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February 6, 2014

Sen. Montford and Rep. Porter hold delegation meeting in Jasper

Jasper — On Tuesday, Jan. 28, Senator Bill Montford (D-Inverness) and Representative Elizabeth Porter (R-Lake City) arrived in Jasper to find a packed county commission boardroom for their annual delegation meeting.

Constitutional officers from communities in Jasper, Jennings and White Springs were on hand to offer updates, as well as requests for support from both Montford and Porter on issues relevant to their respective communities.

Montford began by giving praises to Porter for the way she represents her constituents in Tallahassee. 

“She’s a first class lady,” said Montford. “That’s hard to find sometimes in Tallahassee. We work very, very well together and she is exceptionally respected in Tallahassee among her peers.”

Porter thanked Montford for his kinds words and also that it was an honor and a privilege to work with him.

The 2014 Legislative Session begins March 4, and as such, Montford and Porter listened attentively to the Hamilton County elected officials in attendance, as each one relayed concerns and issues that they hoped could be addressed in the legislative session.

First to approach the podium was Hamilton County Commission Chair Josh Smith. After introducing new county coordinator Louie Goodin, attorneys John McCormick and Cliff Adams, and fellow commissioners Beth Burnam and Robert Brown, Smith asked that state funding aid to libraries be continued without more cuts, and that SHIP and CDBG programs continue, as well.

Other programs offered by the Florida Department of Transportation, such as SCRAP and SCOP, he said, are crucial to the county and he hoped they would continue.

“Without these programs in place, paving a road within Hamilton County would be impossible, due to the low amounts of fuel revenue taxes we have,” Smith said. “Those programs are vital and essential to road improvements within the county.”

Smith also asked Montford to check into the phosphate tax funds that have been rumored to decrease or end. He explained how those funds helped the county open their new rural health clinic and hoped they would also continue.

Attorney Cliff Adams serves on the board for The Arc North Florida, an agency that provides services for people with disabilities. He explained that they have lost a lot of their funding from the APD (Agency for Persons with Disabilities) and he asked for help in getting more funding and support.

Adams also asked Montford to explain his stance on water rights. Montford said there is a five-person bipartisan team of senators, including himself, who have put together a bill addressing the subject.

“The aim is to protect our quantity and quality of water,” said Montford. “It will make a lot of people mad and it’s going to cause a lot of discussion, which is what it is intended to do. If we don’t do something now, we’re going to be so far down the road that it’s going to be hard to recoup and save what we enjoy.”

The initial bill, he said, should be coming out soon that will hopefully institute a statewide water management plan, which doesn’t exist right now.

“We can no longer pass unfunded mandates back on local governments,” he added, which is a second part of the bill. “We cannot expect local governments to pay for what we’ve got to do as a state to protect our water, nor can we expect individual homeowners to do that.”

Porter interjected that on the House side, the bill is going to be carried by the Speaker Designate.

“That’s a big deal,” she said. “When a bill matters, and you know that leadership wants the bill passed, they put someone in charge of it like the Speaker Designate. That’s how seriously they’re taking it.”

Porter added that the bill is very likely to succeed and that Gov. Rick Scott has suggested an additional $55 million just for the springs this year.

“That doesn’t even include other water issues,” she said.

She also added that water issues are at the top of the list for both the governor and Adam Putnam, agriculture commissioner, and that North Florida is finally getting the same amount of attention that the Everglades in South Florida has been getting for years.

County Clerk Greg Godwin thanked Montford for all the office hours he has spent in Hamilton County lately to listen to residents’ concerns. He also reiterated his concerns about The Arc North Florida, as well as other upcoming bills that relate to county clerks.

Phyllis Porter, who stood in for Superintendent of Schools Thomas Moffses, asked for continued assistance with the situation between the school district and the Department of Juvenile Justice and their plans to open a 40-bed residential facility.

“He would like a repeal of dual enrollment fees to school districts,” she continued. “Especially poor, rural school districts. This is a hardship. He would also like to remove the boundary limitations for community colleges for dual enrollment.”

She also said Moffses would like to see more funding in FEFP to support new technology infrastructure requirements, as well as a complete overhaul for school district grading formulas.

Montford thanked Porter and said Moffses has done a great job representing Hamilton County.

“One thing about him, he’s not afraid to stir up some trouble,” said Montford. “I say that in a very positive way.”

Jennings Vice Mayor Lowell Klepper asked for some legislation to help small rural towns upgrade their streets, and he echoed Smith’s comments about state aid for libraries. He also had concerns about rising homeowners’ insurance rates and the fact people are having to help pay for shortfalls within Citizens Insurance. Montford explained that he has been actively addressing that issue already.

White Springs Mayor Helen Miller had a long list of items to discuss, including water rights, economic development, education and training, and revenue sharing, as well as her involvement with the Suwannee River League of Cities.

John Dinges from Suwannee River Water Management District was the last to speak and he thanked both Montford and Porter for their support, especially for the springs funding.

Both Porter and Montford thanked everyone for coming out and for voicing their concerns.

“Thanks for letting us know what your concerns are, because we count on you to let us know what you need us to do for you,” Porter said.

“We’re looking out for our small, rural counties,” said Montford in closing. “I can promise you that.”

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