Q: Can you shed any light on the process that is taking place regarding the collaborative county effort needed for the School District to comply with the school safety bill signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott, which requires a deputy in every school?

A: This is a perfect example of an unfunded mandate. The state is providing some funding to enact this, but sheriffs’ offices across the state, including ours, are saying it is not enough. The County Commissioners will work collaboratively with the School District and the Sheriff’s Office to provide a safe environment for our students, but it will take some time to work itself out. In the meantime, I believe it is the responsibility of the constituents to contact their state legislators to let them know that they have to stop passing funding requirements like this to the local taxpayer.

Q: Can the County Commission raise fees or taxes to pay for the approximately $4.5 million shortfall that results due to the difference in the projected cost of putting a deputy in each school and the money coming from the state?

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A:  We do have the ability to raise money this way, but my concern is that St. Johns County could become more expensive than surrounding counties. Even for well meaning and worthwhile projects, increasing fees appears to be the easy patch today, but we have to remember that the effects are multi-year. Something similar happened with the town of Hastings, where increases in fees made it too expensive for low income or fixed income people to live there. As they moved out, there was not enough income coming into the town to pay its obligations.

Q: What was your reasoning for your dissenting vote on the acquisition of land next to the Riverdale Park to be used for additional parking?

A: My question on this issue was if we as a county could afford to maintain this additional property into perpetuity? It was presented to the commission as being fully vetted with no additional funding needed to open it for public use, but that ended up not being true. First, a protected barrier would need to be built around protected trees, to include costs for a curb and grading as well as perimeter fencing and trash receptacles. None were accounted for in the presentation. I agree that we have a need for this property, but don’t know if this is a good “value” since there is also no appraisal. Also, we have to be more diligent about accounting for long-term maintenance expenses, which can be large (like the St. Augustine Pier). I’m not going to approve spending taxpayers’ money now with no plan on how to maintain down the road.

Q: Do you have anything else to share?

A: We are starting to discuss the county’s annual budget, with the Administrator’s Budget Workshops scheduled for May 23 – 24. [Editor’s Note: Details on these public meetings may be found online at www.sjcfl.us/OMB/index.aspx.] Last year’s budget is online, and we had cut $5 million from county departments to try to account for the presumed approval of the increase in Homestead Exemption by voters in November, which will result in the county losing $10 million from the general fund budget. So, we need to find $5 million again in this year’s budget. Where should this come from? Would people rather the county decrease services or increase taxes and fees? We need to hear from people as to their preferences.  

Q: What is the best way for our readers to contact you?

A: Readers can email me at bcc1jjohns@sjcfl.us or call me at (904) 615-7437.

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