The Nassau County Legislative Delegation, which consists of one state Senator and one state Representative, heard from a number of local stakeholders Wednesday at the Delegation meeting.
Sen. Aaron Bean and Rep. Cord Byrd heard from stakeholders from the Jacksonville-adjacent county on a variety of issues.
Nassau, like St. Johns and Clay to the south of Duval, is seeing expansions in populations and business interests.
“Growing pains,” as Byrd put it before the meeting.
But, he added, one advantage Nassau has over certain other counties is the fact that the Legislative Delegation and county and city governments are in sync.
The feel in the room was indeed convivial, old friends with established relationships and an absence of rancor.
Everyone laughed when Bean and Byrd held “elections” for the chair and the vice-chair positions, and at the jokes about having not just a quorum, but “100 percent attendance.”
As compared to the Duval County Legislative Delegation meeting in a few weeks, where the School Board will actively resist a local bill designed to make the school Superintendent an elected position, Nassau’s meeting was like Old Home Week.
Of course, as is the case with every county’s wish list, familiar asks were pushed once again by local and county governments, as well as the stakeholders who predominate in every such delegation meeting.
Nassau County Commissioner Justin Taylor described the county as “big winners” in the previous Legislative Session, but there are wins to come, including the American Beach septic phaseout; $900,000 is allocated for that.
Byrd noted that the Department of Environmental Protection sees the historical African-American beach as a “model project.”
Much is to be done, including ascertaining the extent into which failed tanks leak sewage into the ground water. If severe flooding were to ever hit, some speculation is that the septic tanks would pop out of the ground.
Beyond the septic issue, there are other infrastructural shortfalls, including just five fire hydrants, according to one advocate.
“If one property caught fire, I don’t know what would happen to the community,” she added, given the small lots in town.
Nassau County School Superintendent Kathy Burns lamented “unfunded mandates” from the state.
“We need a little assistance,” she said, regarding mental health and safety funding.
Burns also endorsed the repeal of the current teacher bonus program.
“Best and Brightest is not best and brightest. Let’s do away with it,” Burns said.
Burns also wondered how the proposed raise for beginning teachers to $47,500 would be paid for and what the ramifications would be for experienced teachers.
Bean and Byrd vowed to bring stakeholders to the table, including teachers, to try to replicate the success of the university system at the K-12 level.
Fernandina Beach seeks money for walkovers, rather than walk-throughs, to the beach. Drainage issues are also a problem with which Fernandina wants help.
Hilliard also needs facility upgrades for the Council on Aging, with “desperate need for a new roof” and general “disrepair,” per Judge Robert Foster.
“It sounds pretty bad,” Bean said.
Bean also defended the spending of Florida Forever money.
“We want to make sure we get our share. Are we?” he asked Jim McCarthy of the North Florida Land Trust.
McCarthy said no, and doubted the region would.
“We’re not getting our fair share. And we’re certainly not getting it in Nassau County,” he added.
That theme continued when a behavioral health facility called Starting Point came up, smarting from a $500,000 ask for capital that the Governor vetoed in the 2019-20 budget.
“It was devastating,” said a representative from the group, “when the Governor vetoed it.”
She changed her pitch to suicide prevention, mindful that the same request likely would get the same result from the Governor.
Bean wondered aloud why this bill was vetoed earlier this year.