Alachua County leaders and citizens outlined their requests of Tallahassee on Tuesday, including support for a senior center, help redesigning University Avenue, and split financing for new emergency equipment.
But two requests popped up multiple times from different cities and departments: water and workers.
The Alachua County Legislative Delegation meeting happens each year before local representatives head to Tallahassee for the start of its annual session. Hosted at Santa Fe College, Reps. Chuck Clemons, R-District 22, Chuck Brannan, R-District 10, and Yvonne Hayes-Hinson, D-District 20, met with state Sen. Jennifer Bradley, R-District 6, to hear priorities on Tuesday.
Bradley’s territory recently shifted into Alachua County following redistricting, and Brannan’s district, which includes five counties, added a larger portion of Alachua. State Sen. Keith Perry, who now represents the southern half of Alachua County, was absent from the meeting this year.
Multiple municipalities only mentioned water as an issue for this session, seeking support and financing from the state.
For Hawthorne, Mayor Jacquelyn Randall said the city has financed repairs for half of its lift stations, but she said the city needs funding to rehabilitate the other half. The renovations include generators to support the city during hurricane season, Randall said.
In Micanopy, Town Administrator Sara Owen said residents live with hard water filled with organics because of the proximity to Paynes Prairie. The city’s current treatment facility limits Micanopy’s purifying options.
She said the city just finished digging a third well but can’t use it.
“Due to the water quality, the organics in the water, we’ve been unable to bring this brand new well online and use it,” Owen said. “That’s a little disheartening for us.”
She said the city needs a plan for advanced treatment and wants to proactively replace its lead and copper lines.
Archer representatives said a water audit found deficiencies in excess of state standards. The city loses around 252,000 gallons of water a month from leakages.
The city asked for help to install new meters and lines to address the issue. Archer’s legislative request totaled just over $765,000.
Newberry Mayor Jordan Marlowe asked the delegation to continue its support for a regional wastewater facility split between High Springs, Newberry and Archer.
He said the cities have almost completed the contract work and, following state support during the planning phase, look to begin construction in 2024.
Marlowe said municipalities across Florida are tracking the project’s success to potentially replicate it.
“We need to think about what’s at stake here with this model,” Marlowe said. “Because everybody I talk to is super excited about this model.”
He said regional facilities will allow cities to meet new state standards without tripling water bills.
Clemons backed Marlowe’s statement. Decades ago, he said each city had its own landfill. But regionalization came in and created a better system. Water treatment, he said, might make the same jump.
The city of Alachua requested support for a renovated senior center, but City Manager Mike DaRoza said the city may also move forward with water quality projects.
A different set of speakers brought up worker issues.
State Attorney Brian Kramer said his department lost 10% of its prosecutorial staff in the past year to private practices or municipalities. He said other jobs allow his staff members to work from home for more money.
Kramer said he can’t replace prosecutors with years of experience and new lawyers must be trained up to that level.
Kramer and Stacy Scott, who leads the Office of the Public Defender, said the 8th Judicial Circuit remains at a crisis level for recruitment and retention. When a prosecutor leaves, Scott said the caseload must get divided, causing months of delay.
State attorneys and public defenders across Florida will request $15,000 increases for all attorneys—more than 2,200 full time positions according to Scott—in the upcoming session.
“This is a core function of government,” Scott said. “We can’t live as a community without prosecutors and public defenders and our courts.”
Tina Certain, chair of the School Board of Alachua County, also brought up workers. She said school districts need qualified personnel.
Along with other steps, she said districts would like to see the expansion of Senate Bill 896 that passed last year. The bill created a path for former military members to transition into teaching. Certain said that the bill could expand to paraprofessionals as well.
Alachua County schools have also been short of bus drivers over the past two years.
Santa Fe College President Paul Broadie II said the college needs stronger compensation packages to attract and retain faculty and staff.
“We’re crushed with the competition, and we’re losing talent,” Broadie said.
The Florida Legislature will begin its 2023 session on March 7, and the session lasts 60 days.