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Veteran Consultant/Lobbyist Presents Major Issues Confronting FL's 37 Small Counties

Florida Small County Coalition's Top Gun Lays Out 2014 Program

FL's Small County Coalition top gun, Chris Doolin, makes a point at the NCFRPC. (Scott Koons seated)

Last week's monthly meeting of the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council in Lake City brought together representatives from 11 counties in the region. Legislative issues confronting Florida's 37 small counties were presented by Florida's Small County Coalition veteran consultant/lobbyist, Chris Doolin, who covered topics affecting counties with a population of less than 150,000.

Ten of the eleven North Central Florida Planning Council's member counties are Rural Areas of Critical Economic Concern, which some groups in the legislature are trying to rebrand as "Counties of Opportunity." The Coalition is opposed to this.

Alachua County, which accounts for half the region's population, is the exception. Scott Koon's, the Planning Council's Executive Director was unavailable before post time for an explanation of this anomaly.

Last Thursday, Executive Director Koons introduced Mr. Doolin, "This is the fourth time we've had Chris here this time of year, right before the legislative session to talk to us about legislative issues that will be affecting counties in rural areas. 10 of our counties are members of the 37 member Florida Small County Coalition. Chris is a good friend."

Mr. Doolin told the gathering, "It's good to be here again on the once a year event Spice Tour of what is happening in Tallahassee."

"Protecting our base vs. creating new things"

He continued, "The Coalition began in 1990. We went through some real good development time where we were creating programs to respond to clear needs in our rural communities... We are tracking numerous programs and literally hundreds of millions of dollars of grant programs and revenue sharing. We are holding our own: protecting our base vs. creating new things."

The veteran lobbyist continued, "In a legislative session the top priority is to protect what you have: keeping expectations as elected officials in proper perspective so that when reality occurs, nobody is disappointed by something that never was really possible."

The Coalition's Priorities

Mr. Doolin: "Our priority is continuing to fund those high-priority programs. Those grant programs that we should count on. Focus on rural economic development - the economy has been bad. Oppose cost shifts and unfunded mandates and most importantly, meaningful local involvement. When agencies are making decisions, and the legislature is making decisions, you're a partner. Make sure that you know in your communities what an agency is doing; how things are going to be affected; and actually listen to the local officials in their decision making process."

According to District II DOT representatives, DOT programs, which send millions to the Coalition's members, are not followed up by DOT for any measure of success unless the improvements are made on state roads or the interstate.

Mr. Doolin continued, "Revenues are up. The government treated rural programs pretty well... The road programs SCRAP (Small Counties Resurfacing Assistance) and SCOP (Small Counties Outreach Program) -- together an $18 million increase -- it was increased substantially last year. These are extremely popular programs and very important."

Mr. Doolin added, "You've heard the Governor talk about $500,000,000 of tax cuts. They are not settled."

After explaining various tax cut proposals headed toward legislative action, Mr. Doolin said, "Elected officials have the right to do their own tax reductions."

Coalition School Districts

The Coalition also represents Small County School Districts

"Let me touch base on school districts in the region a little bit," Mr. Doolin said. "Dixie County and Madison County are in line to get substantial construction funds. Madison high school is getting a total renovation and Dixie County's middle/high school's coming in. Dixie should be funded along with five others. It's the largest amount for special facility construction, ever. It's going to be programmed over three years."

There was no question about the Coalition Agenda when Mr. Doolin concluded his presentation.

Water and Springs

"This year, tomorrow night at midnight, the online application program for water projects in the House of Representatives is closed. There was a memo sent out by the chairman of the Senate committee a few weeks ago with some guidelines. We PDF 'd that and got it out."

"Let me talk about springs legislation... I know a number of organizations are in transition from one to another. It used to be we said we had water – It's one thing rural counties said, 'We've got water.' It's not quite the same anymore... There is a bill. Springs protection is the focus. There are a lot of aspects to water in the state of Florida. You've got: springs, lakes; rivers; estuaries. All of those are different. This focuses strictly on springs. This is trying to get a handle on that."

Are high performance septic systems coming back?

"There are requirements for local governments and for the public if there is not a sewer system to hook up to; then there are some requirements that you put in high-performance septic tanks. Well, we've been that route with septic tank inspections. But they are saying in the bill that it will be at state expense. It will not be a private expense."

"We have to have local government involvement in every single step: of designing these plans; designing these rules; who gets funded; how they get funded; how the projects are ranked."

"They have taken care of our fiscally constrained counties and cities in fiscally constrained counties. There will be no match. Well, that's all well and good, but when are we going to get funded? There is a provision in the bill that says regardless of funding -- these nutrient requirements, you still have to implement them. It's a work in progress. We'll just have to see how it comes off."

Mr. Doolin concluded, "At some point in time we've got to move forward with a serious program of water. They've got to assure funding. You've got to get the funding upfront."


The members of the Planning Council who showed up got their money's worth listening to the Coalition's top gun.

Unfortunately, Columbia County's representative, District II Commissioner Rusty DePratter, who earlier had attended a County Commission meeting a mile away, was absent.

Part II: Post meeting interview with Mr. Doolin


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