Update: Gov. Scott signed the budget on March 18.
Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey has known his share of legislative disappointments: numbers in Tallahassee can lie. What’s in one appropriation column one day can be out of it the next, especially during that gap between the time lawmakers seal their budget and the governor actually signs it. So Coffey is not celebrating yet.
But Sen. Travis Hutson, whose district includes all of Flagler County, is: four of the 10 projects for which he helped secure state dollars are in Flagler County. And since the governor’s veto list includes none of them, Hutson was confident enough to boast about them in a release issued Wednesday.
The list includes $536,000 to restore the school district’s Adults with Disabilities program, reported on Wednesday, but also $2 million in unexpected funding for improvements to the troubled Plantation Bay utility, $300,000 for the Malacopmpra drainage system, and $200,000 for improvements to Flagler Beach’s stormwater system. (“The hiring of Mr. Newsom was a great move and is already paying off big,” incoming Flagler Beach City Commissioner Rick Belhumeur said of the appropriation to the city, referring to Larry Newsom, who took over in the city on Jan. 1. Belhumeur will be sworn in as a commissioner next week, replacing Steve Settle.)
Palm Coast had asked for $500,000 to underwrite the expansion of its wellfields, necessary in order to counter the increased salinity of existing wells. Legislators pared down the request to $200,000 and included it in the budget. But Scott included that line item on his list of vetoes. Also vetoed was an appropriation for the Florida Agricultural Museum. The museum had been in line for $500,000.
“We’re cautious about being too excited until everything is finalized.”
“I am proud to bring home funding for local community projects. I am confident that each of these projects will benefit our region and Florida as a whole,” Hutson said in the release.
Coffey, however, was very leery this morning of speaking as if the appropriations for Flagler County were secure. “We’re on budget-signing watch,” he said, conceding only that “there’s going to be some good things to come out of it if we can bring it home.”
“Well, he can celebrate now because the actual budget was signed,” Hutson said in a brief interview Friday afternoon. Hutson said he got an email from the governor’s office telling him of the approval just after 8 p.m. Thursday.
“I think that this is the best year in terms of financial dollars that I’ve had in the last four years,” Hutson said, crediting his and Rep. Paul Renner’s work, as well as the work local officials did. County commissioner Frank Meeker, for example, personally spoke to the governor on Malacompra’s account, and school officials such as Jacob Oliva, Kevin McCarthy and Colleen Conklin were key in securing funding for the Adults with Disabilities program.
“The hard work paid off and the results are starting to show,” Hutson said. Next year, he said he would go for more money for the Malacompra project, now that the governor has shown some commitment to it.
The biggest appropriation is for Plantation Bay, whose residents have been persistently complaining to county government that their drinking water is foul-looking and undrinkable. The county, which has owned the utility for the past two years (after buying it from Daytona Beach developer Mori Hosseini, who neglected it) says the water is safe even if it doesn’t look good. But it agreed to seek money to improve it.
The county was seeking $4 million. The $2 million from the state may be enhanced with more than $2 million in wastewater improvements. The rates customers pay already allows for some spending on improvements to the water utility. “You’ll have to realign some things maybe, but we’ve got some tie to figure all that out maybe,” he said. “We will announce a plan or a schedule and all that stuff probably in May,” he said.
“Any money spent for our health is far more important than anything else in our lives,” Jane Gentile-Youd, a Plantation Bay resident and one of its most vocal advocates, said after Commissioner Nate McLaughlin told herb in an email that the money had been secured. “Nothing means more to me than money that goes to something that contributes to our health, safety and welfare.”
The money for Malacompra drainage was in the budget last year and was vetoed. If it survives this year, it’ll be a significant, added victory for Commissioner Frank meeker, who’s led the charge for funding, with some successes. The St. Johns River Water Management District appropriated $500,000 for the project’s first phase, and the county has almost $1 million in the bank from the termination of the Development of Regional Impact that overlays the region (the money was from the developer and was part of the DRI agreement). The additional $200,000 will go toward the first phase, a $2.9 million plan build the drainage system’s backbone. The commission in mid-February also approved a special taxing district for the area to generate money for that and subsequent phases.
But again, Coffey stressed: “We’re cautious about being too excited until everything is finalized.”