Wakulla County Commissioners heard at their May 2 meeting from state Sen. Loranne Ausley, who reported on the 2022 session of the Florida Legislature, along with Jim Spratt of Magnolia Strategies. She said state Rep. Jason Shoaf was not able to attend the meeting but planned to speak at the May 16 BOCC meeting.

Ausley said the most controversial issue in the last session was redistricting, and the most important job of the state Legislature is setting the budget, which was more than $112 billion, which has more than tripled since her first year in office in the Florida House in 2001, and the state budget was $48 billion.

She said highlights of the new budget as sent by the Legislator to Gov. Ron DeSantis awaiting final approval include giving 5 percent pay raises to state employees and also giving raises to law enforcement, including small counties where it can be hard for a sheriff’s office to keep deputies, firefighters, public defenders, state attorneys and correctional officers.

She said the budget included more than $300 million to housing programs, as well as money for springs protection, and other funding for water quality, as well as $50 million in for programs such as SCOP, which are intended to help small county governments address infrastructure issues such as repairing county bridges and paving unpaved roads. She said the budget includes $400 million for broadband improvement, and she expects more money from a federal infrastructure program.

She urged commissioners to make sure they have money in the county’s budget to use as a match to access other infrastructure projects. She said the Triumph Gulf Coast Board still has funding available.

“There’s so much money still sitting there,” she said.

She said she hopes the Board, with some newly appointed members, will “really make sure that those dollars are getting out to the door” to impacted areas.

Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc., is a nonprofit organization established to oversee the expenditure of 75 percent of all funds recovered by the Florida attorney general for economic damages to the state that resulted from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Eight Florida counties are considered to be disproportionately affected by the oil spill: Wakulla, Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Walton, Bay, Gulf, and Franklin.

In other business, commissioners:

Voted 5-0 to remove parking fees from Shell Point Beach and Mashes Sands Beach. They also eliminated the annual park pass for annual entry to beaches and boat ramps. Instead, they created an annual and discounted boat launch permit. The boat launch permit is $40, and a discounted boat launch permit of $25 is available for eligible groups such as those 65 and older and veterans. They also established a vendor fee of $25 per day for concession stands/food trucks that will have access to water and power to generators will be unnecessary and will not be allowed. Two concession spaces are planned.

County Administrator David Edwards said at Shell Point some food trucks have set up on private property, but having space for them at Shell Point Beach Park on a concrete pad would be better organized and safer.

Several citizens spoke in favor of the move to eliminate parking fees. Linda Downing thanked commissioners for what has been done for Shell Point Beach.

“It’s a wonderful place,” she said.

Mark Powell, an avid windsurfer and paddleboarder, was happy to hear beach parking fees have been scrapped.

“I think it can continue to be available to everybody, no matter what their economic status,” he said.

Voted 5-0 to create a six-month code enforcement lien amnesty program, which would begin July 1 and end Dec. 31. The aim of the program is to encourage property owners to bring property into compliance with county ordinances and to provide clear title to the owner.

The program will include the county’s “hard cost” plus 20 percent. This program will be handled administratively and property owners will not have to come before the Wakulla County Commission.

Voted 5-0 to have a workshop at 3:30 p.m. June 6 to discuss setting design standards for recreational vehicle (RV) parks.

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