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Florida News

Chris Doolin, Veteran Lobbyist, Answers a Few Questions About Florida's Small Counties

And a Final Question About the North Florida Broadband Authority

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The Observer caught up with the Small County Coalition's Chris Doolin as he left the Planning Council meeting and headed back to Tallahassee. Mr. Doolin spent a few minutes answering questions about the challenges facing Florida's small counties and a final question about the $88 million dollars of Obama Stimulus money that came to Florida for Broadband and the North Florida Broadband Authority.

Observer:   Do you have a couple of minutes?

Mr. Doolin:   Sure

Observer:   You really know your stuff. You have been doing this for a long time.

Mr. Doolin:   (smiles)

Observer:   You're really a lobbyist for the counties?

Mr. Doolin:   That's right - for the Small County Coalition.

Observer:   They need all the help that they can get?

Mr. Doolin:   Yeah. Well, they get a lot of help from their legislators. The difference between small and urban areas is the legislators know the people.

Observer:   Do you think it is getting tougher for the small counties? I listened to you speak and it seems like it's getting harder, not easier.

Mr. Doolin:   Well – It's an interesting question because with the interest to ensure efficient government – With the interest to ensure a limited tax burden on the public, while at the same time providing the sort of things that we have been providing, then I'd say it's getting tougher.

(continues)  There's a lot of regulation. It just is a changing and developing state. There are complex issues. We've got to move with the cheese, you know.

Observer:   Do you think they have a chance against places like Georgia; Savanna; the Carolinas that have been ramped up for quite some time?

Mr. Doolin:   On economic development?

Observer:   Especially in rural counties?

Mr. Doolin:   I'm not saying that all rural counties are ready. A lot of counties are really remote.  I think Columbia has done a great job preparing itself – Madison County. Depending on the business. Suwannee County with the German company coming in.

Observer:   Except Suwannee County ran out of money.

Mr. Doolin:   Preparing your community to engage in economic development – it's more than just saying 'we want jobs'. There's got to be infrastructure; there's got to be a commitment to compete.

Observer:   How important do you think the schools are?

Mr. Doolin:   There is no question about it – they're important.

Observer:   You know the old rule of thumb – the school district is the anchor to the community. Do you think there's some truth to that?

Mr. Doolin:   Absolutely, there's no doubt about it. We've got strong accountability systems. You know, when you say it is getting more difficult – providing rural areas the resources to keep teachers in the classroom, you know with limited funds, it's tough.

Observer:   What do you think are the three most important or difficult issues facing rural counties?

Mr. Doolin:   Providing the service that their communities need. They are financially constrained. Their ad valorem base and their sales tax – what that will generate. Most of our rural counties are well below, substantially below the statewide average per capita. Yeah, it's tough.

(continues)   But I have to say they have good legislators working for them. You've got Senator Dean, Representative Porter. I've been doing this for 35 years. People do their best with the expertise they bring to the table.

Observer:   You cover small counties all over the state?

Mr. Doolin:   Yes

Observer:   You know about the boondoggle of the North Florida Broadband Authority; the 88 million dollars [this includes Mainstreet Broadband's RUS loan and FRBA] that came into Florida for broadband and they got nothing.

Mr. Doolin:   Vendors. Vendors.

Observer:   What do you mean vendors?

Mr. Doolin:   (smiles) Vendors.

Observer:   Thanks for your time. Have a safe trip back to Tallahassee.

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


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