A few days ago Flagler County officials thought they’d landed start-up money for a nearly $9 million plan to substantially reduce chronic flooding in the Hammock’s Malacompra drainage basin, which affects homes in Marineland Acres. They’d asked the Legislature for more than $1 million. The appropriated amount looked as if it would fall to $200,000 at one point, until Sen. Travis Hutson, who represents Flagler, worked it back up to $600,000.
“We thought we were in good shape,” Flagler County Commission Chairman Frank Meeker said.
Then Gov. Rick Scott picked up his veto pen. The $600,000 appropriation for the Malacompra drainage project was among the 450 line-items and $461 million he vetoed as he approved a $78.2 billion budget.
The governor’s veto pen was especially unkind to Hutson, the former House member who began his senate tenure at the tail end of the regular session. Days ago Hutson touted in a news release the six appropriations totaling $4.3 million he and fellow legislators put in the budget. Scott vetoed four of the six appropriations, slashing out all but $700,000 of the money Hutson thought he’d secured.
“I got a lot of projects in the budgets and I got vetoed,” Hutson said in an interview today. “I kind of think that happens statewide. I was shocked to see Malacompra vetoed because we worked really hard on that and I thought the governor knew about that. But we’ll try again next year and make sure that he’s more aware of how important it is to the community. That’s a project that’s been on the delegation’s radar for at least three years now.”
Meeker said Flagler officials got mixed signals as the budget process wound down, being told at one point that lobbying the governor was not necessary, only to find out that many projects were vetoed for apparent lack of broad support. It was either that or, Meeker said, because the projects did not affect broader swaths of people in the state.
That’s led Meeker to change the focus of how he will seek to steer the request next year. “We weren’t selling the regional benefits” of the project, he said, such as the benefits to water and shellfish harvesting downstream, for example. Scott, Meeker said, “didn’t really understand, it’s more than 300 acres of residents who benefit from this.”
“Obviously we need to redouble our efforts next year,” Meeker said, including better mobilizing the Hammock community. “We will barrage them with emails next year.”
“He’s exactly on the right approach,” Coffey said, saying the focus on reducing pollutants in the Intracoastal will be vital. “As far as statewide significance that’s critical. Water is our lifeblood.” Meanwhile, the administration is “reevaluating how we attack the problem,” studying whether to address the whole Malacompra issue in small increments or not. “But at the end of the day we need assistance from the state,” Coffey said. The county will also seek out mitigation dollars from the Federal Emergency Management Administration and from the water management district. There will also be local money, starting with $900,000 available from the close-out of the Hammock Dunes Development of Regional Impact, and, starting in the fall of 2016, a special taxing district that will have residents in Marineland Acres paying a share of the needed improvements.
Next year’s efforts with the state will actually come a little sooner: the Legislature will be holding its regular session two months earlier than usual, something it usually does only once every 10 years, to coincide with the year when it redistricts the state. Some legislators liked the notion of doing so every even year, so in 2016, as a pilot, they’ll be doing that—holding session from around Jan. 12 to mid-March (assuming the House’s petulance doesn’t strike again). That’ll move up much of the budget-planning process. The annual legislative delegation meeting that usually takes place in December in Bunnell, for example, will have to be moved up to around September.
Hutson, who described his few weeks in the Senate as “more flexible” than the more-structured House, said he intends to push more policy matters this coming session, as well as appropriations such as Malacompra.
One policy matter on his radar is the result of conversations he had with supervisors of elections and with County Judge Melissa Moore-Stens as a consequence of the scandals surrounding the tenure of Kimberle Weeks as elections supervisor, before her resignation in January. Much of the controversies of that tenure emerged during canvassing board meetings. Among them was Weeks’s refusal to recognize the county attorney (Al Hadeed) as the board’s attorney, even though the two otjher members of the board, Moore-Stens among them (she chaired it), declared Hadeed the board attorney.
Hutson said the law may lack clarity as far as who the “default attorney” would be on canvassing board. He’s interested in adding clarification to the language. He would likely get strong support from local officials. (Weeks is facing 12 felony counts following an investigation of her recordings of officials and others without consent.)