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February 27, 2014

HamCo commissioners want local control of economic development

Jasper — Taking back local control of economic development was a subject of much discussion at the Feb. 18 meeting of the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners. Currently, members of the Hamilton County Economic Development Authority are appointed by Governor Rick Scott.

The discussion started out with Commissioner Beth Burnam asking if Hamilton and Hardee counties were the only two counties in the state who receive additional phosphate severance taxes, which the others on the board said was correct.

“When I was at the North Florida Workforce Development Board meeting, the other commissioners were extremely surprised at how our development authority is structured and how things work,” said Burnam. “Sheryl Rehberg made the comment that in our county they are Governor-appointed because we receive additional phosphate severance tax, is that not correct?” she asked the board.

“That’s not correct,” said Commissioner Randy Ogburn.

County Clerk Greg Godwin said, “The governor-appointee development authority was long, long in existence prior to us receiving phosphate taxes. We didn’t get that until 2003-04.”

Ogburn said he had nothing against the economic development authority or its members, but he thought it needed to be local appointed positions, rather than governor appointed.

“I think we, locally, know better than the governor or some governor appointee from the state, who is best suited to serve our constituents,” said Ogburn.

Commissioner Josh Smith nodded in agreement and Commissioner Robert Brown said he agreed because it seemed the different county agency boards seemed to be pulling against each other and not working together as they should.

“I’ll just say this,” Ogburn interjected. “In the next few weeks, I’m going to be bringing something to this board that’s very big, hopefully that may be coming to the county and we’re going to need everybody pulling together to try to make it work to offset some of the loss that we are losing at PCS right now with jobs.”

Commission Chair Josh Smith interjected, “As I’ve said in the past, you see these numbers? They continue to decline. Here’s the bottom line, people. Whenever it’s all said and done, if taxes go up, they’re going to look at one location and it’s this board.”

“I also think it’s not a matter of making sure that all of your different boards in the county work together, but I think you also need a group of people who reach out and take advantage of other organizations that are out there,” said Burnam. “With more local control - local people vested in the county - you might find more cooperation, not just within the county, but also stepping outside of the county to these regional organizations who are able to help us some.”

Smith said he would speak on behalf of the board, but would not do so until seeking legal counsel and working with the county coordinator’s office.

“At this time, I’ll continue to move forth with legislative aide Koby Adams,” said Smith. “I think it’s for the better for the constituents of Hamilton County to move in that direction.”

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