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North Central Florida Regional Planning Council: A tough job, in a tough region, in tough times

The North Central Florida Regional Planning Council meeting played to a full house last
Thursday evening.

LAKE CITY, FL - Last Thursday's North Central Florida Regional Planning Council meeting played to a full house, as North Central Florida's rural counties and cities came to connect with their fellow members, the planning Council, and listen to the Department of Economic Opportunity's Dr. Barbara Foster's presentation called, "Planning For Economic Opportunity."

The North Central Region contains nearly 7000 square miles. Its members include municipalities from Alachua, Bradford, Columbia, Dixie, Gilchrist, Hamilton, Lafayette, Madison, Suwannee, Taylor and Union Counties, as well as those counties.

While the area has abundant natural resources, other than Alachua County, home of the University of Florida, the region has been fiscally constrained and challenged for decades with high levels of poverty and difficult learning environments.

Scott Koons makes a point during the evening's program.

Scott Koons, the Council's Executive Director said the NCFRPC's purpose is to "address issues, concerns and problems of a multi county nature."

The Observer: Can a county call you with its individual problems?

Director Koons answered:  Absolutely. We provide service and assistance to individual counties and cities in community planning, economic development planning, and grant management."

"We do  regional things like the Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy."

The Observer:  Do the municipalities make a contribution?

Director Koons:  Each member county and city is assessed a membership contribution, which supports the organization. That is $.30 per capita. It is a nominal fee and represents only about 5% of our $2 million budget. All the other funds we receive from cities and counties are for contract services, which can include comprehensive planning, Community Development Block Grant administration, and hazardous waste monitoring.

"We have a Strategic Regional Policy Plan which addresses transportation, natural resources, economic development, emergency management and affordable housing."

"We also get dedicated state and federal funding for preparing particular studies and reports or provide a specific service. Everything we do is largely on a contractual basis and we have very little discretionary funding."

"We serve as a clearinghouse of information. If we don't have the answer for a particular problem or project, we have a network of people that we work with and we will find someone at the state or federal level to help them."

"We are a cog between local and state and federal government."

The Observer: Can you tell me some of the challenges facing the North Central Florida region besides the challenges in education?

Director Koons:  We have some of the highest poverty levels in the state, as well as the nation. Unemployment continues to be a challenge. We really have some very challenging issues. 10 of the 11 counties in the region are part of the rural area of critical economic concern and they were designated because of the poverty level, unemployment, and education attainment levels in those counties.

The Observer: It looks like you really have your work cut out for you.

Director Koons: We look at it as challenges and opportunities.

The Observer: Thank you for your time.

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