Q: Can you give some background on the recent closure of the Mickler’s Beach parking lot?
A: First of all, the contractor working on the current beachfront restoration project is working for the private party homeowners. Initially, the Board of County Commissioners listened to the request from the homeowners’ contractor about using 25 percent of the Micker’s parking lot for staging equipment. Somehow, through some miscommunication, things got changed and the entire lot was blocked, negatively impacting the well being of the community.
Q: What is being done now?
A: At our last meeting the commissioners discussed how staff could rectify this. We don’t want to have additional expense to the taxpayers and we charged county administration to resolve the situation immediately. I’ve apologized to all who have sent me emails. This should not have happened and should not happen again. We will learn from it and we’re putting more protocols in place for better communication internally. (Editor’s Note: The Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously on Nov. 19 to end County Administrator Michael Wanchik’s contract due to “lack of confidence.”)
Q: What about the issue of the actual work being done by the beachfront homeowners?
A: The project restoration work being done by the private contractor is permitted through the State of Florida. St. Johns County is an affected party, but we have no say so in what or how beach restoration takes place. But just because we don’t have control over the permitting doesn’t mean we don’t have a voice. So we would still like to know if anyone has questions or concerns and they can contact me or the other commissioners. This is a microcosm of how complicated beach restoration is for 42 miles of St. Johns County beaches and it’s an opportunity to education others and myself.
Q: Can you shed some light on how the commission is handling the $15 million budget surplus?
A: This money has been allocated to a broad spectrum of needs throughout the county, including parks and recreation, beach restoration, and infrastructure improvements. Staff has been charged to bring to the Board of County Commissioners specific timelines and realistic budget estimates for specific projects within these areas.
This surplus gives us an opportunity to go beyond the core health, safety and welfare of the county, which thankfully we have covered. But we need to identify whether this surplus is a one time event or a trend, so we can look forward to whether we can tackle the backlog of maintenance issues or perhaps decrease taxes into the future. For instance, should we restore staff and library hours to existing libraries before building a new library that we will have to maintain into the future? This is the type of thing we have asked our staff to determine.
Q: Is there a timeline for when any projects will be determined?
A: We want to get all the projects available as a group and staff needs time to develop this. The first step is to identify projects that will benefit the most people in the county. There is still time for public input and we will be holding public meetings at a time and date to be determined.
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