Q: Can you give an update on the Board of County Commissioners’ plan to divide the funds allocated by the American Rescue Plan Act to St. Johns County?
A: In total, we received around $50 million from this one-time federal funding source. Phase One of those funds are already committed and at our board meeting yesterday [March 15] we planned to allocate $20 million in Phase Two funding. One proposed allocation was $6 million to upgrade the county’s Enterprise Resource Planning System, an extremely antiquated internal system for our employees that includes things like time sheets (which are still paper) and provides other general efficiencies for our employees as they respond to our county’s residents. 

After more than an hour and a half of public comment, much of it from our area’s non-profits, Chairman Henry Dean recommended that we pull the $6 million for this upgrade and mull it over for a couple of weeks. So, we are going to have an ongoing conversation on the best way to spend these funds to the benefit of St. Johns County. We ended up allocating just $14 million of the $20 million at this meeting. There is still about $28 million in funding that is uncommitted.

Q: What can you tell us about the funding that St. Johns County was allocated by the Florida Legislature in its recent session?
A: We have learned that the Florida Legislature allocated $54 million to St. Johns County out of the state budget. I’ve been told that this is the largest amount ever allocated to our county to address infrastructure needs. It still needs to be signed by the governor and is subject to his line item veto, but I think this is a signal that the state legislature sees the needs we have in St. Johns County. I would like to thank our legislators for bringing this money home to our county.

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Q: Yesterday’s board meeting also contained the second and final reading of the proposed one cent local sales tax. Can you comment on that?
A: I think our chairman, Commissioner Dean, said it best when he said we could do one of three things: we could raise property taxes; we could put a sales tax on the referendum and let the people of St. Johns County make the decision to address our infrastructure needs sooner; or we could kick the can down the road as previous commissions have done. The truth is that our infrastructure funding needs keep increasing. The number never comes down. We simply don’t have enough money to meet the needs of this growing county. 

Q: Are there any other options like raising impact fees or what about the $54 million just awarded by the state legislature?
A: One thing that was discussed during the potential sales tax conversations over the past few weeks involves impact fees. I learned that we are already charging the statutory maximum for impact fees at this time — so raising these fees is not an option. 

As for the $54 million from the state, we are very happy to have it and it will be a big help. But for purposes of scale, our total infrastructure needs at this time are more than $700 million, with about $560 million for deficient roads. These deficiencies have been building for the past 10 – 15 years.

Q: What is the best way for our readers to contact you?
A: Readers can email me at  bcc1cwhitehurst@sjcfl.us or call me at (904) 584-5348. 

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