Q: What is the latest news from the County Commission?
A: Right now, it is raining requests for money — everything from beach renourishment to the School Board to people requesting their drainage issues be fixed. We are in budget season and our Office of Management and Budget is saying we should not spend all of our cash reserves. For instance, we have only received one-third of the reimbursement amount we expect to receive from FEMA from the hurricanes. This reimbursement process is working, but it is working slowly … so we have a cash flow issue. So we are looking at the budget for next year and asking, where is the money going to come from?
Q: What do you consider to be a big budget challenge?
A: One challenge is we have a lot of deferred maintenance, such as for roads and storm drainage. People are legitimately concerned about these items, but there is no easy fix. With drainage, for example, there are more than 30 issues that have been problems for years. These will take months if not years to find improvements and some will never really have a solution, since the issues are the result of topography, for example. One thing we have done with new roadways associated with new development construction is to reduce the percentage of homes needed to be built and put in a time limit — so that roads will be built sooner rather than later in the development timeline.
Q: Today is June 18, the day before the County Commission meeting at which commissioners will consider the request of the St. Johns County School Board to bear some of the expense of complying with the school safety act. Can you give us some insights on your thoughts on this as of today?
A: At the joint meeting we had with the School Board earlier this month, we heard from the sheriff that he cannot hire enough officers in time to comply with the law. Additionally, we have heard that there is a significant difference of opinion between the school board and the state as to whether there is sufficient funding. I felt we needed a clear understanding as to what direction we are running before we run. I think the issue is a complex mental health issue and not a gun issue, as some of the schools that were targeted had armed officers on site. Unfortunately, people who are intent on harming other people will do so. We need to address this problem where it initiates; how do we stop the violence?
Q: But the school board is required by law to have an armed officer at each school by the beginning of next school year.
A: As far as what the financial responsibility of the County Commission is, I would say that we have a limited amount of money to spend. If we have $1 million that we can share with the school board, why are we not spending it on the deferred maintenance or drainage issues as I mentioned earlier? It’s not a matter of not wanting to partner with the school board. Let me be clear that I am not putting a dollar value on lives. But I believe we are limited by human and financial resources and the county commission has to try to meet all of our community’s needs. This is why it is so important for us to hear from the citizens. What is important to you for us to spend money on and how should we get the money to pay for it?
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