the city has drafted its 2020 legislative priorities. The UNF initiative is not on the list. But by Tuesday morning, Flagler Beach had received the resolution of support and the clerk was placing it on the commission’s Nov. 14 meeting. A school district spokesman on Tuesday said the district also received the resolution.
“A medical school and an education facility like this coming to a community would not only bring the opportunities for expanded education in keeping our kids in the community,” Commissioner Joe Mullins said, “it will bring jobs, it will bring higher paying ones in the professors and the teachers, it will bring more stimulus in the economy, it will also kind of set the tone of what our community becomes–not a supporting bedroom community to other counties, but more of a medical hub, and start focusing on some of the medical services we need.”
Commissioner Dave Sullivan was concerned about the county not having finalized its own list of legislative requests yet, namely money requests, which could affect where the UNF request would fit. Sullivan and Hansen noted, for example, Flagler’s pursuance of state dollars to finally pay for a “Library South,” the public library projected for construction on the county government complex off State Road 100. That project has been shunted aside from year to year. But the library is a grant process: if it’s funded, Flagler is first in line.
But O’Brien saw Palm Coast’s request differently: “The request from the city and the feedback we’ve gotten from our legislators is that there’s not a whole lot of money to be had on other projects,” O’Brien said. “If we forego other asks in favor of this on a one-time basis for this year, that’s I think what the request is here.”
County Administrator Jerry Cameron said that based on his conversations with local officials, landing the UNF hub would be “the biggest thing to happen to Flagler County since ITT.” ITT was the original developer of Palm Coast. “We feel like it would be prudent to subordinate other requests to this one. Doesn’t mean we’re abandoning those requests if there’s other moneys available, but for lasting change, positive change to the county, this one by far is one of the highest profile things that could happen.”
The public comment period drew no input aside from one resident’s misconception about the public library. “How many people are really using a library today? Everything is on the computer,” the resident said, repeating a common misconception: Holly Albanese, the Flagler County Public Library director, told a gathering of the Friends of the Library Friday evening that usage was up 15 percent year over year, with circulation reaching 500,000 items in the past year–not including computer usage at the library by residents who have no such access at home. Libraries are especially popular among millennials.
The commission approved the resolution unanimously. It appears in full below.